Chicken Cassoulet

September 9, 2008

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 The recent onslaught of hurricanes and tropical storms have left its mark all along the Gulf Coast and Eastern seaboard.  Dark skies and heavy rains make for a perfect day for a cassoulet, a French stew made of white beans, vegetables, and meat.  Just add a salad and some crusty bread, and you have yourself the perfect meal to chase away gray skies.

Chicken Cassoulet with Panko Topping (adapted from Martha Stewart)

5 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
6 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
19 oz. cannellini beans
3 C. chicken stock
3 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into B-inch pieces
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 dried bay leaf
1 tsp. coarse salt 
1+ 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 C. panko breadcrumbs

Marinate the chicken: In a bowl large enough to hold chicken thighs, combine 2 garlic cloves, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and vinegar. Add chicken; toss to coat. Cover; refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in upper third.  In a large stockpot bring chicken stock with carrots, celery, onion, remaining 3 garlic cloves, bay leaf, sage, and remaining teaspoon thyme to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low until vegetables are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.  In the last 5 minutes, add the drained beans.

Transfer bean mixture to a colander set over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid; let cool slightly. Puree half the mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. With the motor running, pour in about 1 cup reserved cooking liquid until thick and smooth. Return to pot with remaining bean mixture. Add the salt; stir to combine.

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Brush an 8-by-2 1/2-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon the oil. Remove chicken from marinade, and arrange in a single layer in prepared dish. Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Remove dish from oven; pour bean mixture over chicken.  Combine the remaining olive olive with the breadcrumb, then sprinkle over the bean mixture.   Set dish on a baking sheet; return to oven, and bake until breadcrumbs are golden brown and beans are bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven; serve hot.

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The fresh herbs is the key to making this bean stew so savory and delicious.  The kids love to dip bread into the bean mixture and so do we.

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