Cassoulet! Have you ever eaten in before? It’s a classic French Stew — so thick it’s almost a casserole, and it’s packed with different ingredients and layers of flavor. I remember the very first time I ate cassoulet. It was when we lived in France. We were visiting friends in the Dordogne region who lived next to a castle (which was awesome). The weather was chilly, and a hot bowl of cassoulet was the perfect thing for dinner. It warmed me right up and was super filling.
True cassoulet can take a long time to make, so with this recipe, Lindsey includes a few short-cut options, and slow-cooker instructions too. I hope you give it a try and let me know what you think.
And if you’ve ever had memorable cassoulet, I want to hear about it!
I’m going to go ahead and be honest right out of the gate. This one pot dinner takes a little more time than others. But it’s still super easy and do-able for a weeknight. Cassoulet is hands-down my favorite French meal, especially in the autumn. I make some version of it all year long, but especially when it’s cold. If you’ve had cassoulet before — the real thing — then you’ll take a glance at the ingredient list with some skepticism. Cassoulet should have duck confit, I agree, but because it’s so pricey and hard to procure, I use chicken thighs. (Duck confit is nothing more than bone-in, skin-on duck thighs that are slow cooked in their own fat. And it is absolutely incredible and you should taste it at least once in your life.) In my cassoulet recipe, I take shortcuts by using bacon and kielbasa instead of an array of smoked and fresh sausages. You get the same effect and very similar flavors.
I add plenty of fresh “fall herbs” because they marry well with the beans, chicken, and smoked meats. By using canned or in this case, pre-cooked white beans (navy beans) in place of dry beans, it cuts down on cooking time. Just as a note, I cook one to two batches of dry beans in my slow cooker on a weekly basis as part of our family meal prep. See the notes for what I do. Canned is perfectly fine here, too, however dry beans are just super inexpensive and easy to make. This cassoulet recipe can be prepared in a slow cooker. See the notes under the recipe for that variation as well.
The key to a good stew of any kind is building flavor as you go. And so that’s why you’ll notice several steps where things are sauteed, then removed from the pan, then everything is added back in at the end. That’s on purpose. You can certainly shortcut it even further by combining those steps, but it’s very important to saute the aromatics — onion, carrot, and garlic — as the base.
I’ve used both boneless, skinless chicken thighs and the bone-in ones. You can use either, but the boneless cook more quickly and if I’m honest, easier for kids to eat on their own. Chicken breasts end up far too dry unless bone-in are used. I’ve also used a whole chicken cut into 8 pieces. I mention it just so you know there are options.
The bread crumb topping is the icing on the cake, as it were, but completely optional. I mean who doesn’t like buttery herbed bread crumbs? (That’s what I thought.) I’ve had cassoulet with and without the crumb topping. I feel like there are so many variations, you just have to find your own groove. If you couldn’t tell, I’m really all about making recipes the way you like them.
Whatever you do, you’ve got to serve this with warm, crusty bread (butter is encouraged) and a green salad. It’s much lighter than a traditional cassoulet recipe, but still rich enough to be satisfying and fill your belly with warmth and comfort.
4 ounces slices thick-cut bacon, diced
16 ounce smoked sausage (like kielbasa), sliced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine or broth
4 (15-ounce) cans navy beans, drained (about 4.5 to 5 cups cooked beans)
2 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
5 whole sage leaves
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (see note)
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, and thyme)
2 tablespoons melted butter
For serving: crusty bread and a green salad
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Heat a Dutch oven or 6-quart oven-safe pan with deep sides over medium-high heat. (If the pan has a lid, even better, but not totally necessary.) Add the diced bacon. Saute for 5-8 minutes, or until bacon has browned and the fat has rendered. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic to the pan. Saute for another 3-4 minutes, scraping up any browned bits as you go along. If there isn’t enough fat left in the pan, add a little water to the pan. Saute again for 3-5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon, onions, carrots, and garlic from the pan and transfer to a bowl.
3. Add the sliced sausage to the pan and cook, turning the pieces over occasionally for 3-4 minutes, or until browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in bowl with the bacon and onion mixture.
4. Place the chicken thighs in the pan and sear the first side for about 4-5 minutes, then flip over and cook for a few more minutes. The chicken won’t be completely cooked yet. Transfer to a clean plate and set aside for a few minutes.
5. To the pan, add the tomato paste. Cook for 30-60 seconds, then stir in the white wine (or chicken broth). Keep stirring to remove any lumps from the tomato paste. Add the beans, sausage, bacon and onion mixture, chicken broth, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, and sage leaves. Set the par-cooked chicken thighs on top and nestle them into the beans. (Don’t reuse that plate – wash it well!)
6. Place lid on pan or cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, combine the bread crumbs, herbs, and melted butter. Set aside.
8. After 35 minutes, remove the lid and make sure the whole pot is simmering, particularly in the center. If not, place back in oven for another 5-10 minutes or so. If stew is simmering and bubbling all over, sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs over the cassoulet. Turn oven temperature up to 425°. Allow to cook another 5-7 minutes, uncovered, just until the bread crumbs are nicely toasted.
9. Allow cassoulet to cool for a few minutes before serving. Spoon into bowls, making sure everyone gets some of each of the meats. The chicken will probably be very tender and easily fall apart. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad on the side.
Yield: 6-8 servings.
– To slow cook dry navy beans: sort and rinse through 1 lb. dry beans. Place in a slow cooker with 1 bay leaf, 1 clove garlic, and a few slices of onion. Cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours or LOW for 7-8 hours. Remove the bay leaf, garlic, and onion. Drain the beans and use as desired.
– To make fresh bread crumbs: tear 2-3 slices white or whole wheat bread into pieces and place into a food processor. Pulse until fine crumbs form. Use immediately or freeze until ready to use.
– To make Slow Cooker Cassoulet: Follow the recipe as written above, but after step 5, place everything into a 6 quart slow cooker and cook on LOW for 4-5 hours, or HIGH for 2-3 hours. Omit the bread crumb step, or simply toast bread crumbs and herbs in melted butter in a skillet on the stove and sprinkle on the top of each serving.
– For a vegetarian option: substitute kielbasa with vegetarian sausages, use vegetable broth, omit bacon and chicken; add extra veggies such as diced butternut squash, mushrooms, or cauliflower, if desired. I often stir in chopped fresh spinach right before serving.
– Gluten-free bread crumbs can be used in place of the wheat bread, if needed.
Thank you, Lindsey! This looks amazing. The perfect recipe to try now that cool weather is here in earnest. My mouth is watering already.
P.S. — Dinner inspiration! More one pot & one pan meals.
Credits: Recipe and photos by Lindsey Rose Johnson for Design Mom.