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Jim's Urban Guerilla Cassoulet
SERVE WITH: Pinot Noir

I think this Cassoulet is a perfect and savory match for Pinot Noir. Most versions require ingredients that may charitably be described as uncommon: preserved goose, pickled pork, lamb shoulder, etc. Most also require several hours of preparation. I have concocted a still-savory, but simpler and quicker version, made from easily-procured ingredients.

Cassoulet [that's pronounced Cass-, as in late singer Mama and -oulet, as in crooner Robert Goulet], is a combination of beans and a mix of meats. If only I could sing nearly as well as either, I'd probably have someone cooking this up for me.

Originated in the Languedoc region of southern France and named for Cassol d'Issel, the village which made the traditional clay pots it was cooked in, Cassoulet has been adapted to many regions which now claim it for their own. Now I'm staking my claim.

• 1 - 16 oz. pkg dried small white beans
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 Tbs. dried Bouquet Garni (or 3 Tbs. fresh, tied in cheesecloth)
• 3 bay leaves
• 1 tsp. olive oil
• 6 small yellow (or white) onions
• 4 to 6 cloves fresh garlic
• 2 carrots
• 6 chicken thighs (skin & bone included)
• 1 cup dry white (or red) wine
• 1 - 16 oz. can crushed tomatoes
• 2 - 14.5 oz. cans chicken (or beef) broth
• 1/4 cup dried pearl barley
• 1 - 12 oz. pkg. Jimmy Dean sausage (I like the "Sage" version best)
• 2 cups hard croutons (garlic or unflavored) or broken-up hard, crusty bread
• fresh sage or parsley, chopped for garnish

Sort (a cookie sheet works well for this) and rinse the beans in a colander and rehydrate them by overnight soaking in a pan with plenty of water. Drain the soak water, refill the pan with fresh and add the salt, Bouquet Garni, and one bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce immediately to a simmer and allow to cook until the beans are firm, but tender (about 90 minutes). While the beans simmer, proceed with the other steps. When the beans reach doneness, remove from heat, drain in collander and rinse in tap water to cool and prevent further cooking. Avoid allowing the beans to become too soft and mushy. The beans may be cooked up to three days ahead of final assembly, if left in fresh water and refrigerated.

Wash and dry the chicken thighs. In an olive-oil-filmed and oven-capable deep fry pan, brown pieces, 3 minutes on each side, over medium-high heat. Set aside on a paper towel on top of old newspaper to drain excess fat. Slice off the ends and peel the onions, place the cut ends down in the fry pan and brown 4 to 6 minutes on medium-high heat, turning with tongs to get even brownness on each end. Peel the garlic cloves, leaving whole. Peel and slice the carrots into 1/8" buttons. Add both to fry pan, cooking 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add wine and remaining bay leaves and return chicken to fry pan. When wine starts to simmer, add crushed tomatoes and one can of broth. When mixture simmers again, add barley. Simmer all for 60 to 90 minutes, until the chicken meat is easily removed from the bone with a fork. This component mixture may also be cooked up to three days ahead of assembly and refrigerated. (At this stage, I like to de-bone all of the chicken meat and discard the skin, bones, and gristle, but it isn't necessary, if you accept a more rustic version.)

When ready to assemble and serve, put the drained beans in the bottom of a large baking dish or dutch oven. Use a sharp knife to slice right through the wrapper at the markings and fry the sausage patties a minute or two on each side. Drain on paper towel-newspaper. Make a layer of sausage slices on top of the beans. Pour the vegetable-chicken mixture as the top layer. Bake uncovered in a slow oven (less than 200° F) for 1 to 2 hours, depending on if warm or cold from the refrigerator. If needed, add the back-up can of broth. Add a layer of the croutons or crusty bread and chopped herbs and cover about five minutes before serving. Scoop into large soup bowls or pasta plates. With baguettes and green salad, this makes a complete meal for six and a great match for a velvet-textured Pinot Noir. 

by Jim LaMar

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