Real cassoulet is a beauty to behold but a bear to make. Not only does it take hours and hours, it features some pretty expensive and hard-to-find ingredients in the U.S. Traditional cassoulet is also insanely high in saturated fats and features salty pork and red meats.
That being said, cassoulet is the ultimate comfort food. The most important element of this casserole is the beans - silky, rich, and flavorful. I found a wonderful basic recipe for cassoulet beans with a fraction of the fat and salt and did some significant tweaking. This casserole features a cornbread crust and only poultry. I also used Lima beans, which are a soul food staple, but this would work equally well with northern beans or kidneys. Sure, this is slow food, but is way faster that the original and it worth the effort and time. It makes a fantastic Sunday dinner or pot luck blue ribbon contribution.
For the cassoulet beans:
1 pound dried baby Lima or Great Northern Beans, soaked overnight, drained, and picked over
4 whole cloves
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, like Tabasco or Louisiana Krystal
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
6 cups of homemade unsalted chicken bone broth or stock or boxed low sodium broth
1 cup of nitrate-free or regular dry white wine
2 chicken legs and thighs, trimmed of extra fat and pat dry
1 tablespoon rendered duck fat or bacon fat
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
A one-inch piece of a twelve-ounce link of natural, nitrate-free, turkey kielbasa
Pinch of sea salt
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoons raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
Fresh ground black pepper
1. Place beans in a large saucepan or pot. Stick the onions with the cloves and add to the beans with the 4 cloves of smashed garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and pepper sauce.
2. Pour in enough of the bone broth or stock to cover the beans by one inch. Bring to a boil, then lower to a lazy simmer and cook for an hour. Add more broth if they start to dry out.
3. Add the tablespoon of fat to a heavy skillet (not cast iron!!!) and place over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces skin side down and press down lightly. Cook until well browned on one side, then flip and cook on the other side until the chicken is a rich brown all over. Remove the chicken from the pan and tuck directly into the beans. Add the piece of kielbasa to the beans too.
5. Pour the fat from the pan into a bowl or mug and set aside. Make sure there are no drips down the side of the pan, then return to the heat. Add 1/2 cup of the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a wooden spatula to loosen any bits. Pour the wine mixture into the beans.
6. Slow simmer the beans for about another 45 minutes. Make sure that the beans still hold their shape.
7. Drain the beans in a colander set over a bowl to collect the cooking liquid. When cool enough to touch, remove the chicken to a plate, and discard the thyme, bay leaves, and cloves (if you can find them.)
8. In a heavy pot or stove-top safe casserole heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Cook the remaining onions, garlic, and carrots until soft and slightly browned. Raise the heat to medium and brown a little more, then pour in the remaining wine and deglaze the pan. Cook at a low boil for 2 minutes, then pour into the beans.
9. Skin the chicken and strip the meat from the bones. Discard the skin and bones and add the chicken meat to the beans. Cook the beans for about another 15 minutes until soft, adding more broth to the pot if they start to dry out.
10. To finish the beans, add salt and pepper to taste (I only use about one teaspoon) and stir in the vinegar. The beans will keep for up to 3 days before you make the cassoulet.
For the Cassoulet:
1 cup of unsweet, basic skillet cornbread, crumbled
1/4 cup grated parmesiano reggiano
11 ozs. remaining turkey kielbasa, sliced on the diagonal into rounds
Reserved chicken/duck fat
1 clove of garlic, cut in half
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Rub the cut side of the garlic all over the inside of a large casserole dish.
3. Spoon in all of the beans.
4. Heat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat and drop in a teaspoon of the fat. Once the fat spreads and is shimmering, add the kielbasa and brown all over. Tuck the kielbasa into the beans.
5. Mix the crumbled corn bread with the parmesiano reggiano. Sprinkle evenly over the beans. Drizzle very lightly with 1-2 teaspoons of the remaining chicken/duck fat.
6. Place the casserole dish in the oven and bake for 20 -25 minutes until the crust is nice and brown and the beans are bubbling. Serve hot.