A rich but not too fatty Calais cassoulet

Posted Nov. 30, 2010, at 11:57 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:52 p.m.

This recipe bubbled up out of potluck supper. Fellow islander Pat Mitchell brought the dish, and one of the attendees, Melissa Olson said, “This would be a good thing to make in a slow cooker.” Melissa is the mom of three really lively girls who play sports, sing with the youth choir, and participate in 4-H and other after school activities. Plus, she works at the school and at her husband’s independent book store. Melissa believes in home cooking for the family but can’t spend lots of hours doing it. Her slow cooker is her friend.

Pat already has worked over the recipe, reducing considerably the amount of fat from the original recipe that she shared with me, and I found the dish fully flavorful without it. Using thighs instead of chicken breasts goes a long way towards keeping it rich without too much grease.

With a salad on the side and a good steamed vegetable like broccoli or green beans, this makes a nicely rounded meal. If you work it right, you can end up with enough for a couple of meals. Freeze half to thaw and serve later this month when you have so many holiday related things to do that cooking looks burdensome.

If you make this in a slow cooker (you might call yours a Crock-Pot) you can consider skipping the breadcrumbs on top. I think it is nice but unnecessary.
Names of dishes always fascinate me. What makes this a cassoulet, I suspect, is the beans, long cooking with poultry, and the salt pork that Pat omitted. What makes it California who knows. Why not call it Camden Cassoulet? Or Calais Cassoulet? Call it good.

California (or Calais) Cassoulet
Yields 10-12 servings
1 pound large white beans
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 smoked ham hock
1 large onion
6 whole cloves
2 carrots sliced
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
8-10 chicken thighs
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic
1 pound kielbasa sausage
1 cup dried bread crumbs (optional)
1½ tablespoons butter (optional)

Soak beans overnight in lots of water. Next day, add salt and pepper, ham hock and onion stuck with cloves, carrots and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer, covered for 1½ hours, adding more water if needed.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Saute chicken thighs in olive oil until browned on all sides. Remove, add chopped onions and garlic to pan drippings, cook until tender. Remove ham hock from beans and cut off meat, discard skin and bones. Cut sausage into bite-size pieces. Add onions and garlic mix to beans.

Layer beans, meats and chicken in a six-quart casserole or slow cooker. Cover and bake or cook for three hours; add water if necessary. For crumb topping, mix breadcrumbs and butter and sprinkle over beans. Bake another 30 minutes.

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