Mama’s Chicken Cassoulet
Recipe, words & images by Harriet Davidson
Having spent a very fortunate childhood moving countries every three or so years with my parent’s work, my parent’s cooking has always been a huge part of what makes home feel like home for me. From Papua New Guinea to Washington D.C., the dining table was always a safe haven, like home base, for the five of us. A place to return to every night that was familiar, warming and always delicious, with dishes they carried with us from place to place. And this dish, my Mama’s Chicken Cassoulet, is one of my favourites that’s been popped down on our dining tables along the way. It’s warming, it’s nourishing, it’s everything I want in the cooler months, and more.
One of the beauties of this take on Chicken Cassoulet is that it can be played with in so many ways, from the ingredients used to the time you put into it. Use dry beans and soak them overnight or use a few tins if you’re low on time, use your own homemade crushed tomato or buy a can, use chicken thighs or buy a whole chicken (totally worth using a whole if you can for flavour and to prevent waste) and break it down, use pork sausages or chorizo. If you have a quiet and cold weekend this winter, taking the day to make this, from making your own stock and cooking your own beans, would be a lovely way to spend it.
My mother is an incredible cook and of course, rarely uses a recipe but I’ve sat in the kitchen and watched her cook this many, many times. “It is definitely a recipe to play with and cook a few times to get it like you want it,” my Mama told me. “I like it slightly overcooked to crisp up the top and make any sausage that is popping up a bit crunchy.”
The beans and chicken soak up the delicious flavours of the tomato, wine and thyme and the sausage adds a great kick. You’re definitely going to want some sourdough to dip in and soak up the “slurry” (as my Mama calls it), preferably lathered with salted butter. I hope this wintery warmer fills you in the same way in fills me, both in the literal and metaphoric sense.
1 whole free range chicken
3 sausages (I’ve used LP’s pork sausage here but you could use chorizo too)
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 leek, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch thyme
800g (or two cans) cooked cannellini beans
1 tin crushed tomato
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (any stale bread is perfect here)
Salt and pepper to season
Sourdough and salted butter to serve
Preheat your oven to 165C degrees. Start by cutting your chicken into eight pieces, removing the carcass and wings, so you’re left with two legs, the thighs and the breasts each cut into two. Keep the carcass and wings to make stock to keep in your fridge or freezer.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed, oven-proof saucepan with a lid (something along the Le Creuset or cast iron lines is what you’re after here). Brown the chicken pieces, a few at a time, so they’re about half cooked. Follow with the sausages, cut into bite-sized pieces. Remove all from the pan and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter to the pan. Sauté onion, garlic and sliced leek until soft, about five to ten minutes. Add in 4 sprigs of thyme and the white wine. Give it all a stir to get those lovely caramelised onion bits at the bottom of the pan and cook for five minutes to cook off the wine. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the cannellini beans, a tin of crushed tomato and the tomato paste bringing everything to a gentle simmer before adding the chicken and sausage back in. It should be pretty saucy at this point so add in your stock until the chicken is submerged. Top with breadcrumbs, a few knobs of butter and a few more springs of thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook covered in the oven for about 40 minutes, uncovering it after half an hour, until it’s nice and bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden and crispy, and the chicken is cooked.
Serve with crusty bread and salty butter.