Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat, pork skin and white beans. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. (Wikipedia) Cassoulets always have white beans, but the meats vary, from duck to pork and various sausages. Beans take quite a while to cook, and to get some types of meats tender, slow cooking is key. However, some of us just don’t have time for all that, and since good quality pre-cooked canned beans are readily available, it makes it a bit easier to make this dish.
I’ve seen a wide variety of recipes calling for everything from chicken thighs and legs, duck, Italian sausage, bacon, rabbit, and more, but since I try to keep things a bit healthier and lower in fat, I chose to use boneless skinless chicken thighs. Thighs are higher in fat than breast meat, but they are much more flavorful and for this type of dish, breast just wouldn’t do. I chose the boneless skinless thighs because they have less fat and cook a bit more quickly than bone-in, however either will work.
As far as sausages go, at my house we have to go low fat and all natural due to dietary restrictions. There are very few sausage products that my husband can eat, so I chose to use Hillshire Farms Naturals Uncured Turkey Kielbasa. While a quality Italian sausage might taste better, I found that this sausage held up well in the stew.
For additional flavor and color, I grilled the meats to sear them on the outside prior to placing them into the stew to finish cooking. I happen to have an indoor grill, however you can use a traditional outdoor grill, a grill pan on a stove, or even just sear them in a regular frying pan.
Normally, I would use fresh carrots -in fact, that was the plan, however I forgot to pick them up at the store and really didn’t want to run back out again, so I ended up using frozen sliced carrots that I had on hand and they worked out just fine. You cannot, however, substitute for fresh thyme! This herb is so fragrant and flavorful, you really need it in this dish. Obviously, if it is not available in your area, use dried. I made the mistake of just putting a handful of it in there, and then had to painstakingly pick out all of the stems when I was ready to serve it. I suggest tying a bunch together with some kitchen twine so it’s easier to remove at the end.
The harissa adds a nice little kick to the stew and an almost citrusy or tangy flavor; it is not necessary but it really does brighten the stew base. If you like things a little bit spicier, add more, but don’t add too much or you will overwhelm the flavors of the other spices and herbs. I’ve never seen it in my normal grocery stores, but I did found it at Trader Joes.
Serve this hearty stew with a nice, crusty bread that can hold up to soaking up all that tasty broth. I used a Pugliese loaf that I picked up at the Kroger bakery, however I suspect that a good ciabatta would be wonderful as well. Since my hubs doesn’t do bread, I browned some baby potatoes in olive oil to go along with it, but to be honest, this is so filling on its own, it really doesn’t need potatoes – stick with the crusty bread.
Now, I’m not a sommelier, but in my opinion either red or white goes with this. I chose a white – Dreaming Tree Sauvignon Blanc. It’s brightness and crispness paired well and brought out the thyme and harissa, but I suspect that a pinot noir or cabernet would go nicely as well, given the tomato base. And of course, since we just got back from a 3-day Dave Matthews concert, Dreaming Tree seemed the obvious choice!
Quick & Easy Cassoulet
1 13 oz package all natural smoked turkey sausage
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for grilling
½ cup sweet yellow onion diced
½ cup dry red wine
½ of a 15 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 32-ounce container reduced sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon harissa
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried garlic granules
2 bay leaves
1 handful of fresh thyme
1 ½ cups sliced frozen carrots, thawed
1 14-ounce cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
splash of cooking sherry
splash of red wine vinegar
Slice the smoked sausage into large 2-inch chunks diagonally and set aside. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, brush with a little bit of olive oil, and generously season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper. Heat a grill to high/medium high and grill the chicken and sausages just until seared on all sides (the meat will finish cooking in the stew). Remove from heat and set aside.
In a cast iron dutch oven (or similar large, heavy bottom cooking pot), heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Cook the onion until golden brown, stirring frequently to prevent burning and sticking. Add the red wine, reduce heat to medium, and allow to cook down for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste, gently mixing the tomato paste to incorporate it into the tomatoes, then add the chicken broth. Bring to a low, gentle boil and stir in the harissa, salt, pepper, allspice, cinnamon, and garlic. Reduce to medium-low, add the bay leaves and thyme in the middle. Nest the sausages and chicken thighs throughout the stew, then cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, checking occasionally that it is not sticking or burning on the bottom (and reducing the heat if necessary). Remove the lid, add the sliced carrots and beans, stir gently and allow to heat through for about 10 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the red wine vinegar and cooking sherry and serve in bowls with slices of crusty bread.
*Vegetarian Option: Substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth. While the tomatoes and broth are cooking, season 1 inch tofu pieces with salt, pepper, and a little oregano. Pan fry the tofu pieces until crispy, and add with the beans and carrots at the end. Since you are not cooking meat, the stew will not need to cook as long.