Cassoulet! Have you ever eaten it before? It’s a classic French Stew — so thick it’s almost a casserole, and it’s packed with different ingredients and layers of flavor. I remember the very first time I ate cassoulet. It was the first time we lived in France. We were visiting friends in the Dordogne region who lived next to a castle. The weather was chilly, and a hot bowl of cassoulet was the perfect thing for dinner. It warmed me right up and was super filling.
True cassoulet can take a long time to make, so this recipe includes a few short-cut options. For those of you who prefer a slow-cooker, the notes include an adaptation for that too. If you give the recipe a try, I hope you let me know what you think.
And if you’ve ever had memorable cassoulet, I want to hear about it!
If you’ve had cassoulet before — the real thing — then you’ll take a glance at the ingredient list with some skepticism. Cassoulet should have duck confit, I agree, but because it’s so pricey and hard to procure in the U.S., this recipe lists chicken thighs instead. (Duck confit is bone-in, skin-on duck thighs that are slow cooked in their own fat. And it is absolutely incredible and you should taste it at least once in your life.) This recipe also recommends using bacon and kielbasa instead of an array of smoked and fresh sausages. You get the same effect and very similar flavors.
The key to a good stew of any kind is building flavor as you go. That’s why you’ll notice several steps where things are sauteed, then removed from the pan, then everything is added back in at the end. That’s on purpose. You can certainly shortcut it even further by combining those steps, but it’s very important to sauté the aromatics — onion, carrot, and garlic — as the base.
You can use either boneless, skinless chicken thighs or the bone-in ones., but the boneless cook more quickly (and if you’re cooking for young people, are easier for kids to eat on their own). Chicken breasts end up far too dry unless bone-in are used.
The bread crumb topping is the icing on the cake, as it were, but completely optional. Who doesn’t like buttery herbed bread crumbs? But truly, cassoulet is served with and without the crumb topping — there are so many variations, try this recipe, and then make adjustments to find your own groove.
Whatever you do, you’ve got to serve this with warm, crusty bread (butter is encouraged) and a green salad. It’s much lighter than a traditional cassoulet recipe, but still rich enough to be satisfying and fill your belly with warmth and comfort.
4 ounces slices thick-cut bacon, diced
16 ounce smoked sausage (like kielbasa), sliced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine or broth
4 (15-ounce) cans navy beans, drained (about 4.5 to 5 cups cooked beans)
2 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
5 whole sage leaves
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (see note)
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, and thyme)
2 tablespoons melted butter
For serving: crusty bread and a green salad
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Heat a Dutch oven or 6-quart oven-safe pan with deep sides over medium-high heat. (If the pan has a lid, even better, but not totally necessary.) Add the diced bacon. Saute for 5-8 minutes, or until bacon has browned and the fat has rendered. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic to the pan. Saute for another 3-4 minutes, scraping up any browned bits as you go along. If there isn’t enough fat left in the pan, add a little water to the pan. Saute again for 3-5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon, onions, carrots, and garlic from the pan and transfer to a bowl.
3. Add the sliced sausage to the pan and cook, turning the pieces over occasionally for 3-4 minutes, or until browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in bowl with the bacon and onion mixture.
4. Place the chicken thighs in the pan and sear the first side for about 4-5 minutes, then flip over and cook for a few more minutes. The chicken won’t be completely cooked yet. Transfer to a clean plate and set aside for a few minutes.
5. To the pan, add the tomato paste. Cook for 30-60 seconds, then stir in the white wine (or chicken broth). Keep stirring to remove any lumps from the tomato paste. Add the beans, sausage, bacon and onion mixture, chicken broth, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, and sage leaves. Set the par-cooked chicken thighs on top and nestle them into the beans. (Don’t reuse that plate – wash it well!)
6. Place lid on pan or cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, combine the bread crumbs, herbs, and melted butter. Set aside.
8. After 35 minutes, remove the lid and make sure the whole pot is simmering, particularly in the center. If not, place back in oven for another 5-10 minutes or so. If stew is simmering and bubbling all over, sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs over the cassoulet. Turn oven temperature up to 425°. Allow to cook another 5-7 minutes, uncovered, just until the bread crumbs are nicely toasted.
9. Allow cassoulet to cool for a few minutes before serving. Spoon into bowls, making sure everyone gets some of each of the meats. The chicken will probably be very tender and easily fall apart. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad on the side.
Yield: 6-8 servings.
– To slow cook dry navy beans: sort and rinse through 1 lb. dry beans. Place in a slow cooker with 1 bay leaf, 1 clove garlic, and a few slices of onion. Cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours or LOW for 7-8 hours. Remove the bay leaf, garlic, and onion. Drain the beans and use as desired.
– To make fresh bread crumbs: tear 2-3 slices white or whole wheat bread into pieces and place into a food processor. Pulse until fine crumbs form. Use immediately or freeze until ready to use.
– To make Slow Cooker Cassoulet: Follow the recipe as written above, but after step 5, place everything into a 6 quart slow cooker and cook on LOW for 4-5 hours, or HIGH for 2-3 hours. Omit the bread crumb step, or simply toast bread crumbs and herbs in melted butter in a skillet on the stove and sprinkle on the top of each serving.
– For a vegetarian option: substitute kielbasa with vegetarian sausages, use vegetable broth, omit bacon and chicken; add extra veggies such as diced butternut squash, mushrooms, or cauliflower, if desired. You can stir in chopped fresh spinach right before serving.
– Gluten-free bread crumbs can be used in place of the wheat bread, if needed.
P.S. — More dinner inspiration! One pot & one pan meals.
Credits: Recipe and photos by Lindsey Rose Johnson for Design Mom.