California cassoulet

The the very best of my recent experiments in leftover land turned out to be a stew LL dubbed California cassoulet. It lacks beans but really, I couldn’t resist the alliteration.

The process is fairly typical of the way I cook that basically guarantees I’ll never be able to duplicate a recipe. But I did jot it all down after we figured out how mouthwateringly good it is, so I have hope. Here’s the “recipe” –

  • Day 1: chicken stock. I had a leftover rotisserie chicken, half a large red onion, looking a little dry on the edges, and celery tops. Tossed in a stockpot and simmered with pepper and salt for several hours. Cooled then strained out all the bones, veg, and meat and tossed them out.
  • Day 2: vegetable soup. I sauteed a VERY large julienned leek in a bit of olive oil, added two chopped peeled parsenips, two chopped peeled carrots and two chopped ribs of celery. Added the chicken stock and simmered for a couple of hours. Cooled and divided into two batches; one in the fridge and one in the freezer.
  • Day 3. Nothing. The vegetable soup wasn’t very exciting so I just let it sit in the fridge for another day while I decided what to do with it. Hoped I’d remember to use it before it went bad. Remembered a cold, foggy day last summer when Kid Two astonished me by asking for chicken stew with polenta for dinner. It threw me because I’d never made chicken stew OR polenta. Turns out he’d had it at his Buddy’s house, who was unfortunately out of town so I couldn’t get his mom’s recipe. I browsed through my cookbooks until I found a recipe for Summer Stew of Chicken and Vegetables with zucchini, onion, butter, chicken, parsley, prosciutto, plum tomatoes, and Marsala. I uncharacteristically followed the recipe almost exactly, and Kid Two directed me to plop the polenta in the bottom of the bowl before the stew was served. It was really nice, the perfect thing for that evening.
  • Day 4: Kid Two astonished me again by asking if I remembered that awesome chicken stew I made last summer, and wondered if I’d make it again. I took a look at the recipe and was tempted to go the market to get zucchini and chicken breasts, but thought that really, the whole point of stew is to make something hearty with a bunch of odds and ends you don’t want to eat on their own. So, frugality in mind, I:
  • caramelized half a bulb of fennel and a whole sweet yellow onion with about 4 tbsp olive oil.
  • chopped a packet of chicken thighs into small pieces and browned them in the mixture.
  • added salt and pepper and a big splash of red wine and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  • chopped a couple of carrots and tossed them in.
  • remembered the vegetable soup in the fridge. I tossed that into the pot, covered it but set the top so the steam could escape and let the whole bit cook together on low heat for an hour.
  • Put a tbsp of flour in a coffee cup and added it to thicken the stew.
  • Finally made the polenta and waited until dinner.

If only we had scratch and sniff keyboards, I’d have a sample of the aroma for you to download here! I’ve had some cooking hits and misses over the years but I have to say, this was a spectacular high point for me. Certainly it was due to the time it took to prepare, giving the layers of flavors time to mingle. I buy a rotisserie chicken probably twice a month and make broth at least one of those two times with the leftovers. This is the first time anything really delicious has come from the effort, though – good lesson learned.

I’ve got another couple quarts of that vegetable soup in the freezer, waiting it’s turn. It would be interesting to try the next batch with cubed squash or white beans as a thickener, or to toss in a bunch of chopped spinach in the end for some extra flavor.

I’d love to show you a photo but unfortunately don’t have enough talent to make a the bits and bites in a bowl of chicken stew look particularly delectable in bits and bytes of your screen. I’ll try harder next time, I promise!

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