Shiftwork Bites: Cassoulet

Shiftwork Bites is all about flexibility. Sometimes, that just means altering a cooking method to suit my circumstances. Occasionally, it means taking liberties with the specifics of a recipe. Such was the case over the weekend when I decided to make a batch of cassoulet for my coworkers.

This classic of Southern French cookery is pretty forgiving in its own right, being essentially a slow-cooked casserole of beans and meat, with the specifics varying from region to region and cook to cook, based largely on what was available. The most recognized version contains white beans, confit of goose or duck, sausages, and pork. As is the case with most old-school French dishes, most cooks proclaim theirs to be the proper method. I make no such claim.

First, I substituted regular old chicken leg quarters for any form of confited fowl. Second, and likely most damning, I used canned cannellini beans instead of cooking them from dried. Lack of forethought had a lot to do with that one. Third, rather than whole cuts of pork, I cheated and grabbed some Irish-style bacon (cut from the loin instead of the belly, smoked but not cured). Aside from the substituted ingredients, though, the dish followed the general format of cassoulet pretty closely. Plus, I made chicken skin cracklins. That's gotta count for something, right?

Shiftwork Bites Cassoulet

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 fresh sausages (I used a pork and garlic sausage), halved
  • 3 chicken legs, bone in and skin on, separated in to thighs and drumsticks
  • 6 oz. Irish bacon, cut into lardons
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 cups stock, as needed
  • 1 28 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes, with juices
  • 6 14.5 oz cans cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme

As far as method goes, this version of cassoulet almost couldn't be easier. It's mostly a matter of getting good browning on the chicken and sausages, then slowly simmering them with the beans, stock and tomatoes.

I changed the method up a bit from the traditional, as I didn't have an oven, or anything even remotely like it, in which to cook the thing. The oven allows for a combination of wet heat, via the braising process, and dry heat, via the fact that you're cooking it in an oven. Doing the whole thing on the stovetop changed the equation slightly. To accommodate this, I seared the chicken with the skin on, then pulled the skin before adding the meat to the braise, as it would've gotten soggy. Nobody likes soggy chicken skin. Everybody likes crispy chicken skin, thus the cracklins. Those are about as easy. Simply fry the skins in their own fat, over moderate heat, until the fat has rendered out and the skins are crisp. Drain them on paper towels and salt while still hot.

To serve, spoon beans and tomatoes onto bowl or plate, add a sausage piece and a chicken drum or thigh. Top with chicken skin crackling and additional fresh thyme (chopped parsley would also be nice).

This one met with rave reviews, including the claim from one of my coworkers that this was the best version she'd had. While Feast is my favorite, I would agree that this was probably the best Shiftwork Bites offering thus far.

Try it yourself; feel free to adapt. Lord knows I did. That's the great thing about cassoulet. It's almost impossible to make it taste bad, as long as you keep the spirit of the original in mind.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall