I’m super-picky about cooking shows. I absolutely hate the competition shows and especially ones with ‘tough-love’ angry chefs, but then again, it’s a little too close to my reality to enjoy. I certainly prefer more relaxed cooking programs and one of my favorites is FoodNetwork’s ’10 Dollar Dinners’ with Melissa D’Arabian, and her ‘Weekday Cassoulet’ was the inspiration for this dish.
I have only had cassoulet a few times (and I have yet to visit France), but from what I understand, it’s that dish that took a French Mom all day to make and her family just adored her for it. It’s a hearty stew of confit duck, pork, sausage, white beans and vegetables with a bread crumb crust that turns into magic under the hands of the right cook. My version uses chicken thighs, slow cooked with some of their own fat, to mimic that confit flavor, pared up with the traditional vegetables and herbs. As much as I would love to use all those exciting meats, they don’t really fit into my budget and there’s plenty of protein and flavor in my take on this stew with the chicken, beans and hint of bacon.
For this dish, my crockpot was the key player, cooking the chicken thighs with the beans while I was busy with my day, imparting that ‘all day-flavor’ with quite minimal effort on my part. When I was ready to start with dinner, it was just a quick saute followed by a stint in the oven. As with a traditional cassoulet, my version took a long cooking time, but mine took only a small amount of attention on my part! Paired with a loaf of rustic bread or baguette, and you have yourself a little taste of the French countryside!
Shortcut Cassoulet – served with ciabatta bread
Serves 4 – cost approx $.90 per serving, including bread
- 1 cup dry white beans or cranberry beans ($.65)
- 2 chicken thighs ($.99)
- 1 tsp dry thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup chicken fat (optional) – I save mine by skimming the fat off the top of my chicken stock. It’s amazing stuff!
- 3 slices bacon, cut in thin strips ($.47)
- 1 small onion, small dice ($.15)
- 2 carrots, small dice ($.12)
- 2 ribs celery, small dice ($.09)
- 1/2 head garlic, minced – divided use ($.12)
- 1/2 cup white wine ($.25)
- salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 2 Tbs minced parsley
- 2 Tbs olive oil
Start off by halving the chicken thighs, straight through the bone, like a champ! It’s easy if you have the right tools. Use poultry shears or go bad-ass-Benihana-chef on it and use a cleaver. Be sure to be careful and know where your fingers are at all times, both of those instruments are quite powerful, and with great power, comes great responsiblity (to not cut off your digits). Put your halved chicken thighs and everything else in the first set of ingredients in your slow cooker along with 4 cups of water. Cook on low for about 6 hours. You’ll notice that there’s no salt here, that’s on purpose, salting beans while they cook can cause them to get tough. Also, don’t throw out that cooking liquid, you’ll need to use it later!
When you’re ready to make dinner, preheat your oven to 375F. Start by cooking the bacon in a dutch oven or large cast iron saute pan. When the bacon is mostly cooked, add in the onion, carrots, celery and most of the garlic. (Reserve 1 tsp of minced garlic for a later use.) Saute the veggies and bacon over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until fully cooked through. Season with salt and black pepper. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and cook until it’s almost all the way reduced. Using a slotted spoon, add the chicken thighs and beans from the slow cooker into the pan with the vegetables. Next, add some of the flavorful cooking liquid in the slow cooker to the pan of cooking yummies, you want the level of the liquid to be just below the level of your chicken and vegetable mixture. Pop the whole pan into the oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
While the cassoulet is in the oven, mix all ingredients in the last set, plus the reserved minced garlic, to make the bread crumb mixture that tops the dish.
Pull out the cassoulet, and set it on a your range or a hot-pad for a moment. Poke at it with a spoon and smash up some of the beans to make the stew liquid thick and hearty. If necessary, add some more of that reserved cooking liquid to bring the liquid level to just below the level of all the goodies. Sprinkle the bread crumb mix over the top and bake another 15 minutes. Viola! Now you’re ready to eat!