This week, in the spirit of European unity (I think it’s fairly evident to the regular readership where I come down on the EU referendum) we travel trans-Manche to France, and have a go at a modified version of a classic home-cooked staple, beans and sausages.
Many cultures have their own versions of this, from many countries around the Mediterranean all the way across the ocean to the US, where Louisiana cooks up a mean Red Beans ‘n Rice, and down to South America for the Brazilian black bean Feijoada, which we’ve cooked a couple of times before.
There’s something very comforting about the combination of gently-simmered beans, loaded with aromatics, and intense, meaty sausages, bursting with flavour. And the French version is no exception.
You’ll be very familiar with the cassoulet, I’ve no doubt. It’s one of my very favourite dishes, rich and satisfying, a whirlwind of flavours and textures, guaranteed to have one sitting back in ones chair, patting a full stomach and smiling fondly. That combination of beans, tomatoes, onions and lots of garlic, combined with super-tasty Toulouse sausages and unctuous confit duck or goose is an absolute super-heavyweight classic, but I think should be reserved for the colder months. For me, a good cassoulet should be served on a cold, dark night, when one can shut out the bad weather, open a good red wine and luxuriate.
It’s too heavy for summer, but, as luck would have it, the French provide a lighter alternative, and it’s a version of the classic Saucisse aux Haricots that we’re cooking today.
Traditionally this is one of those dishes to be relied upon to get the family fed quickly and easily, a proper school-night supper.
Tinned beans, a little onion, garlic and perhaps celery and carrot, plus a touch of tomato and perhaps even a glug of wine, simmered until hot, and served with big meaty sausages, either grilled or simmered in with the beans.
It’s quick, easy and cheap – just what we’re after a lot of the time! I wanted to make my dish a little more fancy, and kept thinking of all the elements of the cassoulet, so decided to introduce a poultry element by roasting a lovely plump supreme of corn-fed chicken.
The classic dish should really involve smoked Morteau sausage, a lovely, plump, intensely garlic-y beast, but these are hard to find in the UK.
I reckoned that, with our strong Eastern European population, I’d find a suitable smoked pork sausage locally, and found the Polish banger known as the Wiejska fits the bill perfectly. It can be found in any delicatessen or even some supermarkets. Its sweet, smoky flavour and staggering meatiness tie the whole dish together. Sliced thickly, alongside the juicy chicken and those unctuous beans, you have a wonderful easy supper dish that you’ll be making many times.
You can, if you wish, pre-soak and cook your own beans in preparation, but the tinned, ready-to-go type are absolutely perfect and really save a lot of time and forward planning. I like to serve this dish as the French do, with the simplest of green salads, for all that cool crunchy contrast, but it’s up to you.
Whilst lightly-dressed gems or butterhead lettuce would be perfect, a good green vegetable such as asparagus, broccoli or runner beans would fit the bill very well, too.
Chicken with white beans and smoked sausage
For the chicken:
4 large free-range chicken suprèmes (bone-in)
A little butter
Maldon salt and freshly-ground black pepper
For the beans:
2 tins cannellini beans
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ bulb fennel, finely chopped
A splash of dry white wine
Approx 250ml chicken stock (I used a quick stock jelly)
A little fresh thyme
A little fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 wiejska or other smoked sausage
Salad leaves (gems or butterhead)
First, prepare the tomatoes; score a cross at the base of each tomato.
Boil a pan of water, and when bubbling, pop the tomatoes in and remove from the heat. After a minute, remove the tomatoes from the pan and plunge into a bowl of ice-cold water.
Allow them to cool, then drain and peel away the skins. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the middles, then chop the flesh into dice and reserve.
Heat a good slug of olive oil in a saucepan, and gently sweat the onion, celery, garlic and fennel until softened but not coloured. Add a good splash of white wine and the stock, then bring to a simmer.
Drain and rinse the beans and tip into the pan. Bring to a gentle bubble and cook until the beans are piping hot.
At the last minute, add the diced tomato and fresh herbs. Stir through, check the seasoning and keep warm until you’re ready to serve.
To cook the sausage, heat a pan of water and gently lower in the wiejska.
Simmer gently for 25 minutes until completely warmed through.
Turn off the heat and set aside as you prepare the chicken. Heat the oven to 220ºC / Gas 7. Season the chicken suprèmes.
Heat a little oil and butter in a frying pan and quickly brown the suprèmes on the skin side.
Flip over, cook for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a tray in the oven.
Roast the chicken for 25-30 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from the heat and rest while you assemble the dish.
Spoon the beans into each of your serving bowls, and add a few slices of sausage.
Carve the suprèmes and place on the dish.
Serve with a few lightly-dressed salad leaves or green vegetables.