a desconstructed “cassoulet”

I am using the term “cassoulet” very loosely, as a disclaimer for those who believe in making cassoulet by the writ. Originating in France–or more accurately in the area known as the Occitane–it is a peasant dish, a rich, slow-cooked bean stew that also contains some sort of meat. I was looking to create a cheap, easy dish to pair with a bottle of 2003 Pinot Noir from the winemaker “Lorca” in Monterey, CA., a Christmas present from my cousin. The French grape given an American twist inspired me to do the same.

White beans, mushrooms, chicken–a very protein-heavy combination–formed the basis of this dish, so to offset the weight, I used chicken breasts. Chicken breasts tend to be my least favorite cut of meat, mostly because people tend to buy the boneless, skinless variety and then proceed to cook the heck out of it, thus draining any last residue of moisture and flavor left to it. I opted for bone-in, skin-on breasts, which are both more flavorful and cheaper.

After browning the chicken, skin side down, in the pan, I placed it alongside bite-sized pieces of red-skinned potatoes in a deep-rimmed baking dish. I sprinkled kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and herbes de provence over the ingredients, as well as some olive oil, and left it to bake in the oven for about a half hour. In the meantime, I added a can of drained cannellini beans and chopped white mushrooms to the pan juices and let the flavors meld over low heat. The speed up the cooking process and to retain moisture, I covered the pan with a lid, stirring occasionally.

Once the chicken was complete and its juices had set, I sliced the breasts and added the meat to the pan, just momentarily to allow the flavors to combine. I served my “cassoulet” alongside the potatoes and steamed peas. Then, we popped the Lorca. I usually would not pair a newer Pinot Noir with a heavy dish like the one I prepared, but the age of the wine promised structure, spice, and tannins, without being as overpowering as a Cabernet might have been. And I was proven correct: the wine brought out a sort of succulent sweetness to the pan stew, especially in the mushrooms, and the dish itself added an element of depth to the already delicious wine. The perfect way to celebrate a lovely gift.