Southern Living (December 2012)
Playwrights often use the metaphor of Chekhov's gun: If you're going to introduce a gun in the first act, it'd better be fired by the end of the play.
The same goes for recipe titles. In this case, if you're going to use the word "Cajun," there'd better be a pay-off in terms of spice.
This Cajun Chicken Cassoulet simply doesn't have enough spice. But we'll get to that in a moment.
This is our first time at the Cassoulet rodeo. We've eaten it before in French restaurants, but we've never made one in our own kitchen. Julia Child describes cassoulet in Mastering the Art of French Cooking as "a rich combination of beans baked with meats, as much a part of southwestern France as Boston baked beans are of New England." She goes on to note that "the composition of a cassoulet is in infinite dispute," and details various combinations of meats, before diving into her own recipe that calls for bacon, pork loin, fresh pork rind, mutton or lamb, and homemade sausage. (Did anyone else just get heartburn reading that?) She offers variations that include just about every other meat you can imagine.
Julia's recipe, needless to say, can take days to make. This recipe from Southern Living is a much shorter affair. Beans are canned, not dried. Two kinds of meats are used -- boneless skinless chicken thighs and Cajun smoked sausage (we used a Cajun smoked chicken sausage). There's some browning of the meats and onion, but the rest of the ingredients are simply poured into the dish and baked. It's extremely easy.
The beans are creamy, the okra a bit mushy in the final product. The chicken is extremely tender, literally falling apart. The Cajun sausage is nice (although with used cajun chicken sausage instead of pork, which may also have contributed to the blandness). And the broth is tasty. Toasted breadcrumbs, added at the end, are a really nice addition.
The Cajun spices? Sadly, they're MIA. We thought this dish could use about 70 percent more spice. If you make it, spice it up!
This cassoulet may be about as French as we are, but we don't fault it for that. If you amp up the flavor, this could be a pretty darn good dish.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Notes from Zach and Clay
We used Cajun chicken sausage because to save fat and calories. Cajun pork sausage would likely give you more flavor.
Make the breadcrumb topping -- it seriously improves the dish.
6 skinned and boned chicken thighs (about 2 1/4 lb.)
1 teaspoon salt
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 (16-oz.) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14 1/2-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 (16-oz.) package frozen sliced okra, thawed
1 1/2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
Toasted Herbed Breadcrumb Topping (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Cook sausage in a large cast-iron Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes or until browned. Remove sausage with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels, reserving drippings in Dutch oven.
2. Sprinkle chicken with salt. Cook chicken in hot drippings over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from Dutch oven. Add onion and next 3 ingredients to Dutch oven, and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add beans, next 4 ingredients, chicken, and sausage; cover with lid.
3. Bake, covered, at 400° for 40 minutes or until bubbly. If desired, sprinkle with Toasted Herbed Breadcrumb Topping.