It was a dark and stormy night (kind of like tonight), and I was hungry, and I felt like cooking, but I did not feel like going to the store (because I never feel like going to the store, ever), so I took stock of what was already in my kitchen, and here’s what I rounded up:
1 white onion
A few remaining cloves of garlic that were on the verge of being unusable
A can of Great Northern beans, buried in the back of the pantry
Carrots that were on the verge of being unusable
A large package of skinless, boneless chicken breasts (because nothing screams “super basic American kitchen” quite like a vacuum pack of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, right?)
About a half a bottle of good red wine that had been open for a few days and needed using (or drinking, but I didn’t have anything to serve it with, because I hadn’t started cooking)
Herbes de Provence
If you’re the cooking sort (surely so, if you’ve read this far), then you can see where this went, right? And the result was quite good, and the new bottle of wine I opened to serve with it was good, too. Both the dish and the wine were even better on the second day, as expected.
Inspired by something I’ll get to in a minute, I decided to start the new year by recreating this same dish, sort of, with a few variations and substitutions. This time I used a combination of breasts and thighs, to give it a little more fat. And I used a full bottle of wine (red, but a different type – I’ll get to that later) and double the chicken stock, because the best part of the original dish was the liquid part, of which there was, in my opinion, too little.
And I added mushrooms, because mushrooms are delicious.
For this stew I used my favorite cooking vessel, a bright yellow Le Creuset Fait Tout (or Faitout) that I bought on clearance at the Williams Sonoma outlet store 15 years ago for something like $125, which was a substantial purchase for me, even though it was a greatly discounted purchase price for this particular item. I mention all of this because the last time I wrote about this marvelous, heavy, yellow do-it-all, a friend sent a text with a link to a lovely peacock-blue Le Creuset Fait Tout listed on Amazon for the eye-popping price of $422. I suggest looking at yard sales instead. I do love this pot/pan/skillet, but not for $422.
I replicated the stew today, a dark and stormy New Year’s Day, using my favorite cooking vessel, and the result was just as good, and the “recipe,” if you can call it that, is as the very end, along with photos that are probably more instructive than the words.
A detail that I purposefully left out from the beginning: When I went to the pantry to take stock of my on-hand inventory, I was actually looking for something specific, and the something I was looking for was a bag of French lentils. I was looking for French lentils because I had just unpacked a case of wine, and I was reading through the notes about the wines, and in the notes about the wine I was most interested in opening was a link to a recipe for simple country lentils.
Only I couldn’t find the lentils, so I rounded up the ingredients listed earlier, the common thread being, generally, “South of France ish.”
Late in the afternoon the next day, while I was re-heating a bowl of my “if cassoulet and coq au vin had an American baby” dish (which is what I decided to call my creation), I went back to the lentil recipe which was written, as I had suspected, by the wife of the winemaker who made the wine I’d been interested in, had opened, and had enjoyed. Reading about the lentils got me curious to read more, so I spent a lovely hour, in the quiet of my kitchen, in the late afternoon light, on Christmas holiday week, eating leftover stew and drinking red wine and reading stories and recipes (accompanied by great photos) about a French winemaker and his Australian wife and their daughter and their lives in the Minervois.
All of that was both satisfying and comforting, in a calm, quiet way that felt very 2014, but also — maybe? — very 2022.
Cheers to the year ahead.
If Coq au Vin and Cassoulet Had An American Baby
1 medium/large white onion, sliced into thin half rounds
2-3 cloves of garlic
1-2 cans of white beans (Great Northern, etc.), rinsed and drained
4-5 carrots, cut into large hunks (or 1-2 cups of baby carrots, to your liking)
2-3 cups sliced mushrooms
3 pounds (total) of chicken breasts and/or thighs
Herbes de Provence (about 2 heaping tsp.)
1 bottle, at least half full, dry red wine*
Chicken stock (4-5 cups)
Tomato paste (about 3 Tbsp.)
Grainy mustard (about 1 Tbsp.)
- Heat a Dutch oven (or similar large, heavy pot) on a medium/high flame.
- Add butter (about 1 Tbsp.) and olive oil (equal amount) and swirl in the hot pan until the butter is melted.
