A Recipe of Compromise

Searching for the perfect cassoulet prompts thoughts of the election and a recipe reinvention. 

by Karin Duncker • More.com Member { View Profile }

We just ended one of the most, if not THE most contentious electoral seasons in recent memory. And after a steadily growing logjam in Washington, I hope we all are beginning to realize that the time for give and take, the time for compromise on both sides is now. I’ve been known to hold (and share, occasionally loudly) strong beliefs on certain things. And I admit I can dig in my heels and be as stubborn as any Blue or Red around. So In the spirit of compromise and easing the stalemates of the past, I thought I’d get the ball rolling and seek détente and compromise on a very important issue…Cassoulet. Let me explain.

A good friend and I began the debate innocently enough several years ago. Me: “I went to that restaurant you recommended in San Francisco and ordered the cassoulet. HOLY COW that dish is amazing!”  Him: "Yeah, it’s really good. You know, I make cassoulet every winter. Want the recipe?” Naturally I said yes, but was unprepared for what came next. Over two pages containing step after mind-numbing step rolling out over two days. Boiling various pig parts multiple times. Five different things to buy at the butcher, none of them cheap. An entire bottle of wine sacrificed into the pot and therefore not being drunk. A list of ingredients over 20 items long! Believe me, I’ve never been one to shy away from a day of cooking and getting knee deep in a worthwhile recipe. But come ON!  By the time I was finished buying the ingredients I’d be out a c-note at least!

“Seriously?”  I replied. “Isn’t cassoulet a peasant dish? Basically a bean stew with various piggy parts and maybe a few duck legs serving more as condiment than main attraction? What effete elitist recipe writer decided it should be a gourmet dish?! My friend just shrugged, said it was based upon Julia’s and is the best way to do things. But I wasn’t buying it, and the battle lines were drawn. To me, here was another a dish invented by the Have-Lesses and co-opted, snootified and priced out of reach by the Haves. And even though it was based upon HER recipe (and I love her), there was no way I was going to support such an elitist approach. My high heels were firmly dug in and not budging.

Unfortunately, I really loved the dish I had in San Francisco, and knew I had to make it. So this self-proclaimed "cook of the people" looked for a recipe that didn’t cost the price of a week’s groceries and could be started, finished and enjoyed in the same day, along with a glass or two from that bottle of wine. I thought I found it when I came upon Mark Bittman’s crock-pot cassoulet in The New York Times. My friend’s “2-Percenter” version was Michael Lewis’ printed in Gourmet. I made my version, liked it, and sent him my find in an email, along with all the righteousness and smug I thought it warranted. He made it and the result was what you’d expect. He wasn’t buying my “98-Percenter” version. Bittman’s was too soupy, he said. Lewis’ was too expensive and elaborate, I said. For many years the impasse remained that way. There was no discussion. There was no compromise. It was a cassoulet brick wall.

The great cassoulet debate popped into my head while I was waiting my turn to vote. Perhaps I was too rash and stubborn. Perhaps there could be some compromise. And maybe, just maybe, there was a way to combine the two approaches, trim a little here, elaborate a little there, and come up with a delicious way to work together. So here it is, a cassoulet for the 100 percent. And I’d be happy to hop on a train to D.C with a big pot of it. Maybe it would inspire some others to compromise too.


Serves 8

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