So, a ‘Cassoulet’ is basically just a French name for a stew with beans in it.
You see, the French get insanely protective of the recipes (of which there are thousands – and all hideously complicated), methods and ingredients that supposedly go into this, and anything other than any of those is usually spat on, dismissed as total crap and possibly not even considered worthy of feeding to the dog.
So – because I quite like the idea of Cassoulet (aka stew with beans in it), but have never had the patience to go through the twenty hoops, rings of fire and booby-traps involving sharp knives and flame-throwers required to actually make it, I’ve developed this recipe this which is a total fake, but as far as I’m concerned, utterly delicious.
Also, it might look fairly complex, but its really not. If you think about it as being a ‘stew of three parts’ each of which can be done separately – it becomes a lot easier.
1 Free-range Chicken
1 largish sprig of fresh thyme
2 Bay Leaves
1 Tbsp of whole black peppercorns
A healthy pinch of salt
2 Celery stalks (chopped up)
1 Brown Onion (roughly chopped)
1 Tspn of Hot English Mustard
4 Tbsp of Butter
3 Smashed cloves of garlic
3 capfuls of white wine vinegar
1 Handful of smoked bacon (or good quality streaky bacon) – chopped
1 Red Pepper (finely chopped)
1 Generous cup of white wine
1 500g tin of Broad Beans
1 Coil of Italian pork sausage
5 or 6 Spring onions (finely chopped)
1 handful of fresh sage (chopped)
2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
2 Tins of whole peeled tomatoes
1 Large bowl of rough bread crumbs
1 Generous handful of grated parmesan
What to do:
In a large pot, combine the chicken (I’d recommend cutting it up into smaller pieces, separating the legs and wings from the main body) with the salt, pepper, thyme, bay, carrots, celery, onion, mustard and butter. Then cover with water, bring it to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Just a word about the butter and the mustard in what is otherwise a standard chicken-stock: although it’s virtual blasphemy to include them, with this recipe its super-important, mainly because of the incredible way in which these flavours will travel through this whole recipe – ultimately giving it an amazing silky quality.
Drain the liquid through a colander or sieve into a container and set aside, then remove the chicken from the pot. At this point all that should be left in the pot are the vegetables from the stock, from which you should remove the bay leaves and the stalks from the thyme.
Remove all the meat from the carcass of the chicken (you can be quite rough with it – you don’t really need neat whole pieces, the meat can in fact have an almost shredded quality) and put it in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and then add three caps full of white wine vinegar and set aside.
To the vegetables in your stockpot, add the bacon, the wine, beans and chopped red pepper. Cover with some of your freshly made stock and bring to the boil then simmer for about an hour.
Meanwhile, heat a pan until smoking hot and brown your coil of sausage. Once browned, remove from the pan and slice into inch-thick discs. Leave all the juices from the sausage in the pan because we’re going to use it almost immediately.
Finely chop the spring onions, garlic and sage and add them to the juice of the just-cooked sausage in the pan and fry gently. Then add the chicken and combine in the heat for about 3 or 4 minutes.
Add this to the simmering stock, beans and vegetables – then also add the tins of tomato and the sliced sausage. Continue to simmer (stirring every now and again) on a low heat for another one and a half hours.
Meanwhile mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.
Finally, remove the ‘stew’ from the heat and add to a thick casserole dish (or basically any ovenproof ceramic dish) and then cover with the breadcrumb/parmesan mix. Bake in the oven on 180 °C until the crumb crust is crisp and golden brown.
I served this with flatbread and large quantities of red wine (like….a lot) and a salad of rocket-leaves with a lemon dressing.