Friday, November 04, 2016

Jerk Chicken Cassoulet

There are some foods that I consider blank canvases: pizza, tacos, pasta. You have to admit, pretty much anything tastes good in those applications. Pulled pork and hmmm...smoked gouda...would work equally well on pizza, in tacos, or on pasta. At least I think so. I have come to think of cassoulet in much the same way. A classic French dish of white beans enriched with fatty garlic sausage and even fattier duck, cassoulet is seasoned with herbs like bay leaves and thyme. Thyme is also a main constituent of Jamaican jerk seasoning, commonly used on chicken. I've made cassoulet with Chinese sausage and black vinegar before, so why couldn't I make it with jerk seasoning and chicken?

I could and I did. It was a fine activity for a windy Sunday afternoon.

A friend brought us some fairly mild jerk seasoning as a souvenir from Jamaica. We'd been using it for a while so there wasn't much left, but definitely enough for this dish. You could use a spicier commercial seasoning or make your own. You could also add more than I call for. Since there's no real standard spice mix, and I used a non-commercial blend, it's one of those things that should be up to individual taste. My final dish didn't taste exactly like jerk chicken - it wasn't nearly hot enough - but it was really delicious. The beans with their savory, lightly sweet, and vinegary cooking liquid would have been lovely on their own, even without the crisp-skinned chicken. Maybe even without the sausage, although as a carnivore, I really liked the sausage part.

Jerk Chicken "Cassoulet"

2 leeks
2 stalks celery
Olive oil
1/2 pound cured garlic sausage (like Hickory Farms kielbasa), diced
Jerk seasoning
2 (15-oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Fresh thyme
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Hot sauce
Chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 325°.

Trim the ends off the leeks, cut a deep slit from top to bottom and rinse the inside layers very well to remove any sand. Cut leeks into quarters and slice thinly. Trim the celery stalks and dice. Cook leeks and celery in a large skillet with a small glug of olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat until wilted. Add the kielbasa and cook until it starts to render out a bit of fat, 3-4 minutes. Season with a couple teaspoons of jerk seasoning and remove from heat. Stir in the beans.

Pour the bean mixture into a 9x13-inch baking pan. Top with 6 sprigs of fresh thyme. Set aside while you cook the chicken.

Place the same pan that you cooked the leeks in over high heat. Add the chicken, skin side-down, and cover pan to prevent splattering. Cook until skin is browned, 3-4 minutes. Turn chicken and sprinkle chicken skin with a teaspoon or so of jerk seasoning. Cook until bottoms of thighs are browned. Using tongs, remove chicken and place on top of the bean mixture in the baking pan.

If there seems to be a lot of chicken fat in the frying pan, blot it up with paper towels, being careful to leave any bits of chicken that are adhering to the bottom. Turn the heat to high and add the chicken stock, scraping up those browned chicken bits with a wooden spoon. Add the dark brown sugar, vinegar, and hot sauce to taste. Season with a few teaspoons of jerk seasoning. The sauce should be piquant, spicy, and have a nice thyme/allspice flavor. Feel free to add more ground allspice and ginger if you feel the seasoning needs to be kicked up a bit. Remove liquid from heat and pour over the beans in the pan, trying not to soak the chicken skin.

Cover the pan with foil and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 1 hour. Remove foil, turn oven down to 300°F and cook for an additional hour, until beans have absorbed most of the liquid and chicken is very tender.

While the chicken is cooking, melt a pat of butter in a small skillet. Stir in half a cup or so of panko and cook over medium heat until the panko is coated with the butter and nicely crispy. Season with a pinch of salt. Remove from heat and spread on a plate to cool. When cool, stir in a few tablespoons of finely chopped parsley.

To serve, mound beans in a shallow bowl and top with a piece of chicken. Garnish with some of the panko/crumb mixture. Serves 4-6.

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