It’s the beginning of January, and you’re just getting off that holiday food and drink high. Every food available seems sad and boring after all of the wonderful things you ate over the holidays. Plus, the diet that was your New Year’s resolution went completely to pot when you realized you simply cannot live without that gyros when you have a beer or two, so you’re feeling guilty, to boot. What could possibly make you feel better…? Cassoulet Day, that’s what. There’s nothing quite like a good, hearty meal to get you feeling ready to face the world again.
The History of Cassoulet Day
The dish is thought to have originated in Toulouse, in the province of Languedoc, and traditional versions of the dish contain sausages, lamb, goose, or duck confit from Toulouse. Cassoulets have humble, peasant origins. They were a popular dish in January because they were very hearty and filling, perfect for the cold winter months, providing those that had eaten them with lots of energy that would fuel them for the remainder of the day. Cassoulets are made using meat that has first been simmered or seared in a pan, and deglazing the pan the meat was cooked in is an integral part of the cooking process, as what was scraped out of it is used as flavoring for the dish. This has lead to several legends that the same cassoulet has been extended over decades, each using flavoring from the last one. Today, cassoulets are served in restaurants all over France as well as sold in many supermarkets as well.
How the Celebrate Cassoulet Day
Needless to say, the best way to celebrate cassoulet day is to learn to make your own, hearty cassoulet.
Here is a simple recipe:
2 chicken thighs with skin
1/4 pound slab bacon, sliced thickly
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped into 1cm pieces
1 carrot, chopped into 1cm pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cups cooked white beans
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup real chicken stock
1 small tomato, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 baguette, sliced, for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees celsius. Season the shicken with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes so the seasoning can sink in.
Put the bacon in a medium frying pan and slowly render the fat over medium low heat. Remove the bacon when it becomes crispy, but leave the fat in the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chicken, placing the skin side down. Next, brown the chicken on both sides, taking it out of the frynig pan when it’s nicely browned, and once again leaving the fat. Add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic to the hot bacon fat and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with white wine and simmer until the mixture is reduced by half. Stir in the beans, bay leaf and thyme. Place chicken thighs and bacon into the pot and surround them with the vegetables. Add the chicken stock to the pan, and then cover and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, top the cassoulet with the thinly sliced tomato, and return to the oven to bake, uncovered this time, for 15 more minutes.
Serve the cassoulet with baguette slices.