- Add onions, tossing with tongs so they don’t get too brown, and cook until they’ve softened.
- Press garlic over the onions, sprinkle herbes de Provence, toss to mix/coat, and then move that to the side.
- Add another knob of butter to the open part of the pot, and when it’s melted and sizzling, add the chicken pieces in a single layer, if possible. Let them be for a few minutes until they’ve gotten a bit of color, and then flip the pieces to do the same on the other side.
- Scoot the seared chicken into the onions, add another knob of butter, and dump in the mushrooms. Toss with tongs to coat them, and then let them cook until they’ve released their liquid and are starting to turn a nice color.
- NOTE: On my stove, the pot/pan I use is larger than the burner, so I move it to allow for a hot cooking area (where first the onions, then the chicken, then the mushrooms do their initial cooking) and a less-hot holding area (where the onions and then chicken hang out until the mushrooms are ready). If you do not have this option, then another way to do it would be to remove the onions to cook the chicken, remove the chicken to cook the mushrooms, and then add onions and chicken back when the mushrooms are done.
- When the mushrooms are nice and soft and brown, use the tongs to bring the onions, chicken, and mushrooms together. Toss in the carrots and beans and then pour in the wine and stock (about equal parts of the two) until there’s liquid coming up close to the top of the meat and vegetables but not covering it.
- Stir in tomato paste and mustard, then turn the heat down to simmer.
- Let simmer, partially covered, while you do something else for a little while. Don’t stray too far or stay gone too long. Perhaps this is thirty minutes? Before you wander off, turn on the oven and set it to 270/275.
- After about a half an hour, the liquid will be reduced a bit and the meat should be tender enough to tear into chunks, using a couple of forks or a fork and tongs. Don’t be fussy about this. Do think about making the size of the pieces something that can easily fit into someone’s mouth without too much mess. Give it another stir. Turn off the burner, cover the pot, and stick it in the slow oven for 30-60 minutes. Do make sure there’s still a good amount of liquid; if it reduced too much on the stovetop, then add some water before putting it in the oven.
- When you’re ready, pull the dish from the oven and let it sit on the counter, covered, while you make a salad, perhaps, or cut some crusty bread.
- Ladle the stew into bowls and serve.
- Would fresh parsley be good on top? Probably. Add some if you have it and it sounds tasty.
Yes, a Frenchwoman would surely start this cooking with bacon/lardons/etc. If you enjoy bacon, then incorporate some bacon at the beginning — thick pieces cooked in the butter and olive oil, before the onions.
Yes, the only part of this dish that’s in any way reminiscent of cassoulet is the addition of beans, and no Frenchwoman would use canned Great Northern beans. True cassoulet has sausage, duck confit, duck legs, and pork. You could add in any of those as you see fit. You could soak your own beans for this dish, extend the cooking time, and add lots more liquid. There’s lots of room to play around here.
Yes, of course fresh thyme (etc.) would be good — very different from using dried herbs. For this, I do think dried are better, but you are the chef in your kitchen.
* The first time I made this dish I used a half bottle of French red wine that had been open for several days (The exact wine was this: Domaine Dozon “Clos du Saut au Loup” Chinon.) The second time I used – PREPARE YOURSELF HERE – a bottle of Italian red that I opened specifically for cooking, and I used the entire bottle in the dish (Failoni Esino Rosso – something I had on hand that was inexpensive and dry). Did the taste change? Of course. Was it good both times, with different wines? Yes. To be clear, though, the first round was better because I used both a better wine and a different wine (100% cabernet franc vs. Sangiovese blend). Would I open a $30 bottle and use it all for a stew? I would not. That’s why I used a $12 bottle the second time, and it was good enough. Why am I stuck on this price point? No idea. It’s psychological. What I’ll do in the third round is either open a $30 bottle and use half of it, while also increasing the amount of stock (so a 1:2 ratio instead of 1:1 for liquid), or use a whole bottle of something inky and South American. Experiment on your own.
If you give this a go, then perhaps you’ll let me know how you like it? I’m always curious to hear.
See you… probably tomorrow. Yes, it will be about cooking again.