Apparently we have moved into the French cuisine portion of this site, as we are featuring yet another meal from the south of France. I’m not an expert in French cooking by any means, but I have gathered that southern French cooking is heavy on beans, gamey meats and seafood. I mean, I’m guessing here. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
At any rate, classic cassoulet is a very rich, slow-cooked bean dish. But I don’t have time to let dinner cook for hours, let alone days. And while a French version might call for any number of smoked meats, I’m going to need to cut back on the calories as well.
Having never had an authentic cassoulet, I can’t say how this one measures up. I can tell you that it will make your house smell incredible, will fill you for hours and makes plenty of leftovers. Interested?
To start, get out the biggest skillet you have on hand. I mean, the really big one. Bonus points if it has a lid — if not, no worries. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
The preparation of this meal has a lot in common with the Hokey Pokey — you put some ingredients in, you take some ingredients out. For the most part, this cuts down on fat and the number of dishes you need to use to prepare this meal. It’s a good thing! Just read through carefully, or you’ll end up using every dish in the house.
To start, rinse and drain two cans of great white or cannellini beans. Mash half of the beans with a fork and mix the resulting spread with the remaining whole beans. Set aside.
Take that big skillet and warm it up over medium high heat. In a soup bowl, or one similarly sized, combine 1/2 cup of bread crumbs (fresh or from the store) with one tablespoon of olive oil. Dump into the heated skillet and toast for two to three minutes, or until bread crumbs are golden brown. It’s important here to keep the crumbs in almost constant motion — just shake the pan every few seconds. Once they’re all nice and toasty, just dump them back into their original bowl. Some crumbs will stick to the skillet. It’s not a big deal.
Return the skillet to the burner and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Let it heat for a minute or so, then add one pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into thirds to the pan. We actually only had the bone-in thighs, but it was pretty easy to get the skin off of them and rip the bone out. If you’re squeamish about raw chicken, though, this might not be the route for you. There’s no shame in using chicken breasts here, either, but we find they don’t have as much flavor as the thighs.
At any rate, cook the chicken until brown on all sides. Do not move the chicken around! You want it to sort of stick to the bottom of the pan — we’re coming back for all those yummy brown bits, anyway.
Once the chicken is browned on all sides, remove it from the pan and place on a plate.
Back to the pan. Reduce heat to medium and add one medium onion, chopped and six (yes, SIX!) cloves of garlic, minced. You’ll want to stir almost constantly here. Once the onion and garlic begin to soften, add 1/2 teaspoon each of rosemary, thyme and pepper. Go ahead and estimate — it’s hard to add too much.
Now it’s time to deglaze the pan, a fancy way of saying getting all the stuff off the bottom by adding liquid. You can use wine or water, but we’re going with cheap vodka, since it’s what we had on hand. Add 1/2 cup of any of those and get to scraping! Let this cook until the liquid is reduced by half — about three minutes or so.
Once that’s done, add another cup of liquid to the pan — again, it can be wine, water or more stock (chicken or vegetable). Just use whatever you’ve got. It’s also time to toss in the beans we mixed up at the beginning as well as half a pound of turkey kielbasa, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and the chicken, which you can take a minute to cut into bite-sized pieces.
Doesn’t this already look incredible?
Now, we crank the heat back up to high and cover the dish. If you don’t have a lid for your big skillet, just use aluminum foil. Once it starts to boil, reduce heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes. You’re really just making sure everything is cooked and heated through. Finally, cut up some fresh spinach leaves and throw them into the pot as well. Use a lot, because spinach cooks down to practically nothing.
At this point, you can serve as soon as the spinach is wilted, or let it sit on low heat until you can’t stand it anymore. Just before serving, top your plate with the toasted bread crumbs.
This meal is like a big, warm hug on a cold winter night. It did not disappoint. It’s soul-comforting peasant food at it’s most basic level. I should warn you, however, that this is a laborous meal. You will be busy for 45 straight minutes in the kitchen, which is not a problem if you’ve got the time to spare — you only need to do one thing at a time.
Makes 4 servings
- 2 – 15.5 ounce cans white beans
- 3/4 cup bread crumbs
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into thirds
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. rosemary
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 cup white wine*
- 1/2 cup chicken broth*
- 1/2 cup water*
- 1/2 lb. reduced-fat turkey kielbasa
- 8 oz. fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
- 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
In a medium mixing bowl, mash half of the beans with a fork and combine with the remaining whole beans. Set aside.
In a small bowl, toss bread crumbs with 1 Tbsp. olive oil.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add bread crumbs. Toast for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove crumbs from pan and heat remaining oil. Add chicken to pan and cook until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes per side.
Remove the chicken and allow to drain on paper towels. Add onion and garlic to the pan and cook until soft. Add rosemary, thyme and pepper. Add 1/2 cup of wine and scrape brown bits off bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the broth, plus kielbasa to pan. Add beans and cooked chicken.
Bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and allow to simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until kielbasa is warmed through. Add in spinach and continue to cook until leaves are wilted.
Top individual dishes with toasted bread crumbs and parsley. Serve with crusty bread.
* A note about liquid — chicken stock, wine or water can be used in whole or part for this recipe. Adjust seasoning accordingly.