It’s not my fault, really! I got a reader request for an easy cassoulet. What could I do?!?
I’d never had cassoulet before, mostly because like I said, I don’t like beans. Because they’re gross. But I did a little bit of research and found that, for a bean dish, cassoulet has quite a pedigree, and incites debate in France the way that chili or BBQ does here in the states.
Many recipes for cassoulet begin with an apology for the tediousness and length of time that the dish requires, but then add as justification that cassoulet ‘really is worth the effort.’ I am becoming more intrigued.
Beans to me were always poor food, getting-out-of-debt food, live-in-a-trailer-house-with-all-three-brothers-to-a-bedroom food. 1 I had never encountered a bean dish treated with the kind of reverence that people seemed to hold for cassoulet.
There are several different styles in France, all of them vying for the title of ‘The One Cassoulet’, but all of them seem to feature: a) white beans, b) some sort of sausages 2, and c) some sort of poultry. The cassoulet itself is just a casserole of all these elements, often with other vegetables thrown in for good measure.
It’s peasant food! French peasants, struggling over the years to make something filling and cheap that would keep them going, somehow discovered that this particular mix, this medieval Frenchified beanie-weenies concoction, was absolutely freakin’ delicious. That seems to happen a lot with peasants around the world. Weird, huh? Maybe they were on to something.
So in the spirit of the true peasant, I took what I had. Beans are cheap, I got great northern beans because they were the main component of the only bean dish I’ve ever had that I liked. 3 Chicken thighs were my poultry, we always have those around. And my sausages were something else I just happened to have around. Bratwurst.
Don’t give me that. You know it will be delicious.
And it was. And because I’m not trying to get some perfect reconstruction, it really wasn’t tedious. Like, at all. Using Kenji’s Serious Eats cassoulet as a general guide, I sliced up some bacon into bits and fried it up, browned some onions in the fat, added carrots, celery, and a ****load of garlic, and threw in the beans and water all together to simmer for a couple of hours on the stovetop. Once the beans were tender, I dumped it all in a casserole dish with the bratwurst and chicken and tossed it in a 400°F oven until the chicken was browned.
The thing is, I think I made it too complicated. I bet you could make a really easy cassoulet in a crock pot, then transfer the crock to the oven to brown the chicken, and never have to transfer containers at all.
So the upshot is, this cassoulet may take all day to cook. But you will be working with it for maybe half an hour total. And like all those other recipes said, it’s totally worth it. See, I don’t like beans. But I totally cleaned my plate.
-Josh is listening to Françoise Hardy
- 3 slices bacon
- 2 onions
- 1 whole head garlic
- 3 stalks celery
- 2 carrots
- 1 lb dried great northern beans
- 6 cups water or chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 lb bratwurst
- 3 bone-in chicken thighs
- Dice the bacon into small pieces and put it in a large pot on the stovetop over medium heat. Cook till meat is crispy and the fat has rendered out.
- While the bacon is cooking, dice the onions. Add them to the pot when the bacon is done cooking, and cook until they’re starting to brown, stirring occasionally.
- Peel the garlic and smash the cloves with the broad side of your knife. Throw them into the pot once the onions are browned, cook another minute or so, then remove from heat.
- Dice the celery and carrots. Rinse the beans. Put the contents of the pot, along with all of the ingredients except for the chicken thighs, into a crock pot set on LOW. Cook for eight hours, then remove the crock from the crock pot unit and turn your oven to 425°F.
- Put the chicken thighs on top of the cassoulet, and put the crock in the oven for 45 minutes. Chicken skin should be browned and crispy.
- DO NOT USE MAPLE FLAVORED OR SWEETENED BACON, IT WILL TASTE DISGUSTING.
- My family actually lived in a trailer house for a year, and my sister got her own room, and all three of us boys had to cram into the smaller bedroom, where my younger brother’s ‘bed’ was a sheet of plywood placed nightly over the gap between the bunk bed and the chest-of-drawers. Ahh, the memories… (I actually do have a lot of great memories from that time…) ↩
- That would make a great addition to a theatre vocal warmup… ↩
- It was at a friend’s parents’ house in college; they had a pot of great northern beans stewed with venison, and it was awesome. ↩