I have a friend who makes cassoulet (pronounced cass-oo-lay) at least once every winter. I love it and always look forward to it. Native to the southwest part of France, there are many versions. It’s a wonderful dish but very labor intensive, and for a rustic dish, pretty expensive.
It requires duck confit, leg quarters cooked in duck fat for a long time on very low heat. In addition, lamb shanks and French garlic sausages are included in most recipes.
And it’s a lot of work. Anthony Bourdain’s recipe in the “Les Halles Cookbook” gives directions broken down into “Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3” segments.
Well, when I recently wanted to do a similar dish for a brunch with neighbors, Anthony Bourdain wasn’t there (more’s the pity!) and I came up with a much less labor intensive version of my own. If not at all authentic, it sure was good!
I used chicken thighs with the bone in and the skin on. Even if you don’t like to eat the skin, I advise that you leave it on during cooking to keep the meat from drying out. For the sausage I used smoked sausage from the supermarket. A good lamb sausage would make a felicitous substitute; if it isn’t precooked, broil or roast it first, then cut into slices.
This would make a wonderful dish for you NCAA tournament game-watching friends. You can make everything the day before, then assemble in the morning, and bake when you’re ready for it. I made a salad with sliced winter fruit: oranges, pears and apples, with toasted walnuts on a bed of butter lettuce with a black currant vinaigrette dressing. It was the perfect companion to the cassoulet.
GAME DAY CASSOULET
1 lb great northern beans
2 tbsp olive oil
8 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on (about 2 lbs)
12 oz smoked sausage, cut into 1/2" slices
1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
3 medium carrots, sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup red wine
5 or 6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs from firm bread
In a large bowl or pan, soak the beans overnight (or at least 8 hours) in water to cover by 2".
In a heavy Dutch oven, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down and brown on both sides in two batches. You want them a nice dark golden brown. Remove to a plate. Add the sliced sausage and brown on both sides. Remove and add to the plate with the chicken. Reserve.
Add the onion, garlic and carrot to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to soften and is translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir until all the vegetables are coated with it. Add the wine, thyme and bay leaf and simmer until reduced by about half.
Drain the beans, discarding the soaking liquid. Add them to the vegetable mixture, along with the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook at a low simmer until the beans are just tender, about 45 minutes. After 30 minutes, taste the stock and salt if you think it needs it. If you are preparing it in advance, cover and refrigerate the beans in the pot, and the plate with the chicken and sausage.
Preheat the oven to 350. Drain the cooking liquid from the beans and reserve. Pick the thyme stems and bay leaf out of the beans. Put half the beans in a large casserole. Top with the sausage, then the rest of the beans. Nestle the thighs down in the beans, skin side up and exposed. Pour enough of the reserved cooking broth to just cover the beans.
Place the casserole in the oven and lightly rest a sheet of foil on the top. Bake for an hour, adding more of the cooking broth as needed to keep the beans just covered. Remove the foil. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the beans and chicken. Bake for an additional 30 minutes. Serves 8 very generously.