Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cassoulet

When I can find even the slightest coolness in the air, I automatically think to Fall. And when I'm thinking Fall, I automatically start to crave cold-weather food - even if it is still 85F outside. (I'm sure the availability of pumpkin spice lattés at Starbucks in early September has something to do with this.)

Recently I've been feeling like I'm in a food slump, and what better way to get out of it than to try something completely new? Something with a degree of difficulty. Like maybe...cassoulet. I've only eaten the dish once, at B&O American Brasserie, and I was surprised to find how much I liked it. Cassoulet is a hearty and soul-satisfying French peasant dish of fatty meats and white beans topped with crisped bread crumbs. I'm not a huge fan of beans. Well, I like them ok, but they don't like me all that much. Black beans, however, I have no issues with, so I thought why not make a Southwest twist on cassoulet?

More authentic versions of the dish involve confit duck and saucisson à l'ail - two ingredients not found on many local supermarket shelves. If one can find them, they're el mucho expensivo. (Wegman's and Shop Rite both have D'Argtanan duck confit at like $10 per piece.) Since I was already eschewing tradition with the beans, I decided to use el cheapo chicken thighs and relatively inexpensive and available-everywhere chicken sausages.

The results were, if I say so myself, ah-mayz-ing. The chicken was fall-apart tender but the beans still had lots of texture, the sausages added zing, and the crumb topping offered a much-needed crunch. The flavors were subtle, slightly smoky, and perfect on a chilly Summer evening.

Southwest Cassoulet

1 lb black beans, picked over and rinsed
olive oil
6 chicken thighs, bone-in, with skin
6 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground chipotle (or 2 teaspoons smoked paprika and a pinch of cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb fully-cooked chipotle-flavored chicken sausage
salt

Crumb topping:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Place beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. You may also use the quick-soak method: in a large pot, cover beans by 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow beans to soak for one hour. Drain beans well in a colander before using.

In a dutch oven, cook chicken in a bit of olive oil over high heat, turning occasionally, until skin browns and renders its fat. Remove chicken from pot; remove and discard skin. Add sausages to chicken fat/oil in pot and brown on all sides. Remove from heat, cut into 1/2" slices, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Add onions and carrot and a pinch of salt to remaining chicken fat/olive oil in pot and cook over medium heat until onions become translucent. Stir in garlic and spices. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add bay leaf, beans, and chicken stock. Return chicken to pot. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about one hour.

When the beans are done, remove bay leaf and chicken from pot. Discard bones and break meat up into coarse chunks. Stir chicken and reserved sausage pieces into beans. Add salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour bean and meat mixture into a 13 x 9 baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Cassoulet before crumb topping
While beans are baking, make crumb topping. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat; add bread crumbs, salt and chipotle, and cook, stirring, until crumbs are crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in cilantro.

Raise oven temperature to 400°F. Remove casserole from oven. Smash some of the beans with the back of a fork to thicken mixture. Top with crumbs. Return and bake until crust is golden, about 10 minutes.

Cassoulet after crumb topping.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.