Monday, January 4, 2010

Crock Pot Cassoulet

I am a sucker for a good story, so it was with great enthusiasm that I began reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. What a complete let-down. Aside from the fact that this author has the vocabulary of a sailor, I found her whiny, annoying and very uninteresting. Julia Child, however, was everything Julie Powell was not: witty, sympathetic, engaging. I found My Life in France by Child a much more interesting read. Powell's book was given away. Child's book earned a place on my bookshelf. Another book I'd like to add is Child's first book: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I've been reading it (yes, cover to cover) and have thoroughly enjoyed the foray into the French take on culinary mastery. What does that have to do with recipe in this post? Well, it's French, I suppose. And, with the temperature outside dipping to a very brisk -2 degrees (after factoring in the wind chill), I wanted my family to eat something that would warm them through and through. (So what if my chicken-nugget-loving kids turned their noses up at it. My husband and I loved it.) This is not Julia's recipe. It's actually my use-what-you-got take on a recipe I found online. It's altered enough that I can safely call it my own.

Crock Pot Cassoulet

3 strips bacon, diced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into medallions
16 oz. sausage, such as kielbasa or Polish sausage
1-2 chicken breasts, trimmed
1 cup chicken broth1/2 cup red wine
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. sugar
3 bay leaves
3 tbsp parsley, fresh or dried
1/2 thyme, dried
1 can cannellini or navy beans
1/3 cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Dice bacon and brown in large skillet until almost crisp. Add onion, garlic and carrots. Cook until onions are soft and begin to color. Empty contents (conserving bacon grease in pan) into crock pot. Turn crock pot on low to medium setting.
2. In same pan, brown sausage. (Add a little olive oil, if necessary, to prevent sticking.) Transfer to crock pot.
3. Pat chicken dry and season with a scant amount of salt and pepper. Cut chicken into large pieces (2-3 inches). Over high heat, sear chicken until just browned. Transfer to pot.
4. Combine chicken broth, wine, sugar, tomatoes, bay leaves, parsley and thyme in pan. Bring to boil. (It will boil quickly.) Pour over contents of crock pot. Stir.
5. Add drained beans to crock pot. Stir.
6. Cover with bread crumbs and cover the pot. Cook covered for 6-8 hours on low to medium heat.
7. Serve over rice or mashed potatoes.

Serves 4.

Substitution Suggestions: I was so excited to try this recipe that I didn't check to see that I had all the ingredients before I started. I was completely out of any kind of white bean. And, black beans would have been wrong on so many levels. So, I used chick peas. They were so tender and flavorful that I may not ever make this recipe with beans.
Don't feel limited to chicken and sausage. Though sausage really is a staple for this dish, you can swap out the chicken for pork chops or duck. Or, go whole hog and use all of it.
Baby carrots work just fine, though as a rule, I think they don't soften quite as much as regular carrots even when cooked for long periods of time.

Lessons Learned: The only really important lesson I re-learned while making this recipe is to make sure the knife is sharp before dicing onions. I had a slight mishap with the chef's knife and my fingertip (but nothing that a small bandage couldn't fix).
The recipe I worked from suggested using sausage with an 85% meat content. I used a light kielbasa sausage, which definitely cut down on the calories. And, I didn't add any extra salt. The sausage had enough that the dish was not noticeably lacking in sodium. I may use a spicy sausage next time for a little extra zing. However, it was not in any way bland the way it was originally prepared. And, the chicken was so tender that it literally fell apart as I scooped it from the pot.
The bread crumbs are meant to thicken the sauce. So, they can be stirred in if you simply must peek under the lid during cooking.
For a more authentic version, it can be cooked in a Dutch oven/le cresuet at 300 degrees for approximately three hours. Remove the lid during the last half hour of cooking to brown the bread crumbs.