Chicken and chickpea cassoulet
A delicious, warming chicken stew inspired by a rustic French classic, updated for the 21st century.
A cassoulet is a very particular type of French casserole, traditionally made with haricot beans and pork rinds, enriched with either goose or sausage, ingredients which let you know just how long the tradition has been around. I have eaten it in Toulouse, one of the (many) towns which claim it as their own, and it was very good, and I even thought about making it at home once or twice but never have, preferring to let its memory inspire me with more familiar ingredients.
What follows is my updated version, made with chickpeas, pancetta and chicken. That the ingredients are usually already in my kitchen means I have happily made this many times, fiddling and tweaking, for many years. I still call it a cassoulet, in deference to its origins, even though I make it entirely on the stovetop in under an hour.
Its current incarnation, in the recipe that follows, is as comforting and cosseting as a good chicken stew should be, but packs a few unexpected punches. Using pancetta to build the flavour base gives it great smoky depth; an unapologetic amount of cumin fuses everything together with its distinctively warm, peppery flavour; and a few dried chilli flakes bring a little kick of background heat to the whole.
As I said, it doesn't require a great deal of time or attention, so is perfectly practical for a weeknight dinner. Most often, however, I'll make it early on a weekend day and let it cool down and sit in the fridge until dinner time, giving all the flavours a chance to mingle and intensify, happy in the knowledge that dinner is little more than a reheating job away.
Chicken and chickpea cassoulet
1 tablespoon olive oil
100g (4 oz) slab or rolled pancetta, sliced
1 red onion, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 chicken thigh fillets, skin removed
250ml (1 cup) white wine
400g (14 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons red lentils
fresh parsley, to serve
Heat the oil in a broad, heavy-based pan over medium-high heat.
Cut the pancetta into cubes or batons and cook until it begins to take on some colour. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, until they become translucent.
Add the cumin, chilli flakes and tomato paste. Stir and cook just for a minute until it becomes fragrant.
Slice the chicken thighs into three pieces. Add to the pan, along with the chickpeas and bay leaves.
Pour over the white wine and add enough water to just cover everything. Bring to a boil then turn down to very low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Taste, and season with salt and pepper as necessary.
(If you want to break the cooking, this is the point to do it.)
Uncover, turn up the heat to an enthusiastic bubble and stir in the lentils. Let them cook for 15 minutes, thickening the sauce.
I like to add lots of freshly chopped parsley at the last second. It’s not absolutely necessary but does give a nice hit of freshness if you think you need it.