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The definition of a cassoulet depends on whom you ask and what part of France the person is from. To understand how hard this is to pin down, read Julia Child on the subject in her first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her "recipe" goes on for 5 pages and several days. That was what Michael had made. It was not what I had in mind. So when I stumbled on a recipe for a quick version, even though I'm an "apprecianado" of the effect of time, I decided to give it a try. The inspiration for this came from The Bean Harvest Cookbook by Ashley Miller, published by Taunton Press. (If you're interested in heirloom beans, to eat, contact Indian Harvest at (800) 294-2433.)
2 cups (about 12 ounces) Vermont cranberry or Appaloosa beans*
6 chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 pound kielbasa, sliced
1 1/2 large sweet onions, chopped (18 ounces, 3 1/2 to 4 cups, more or less)
2 or 3 ribs of celery with leaves, chopped (about 6 ounces, 1 1/2 cups)
2 or more cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) dry white wine
2 1/2 cups (20 ounces) chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley, or 1 to 2 tablespoons dried
large sprig of fresh thyme, or 1 to 2 teaspoons dried
1 cup (2 ounces) fresh bread crumbs, lightly sautéed in olive oil
*If you haven't access to either of these, use Great Northern beans or any dry bean of your choice.
Sort through and clean the beans. Place them in a pan and pour boiling water over them until there's at least two inches of liquid above the surface of the beans. Let them sit for an hour, or until you're ready to add them to the cassoulet broth.
While the beans soak, brown the chicken in a large stove-top casserole or soup pot in a bit of olive oil. Use a spatula to keep the chicken from sticking, and turn occasionally so it's browned all over. Remove the chicken and do the same with the kielbasa. Remove the kielbasa. If there's more fat left in the pan than you need to sweat the vegetables, remove the excess.
Add the vegetables and sauté until the onions just begin to brown. Pour in the wine and heat until you can scrape free anything that has cooked onto the bottom of the pan. Then add the broth and herbs, and finally the beans and kielbasa. Distribute and bury the chicken pieces, bring the mixture just to a boil, turn the heat to low, and simmer until the beans are done and the chicken is falling off the bones. If you have a simmering plate ("flame tamer") to put under your pan, this will keep the temperature right where you want it. Just before serving the cassoulet, sprinkle with the sautéed bread crumbs. You may remove the chicken bones after the cassoulet is cooked, or leave the chicken pieces intact.
The cooking time will probably be somewhere between 1 and 2 hours but, as with anything of this nature, allowing it a day to sit and a slow reheating will enable the flavors to meld and be absorbed. So make enough for leftovers. As with some books (or movies), the second time around can be even better than the first. All this needs is a green salad and a glass of wine. Yield: 8 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (1/8 of recipe, 439g): 409 cal, 20g fat, 27g protein, 31g complex carbohydrates, 1g sugar, 9g dietary fiber, 63mg cholesterol, 1267mg sodium, 795mg potassium, 39RE vitamin A, 11mg vitamin C, 4mg iron, 120mg calcium, 332mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XI, No. 2, Winter 2000 issue.