On Sunday I started reading through my cookbooks looking at recipes for cassoulet; the French baked bean dish. For every home cook and chef in France, there is another perfect recipe for cassoulet. I found one that had ingredients I could get my hands on easily and wasn't going to take three or four days worth of work. When all was said and done, I used one recipe as a guideline for the ingredients, but the process my an amalgam of the 5-8 recipes I read.
CassouletVirtually all the recipes started with Great Northern Beans. They are cheap and plentiful in the grocery stores.
I decided to start my beans cooking on Sunday night, so Monday night I could put the rest of the recipe together and get everything in the oven. I picked through the beans to discard broken bits, shriveled bits or discolored bits. I added an onion, half a carrot (I only had one!) and a bay leaf. I also created a bouquet garni (cheesecloth filled with herbs and spices for easy remove when cooking if finished) filled with 8 whole cloves, 8 whole peppercorns, 3 inch branch of fresh rosemary, 1 smashed garlic clove and 6 sprigs of fresh thyme. Add 1 hefty teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, the lower heat to a simmer, cover slightly and cook for about an hour. I left my beans slightly al dente, a little bit to them, as they will cook for another hour in the oven. Leaving the beans slightly undercooked prevents you from getting mushy beans later. When the beans are cooked to the desired consistency, drain and continue OR cover and place in the refrigerator until you're ready to continue.
On Monday I continued with the flavors and creation of my pot of beans. I cooked 1/2 a pound of sweet Italian sausage, which I crumbled into small bits. Remove to a plate. There wasn't much fat left in the pan, the sausage was a little lean, so I added 1 tablespoon of bacon fat I saved from the weekend breakfast. In the hot fat, I seared one package of skin-on chicken thighs. Season the thighs with salt and pepper and place, skin side down. Allow to sear until the skin is crispy. The fat under the skin will render out; adding to the flavor profile of the beans. We're not cooking the chicken thru at this point, just rendering the fat and searing the skin. Remove the chicken to a plate and remove the skin and discard (the wet cooking environment later will create a soggy skin, it'll be gross). See in the photo, the dark gunk at the bottom of the pan? That is fond, the bits left after cooking. That will mix with the liquid in the upcoming steps and further develop the flavor.
To the pot, I added 1 onion; diced, 1/2 a carrot; diced, 1 shallot; diced, 2 garlic cloves; minced. Saute for a few minutes, until the onions start to become translucent. Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Stir and cook for another minute. Add 1 cup of dry white wine. Stir to incorporate and start to scrape up all bits in the pan. Add 1 tablespoon of chopped, fresh rosemary. Add your beans and reserved, cooked sausage. Add 2-3 cups of chicken broth, to just cover the beans. Add the chicken thighs back into the pot. Add a final hefty pinch of salt and fresh black pepper. If you're really naughty ( I WAS!), you will pour another 1-2 tablespoons of reserved bacon fat to the top of the pot.
So rich and delicous before the oven. Place, uncovered in a 375 degree oven for 60-75 minutes. The beans will be very tender, the liquid will condense and reduce thru evaporation, the chicken cooked thru and the house full of an amazing aroma.
Serve hot with a small green salad on the side and crusty bread for an amazing dinner. A full bodied red wine would be an fantastic accompaniment. Or a dry white, since you opened it to cook with.
Now, I understand that a traditional cassoulet usually includes some lamb, duck confit, maybe goose confit. Confit is cured meat that is later poached in fat. I don't enjoy lamb and didn't have any confit. But I figure the amount of fat in this dish can qualify as a very admirable substitute for confit.
I'm really pleased with this dish. I've never had cassoulet before and I'd certainly make this again. J-lo has had cassoulet at Les Halles in New York. Last night he said; "It's better than Les Halles."
That's all I need!!!