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Cassoulet: Comfort Food Nirvana

Cassoulet is a warm and comforting French dish that is packed with protein; a variety of meats served on top of a delicious concoction of white beans. The first time I ever had it was at my favorite restaurant in St. Louis, Brasserie. I don’t know what made me order it because I’m not a huge fan of beans (I have to be in the mood to eat them) and in this particular version one of the meats was duck, which at that point, I had maybe tasted one other time. The cassoulet was absolutely delicious and you could taste that it was a simmer-all-day labor of love.

I assumed that this was a “restaurant” meal. You know what I mean? A meal that you order when you are out because 1. you can’t make it that good at home and/or 2. you don’t want to take the time to make it at home. I was wrong!

Are you familiar with Melissa D’Arabian on Food Network? I have made a few of her recipes and they have always been extraordinary. In fact, each one I have made has become a repeat recipe. I’m sure a few of them will turn up on this blog sooner or later. I can’t remember if I was googling recipes for cassoulet or if I saw her make it on her show but this is totally doable at home! I have adapted her recipe, which you can find here.

You don’t have to slave away in the kitchen all day.  I have a few shortcuts that make the dish easier to make and, in my opinion, easier to eat. I’m not saying you can throw it together in 10 minutes but it certainly won’t take all day. Also, the ingredients we are using in this dish are not very expensive so you can feed at least 6 people an amazing meal at a reasonable price.

Going back to my first experience with cassoulet, the meats in the dish were duck confit, garlic sausage (I’m almost positive made in house) and the most amazing bacon you will ever eat. We are going to use store bought bacon, store bought smoked sausage and skin-on, boneless chicken thighs. You can use bone-in but let’s face it, it’s hard to eat around a chicken bone.

It is nearly impossible to find pre-packaged, skin-on, boneless chicken. Just grab the package of chicken thighs at the grocery store, bring it up to the butcher counter and ask them to debone it for you. You will still have to pay for the bones but you won’t have to do the work yourself at home.

Other things that makes this recipe move a little faster- I’m using canned beans. I have no patience for soaking beans and then cooking them. If you do, live it up! I prefer the can opener method. Also, I always have breadcrumbs in my freezer. I have a mound of homemade Italian breadcrumbs and usually a little Ziploc bag of plain breadcrumbs. So, I don’t have to do any grinding up the day of, I just grab them out of the freezer.

And, I have prepped this dish ahead of time. I think it is a great plan especially if you want to serve it for say, a dinner party. First, I make the breadcrumbs. You will toast them up with garlic and olive oil until they turn a nice golden brown. I put them in a bowl and leave them on the counter. Same thing with the bacon. Last time, I actually crisped the bacon up before going to the grocery store to buy the rest of my ingredients. I just left it to drain on a paper towel on the counter until I was ready to use it later.

Then, I start making the meal… season the chicken, start chopping all the veggies, brown the meats, set the meat aside, brown the veggies, add the beans and remaining ingredients, arrange the meat on top then… I put it in the fridge!

I have done all the cooking that is going to make me smell like onions so, I go get all cleaned up.   I would guess you could leave it in the fridge for at least 6 hours like that… maybe even overnight but I have never tried that so I’m not 100% sure.

Anyway, if you want to make it ahead like this, take it out of the fridge about an hour to an hour and a half before you want to serve it. Then, cook it with the lid on about 15 minutes more than the recipe states below.

Everyone who has tasted this absolutely loves it, even my kids! I hope you all love it too! I think I’ve talked about it enough, lets get crackin’…

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Serves 6 (at least)

Breadcrumb Ingredients:
2 T Olive Oil
1 clove Garlic, minced
¾ c Breadcrumbs

Ingredients:
6 pieces Bacon, sliced into lardons
6 small Boneless, Skin-On Chicken Thighs , rinsed and dried
Salt & Pepper
1 – 14oz package Smoked Sausage, cut into 6 equal pieces
I large Onion, chopped
4 Carrots, chopped
3 stalks Celery, chopped
4 cloves Garlic, minced
½ c White Wine
2 – 15oz cans Great Northern White Beans, drained (but only one rinsed)
1 Bay Leaf
1 T fresh Thyme leaves
½ c Chicken Stock
2 Roma Tomatoes, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350

To make the breadcrumbs, put the olive oil and garlic in a small pan over medium heat.
When the garlic just starts to sizzle and you can smell it, stir it around and add the breadcrumbs.
Constantly toss the breadcrumbs until they turn a nice, even golden brown.
Put them in a small bowl and set aside. (If you leave them in the pan they will continue to brown and may burn)

Put the bacon lardons in a large Dutch oven and turn heat to medium/medium-high.
Render the fat out of the bacon and stir often until all the bacon is nice and crispy; this will take at least 10 minutes.
Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon but leave the fat in the pot.

Meanwhile, season your chicken with salt and pepper and let it sit while your bacon is finishing.
When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken in the bacon fat, skin side down.
Brown until the skin is nice and crispy, about 5 – 7 minutes, then flip.
Brown on the other side for about 2 – 3 minutes; remove from pan and set aside.
Put the sausage pieces in the Dutch oven and brown for about 1-2 minutes per side.
Remove and put on the plate with the chicken thighs.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot.
Add the onions, carrots and celery to the pot; season with salt and pepper.
Stir often while browning the vegetables until they begin to soften; about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and stir constantly for another minute.
Add the white wine and scrape up the lovely brown bits off the bottom of the pot.

After you have deglazed the pot, add the beans.
I drain and rinse one can of beans and only drain the other (no rinsing).
Add the bay leaf and thyme.
Add the bacon back in.
Give everything a stir to combine.

Nestle the chicken thighs and sausage into the pot.
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Pour over the chicken stock and put on the lid. 
(If making ahead, put the pot in the fridge.)

Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes (35-40 if baking from the fridge).
Take out of oven and carefully remove the lid.
Top with tomato slices and toasted breadcrumbs.

 


Continue to bake for another 15 minutes, uncovered.

Serve in flat bowls and garnish with some fresh parsley or thyme (making sure not to serve anyone the bay leaf)
Have plenty of baguette slices around to soak up all the yummy goodness.

Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Cassoulet: Comfort Food Nirvana

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