The Trade-Off

There is an eternal trade-off between level of effort any payoff in any task. If I find a quarter on the street, I’ll bend over to pick it up (low-level of effort). If I drop a quarter into a sewer and would need to pry open a grate and take a dip into 2 feet deep sewage to dig for the same quarter, it just isn’t going to happen (high level of effort).

Cooking faces the same trade-off. Even though the quality of a frozen dinner is often times low, I might be willing to do it because throwing it into the microwave is just so easy. Like many other cooks, I will often take shortcuts to save time even if I know the quality will suffer a tiny bit (using chopped garlic, canned diced tomatoes, etc…).

When looking at recipes, this trade-off comes into play as well. Many of the recipes I make are pretty easy. Some have a bit of prep work and others have a long cooking time, but most of the time the active cooking process has only a few steps. Those that have more steps receive great scrutiny before I will attempt to make them.

Cassoulet With Sausage

Photo Feb 23, 5 49 16 PM copy - Featured Size

I first had Cassoulet (a french peasant stew) a number of years ago and remembered the deepness of the flavors and how filling and satisfying it was. Shortly after that, I found the recipe below and each time I thought about making it, I looked at the complexity and pushed it aside. During last winter, the Ranting Wife and I went out to dinner and I saw cassoulet on the menu and I knew I had to order it. It was nothing short of fabulous. I ate every drop and used some bread to ensure there was not a single drip left in the bowl. Having been refreshed on the perfection that is cassoulet, I decided to tackle it.

TAKE NOTE: You need two days of cooking to make this work. The first day has a lot of steps to it and the second day is mostly reheating, so if you decide to tackle the challenge, be prepared!

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First off, there is a lot of meat here: sausage, pork and pancetta. There are a dozen spices and assorted vegetables. Throw in some beans and you really have a lot.

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Spike the onion with cloves.

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Make a cachet for the thyme, parsley and bay leaves. Put it into the pot with veggies and pancetta.

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I love this trick. There are so many recipes that call for 1-2 T of tomato paste. The smallest cans contain much more than that. Using a can opener, I open both ends of the can. I then push the contents into a plastic baggie and whatever I don’t need for this recipe, I seal in the bag and put it into the freezer. When a recipe calls for it, I pull it out, thaw it out and have my paste ready.

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Browning the pork.

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Cooking the aromatics and pancetta.

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This is a three pot dish (so far).

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The sausage is now cooking with come garlic and carrots.

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Here we are the next day. You can see the layer of fat on the top of the bowl and to a lesser degree in the pot. This allows you to remove that fat so your cassoulet is not greasy.

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Here are the components ready for the day 2 cooking.

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Beans are the heart of the dish.

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The pork is layered on top.

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Then the sausage.

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More beans.

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Vegetables and broth on top.

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Make some breadcrumbs.

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Coat the top and put in the oven to brown.

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Out of the oven.

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I guarantee this will be the best dish you make all year!

Cassoulet With Sausage

prep 1 hours 25 minutes ∙ cook 4 hours 20 minutes ∙ makes 8 to 10 servings ∙ difficulty Intermediate ∙ source


  • For the beans:
  • 1 pound dried great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 4 carrots, halved crosswise
  • 2 stalks celery, halved crosswise
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, diced
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, pricked with a fork
  • 2 heads garlic (unpeeled), top 1/2 inch trimmed
  • For the meat:
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb or pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound pancetta, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 14-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 ounce (about 1/2 cup) dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
  • 1 wide strip orange zest
  • 3 cups cubed day-old sourdough bread


Make the beans:

Put the beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches; bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand 1 hour, then drain.

Stick the whole cloves into the onion halves; add to the pot along with the carrots, celery and pancetta. Wrap the thyme, parsley and bay leaves in a piece of cheesecloth, tie with kitchen twine and add to the pot; cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and simmer 1 hour.

Add 1 teaspoon salt. Nestle the sausage in the beans; add water to cover, if necessary. Add the garlic heads, cut-side down. Cover and cook until the beans are just tender but still hold their shape, turning the sausage halfway through, 20 to 30 minutes.

Uncover and let cool to room temperature; cover and refrigerate overnight.

Meanwhile, make the meat:

Toss the lamb in a bowl with the sugar, oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, cayenne, 1 tablespoon each olive oil and salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the lamb until browned, about 3 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.

Add the pancetta to the pot; cook, stirring, until the fat renders, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, tomato paste, porcinis and orange zest, then return the lamb to the pot.

Cut out a round of parchment paper and put directly on the surface of the meat. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover with the lid and cook until the lamb is tender, about 2 hours. (Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer.)

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature; cover and refrigerate overnight.

Skim off any fat from the bean and lamb mixtures. Remove the sausage and garlic heads from the beans. Slice the sausage into pieces and squeeze the garlic cloves from their skins; set aside. Discard the herb sachet, carrots, celery and onion halves from the beans. Discard the orange zest from the lamb.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer about half of the beans to a large Dutch oven and top with the lamb (just the beans and lamb, not the liquid). Add the sliced sausage and garlic cloves, then the remaining beans. Pour in all the liquid from the lamb mixture. Add enough of the bean cooking liquid to cover, if necessary. Put the Dutch oven over medium-low heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, uncovered, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Pulse the bread in a food processor to make coarse crumbs. Toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle on the cassoulet, transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

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Categories: French, Pork2, Recipes, Soup and Stew, Wine

Author:The Ranting Chef

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2 Comments on “The Trade-Off”

  1. October 2, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Geez, what a marathon! Still, I think I have to try. You had me at “there’s a lot of meat here.”


  2. October 5, 2014 at 2:07 am #

    In the “Les Halles Cookbook” Anthony Bourdain even manages to stretch the prep for cassoulet out over 3 days!


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