Saturday, June 30, 2012

Chicken Cassoulet

The first time I had a cassoulet or even knew that such a dish existed, was at the Westin Hotel in Boston sometime in the 80's. The chef at the time was French and had many fussy French dishes on the menu as well as some authentic, peasant dishes, one of which was a cassoulet. I was with my friend and co-worker Joe for lunch, and we were both game to try the cassoulet. Now this was a long time ago and my memory is a bit fuzzy. I remember the beans and the meat(s) in the dish, and remember the flavor of the broth dancing in my mouth. And I do remember that both our plates were licked clean by the end of the meal. But I never dreamed I could reproduce this hearty, full-bodied stew.  But this week I did. I came across a recipe for Chicken Cassoulet by Dawn Whitted from South Dakota that sounded delicious. I had to give it a whirl. Before I got in the kitchen, I did a little research and found out that Cassoulet is ususally made with pork or rabbit, and it gets its name from the pot it's cooked in- the cassole, an inverted cone shaped vessel. I cooked my cassoulet on top of the stove in my Farberware giant soup pot that has been with me for 40 years. Here's my adapted recipe of Dawn's Chicken Cassoulet via Farberware:

Chicken Cassoulet
Inspired by Dawn Whitted

Olive or canola oil
6 chicken thighs skin removed
5 chicken sausage links-I used sweet with basil
3/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 medium onion chopped
1 small green pepper chopped
3 carrots chopped- I think next time I'll even add another one or two
3/4 cup Chardonney or another dry white wine
1 head of roasted garlic- my contribution
2 tomatoes seeded and diced
1 can (14.5 oz) stewed tomatoes-I used low salt
1 can (10.75 oz) cream of chicken soup- I used Campbell's Healthy Request
1 soup can of water
1 can (15.5 oz) Cannellini beans-Dawn uses 2 cans of great northern beans
2 dried bay leaves
Also note that Dawn uses 1/2 can of tomato paste and mushrooms as one of the vegetables.

Place 1T oil in large pot over medium. Add the chicken and brown on both sides. Remove and set aside. Add another T of oil and brown sausages on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside to cool. To same pot add chopped onions, green pepper and carrots and lower heat. Add the spices from oregano to red pepper flakes. If the veggies are sticking, add another tsp or two of oil.

When the vegetables are soft you'll want to deglaze the pan. See the brown mess stuck to the bottom of the pan? That's one of the ingredients that gives this stew its flavor. Add the wine and make sure to scrape up all the brown bits of chicken so they become part of the sauce.

Now add the roasted garlic, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, cream of chicken soup, water and beans. Stir to combine and then add the bay leaves. Nestle the partially cooked chicken thighs and sausages into the creamy stew, cover pot and cook on low for one hour.

Remove cover and cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Your Cassoulet is ready. I fished out the meat and sliced the sausages into one inch pieces, and removed the bones from the chicken thighs and them in large chunks. I wanted to float some of Anne Burrell's croutons on top of my serving, but didn't have any bread in the house. I'll do that next time. And I think I might add a handful or two of baby spinach the last few minutes of cooking. Great meal with or without the croutons or spinach.

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