The story thus far
The various elements have been prepared separately as follows:
Duck legs: Roasted slowly, covered, in the oven. The fat and juices are separated, the meat is removed from the bones and cut into bite-sized chunks and the bones then go towards making the stock.
Sausages: Roasted slowly in the oven, covered, to at least 70ºC, cut up into 1” lengths and refrigerated. The juices then go into the pressure cooker with the…
Pigs’ feet: Pressure-cooked with at least a cup of stock/water for about two hours. The meat is removed from the bones and refrigerated. Stock and fat are refrigerated.
Pork belly: Slow-cooked on a gas ring with a heat diffuser in a heavy covered casserole/dutch oven, along with a roughly chopped onion and carrot, a few cloves, several cloves of garlic, and a couple of bay leaves. Brown it first, then simmer it in some of the already existing stock, so that the flavors integrate and intensify. This may take a couple of hours, after which the skin with its thick layer of fat is separated and the rest boned (if necessary) and cut into bite-size pieces. Roughly strain the stock. It will be very thick and rich; it can be thinned as necessary for the final assembly. Refrigerate.
Shoulder of mutton: This is the most complex part of the meat preparation, but well worth the effort. It’s based on Richard Olney’s cassoulet recipe in his French Menu Cookbook.
2 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and cut into short lengths
1 lamb shoulder, with surface fat removed
1/3 bottle of wine
Several cloves of garlic, peeled
Thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaf to taste
1 can tomatoes with juice
Stock as needed
Brown the meat in a heavy stockpot, starting with some duck fat. Then add the vegetables and cook until they start to go limp. Add everything else, bring to the boil and then cook over a very low heat, barely simmering, for two or three hours. When it’s done and cool enough to handle, the meat will separate readily from the bones. Roughly strain the stock and treat yourself by lunching off the solid bits.
NB: Go easy with the salt. Everything will concentrate in the final cooking, including the seasoning.
Beans: Keep it simple. Soak them overnight and check for defective beans and foreign objects (Don’t go overboard; these days the beans themselves will be foreign objects). Cover with water, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer, checking regularly that there is plenty of water.
The cooking time will vary according to how old they are. I’ve had beans from the farm that were done in less than an hour, and others from a supermarket so old that they never did soften. That’s why I don’t like to cook any of the meat along with the beans: when the beans are ready, the meat is likely to be overdone or underdone. I’m not a chef running a kitchen; I don’t have to use my time efficiently, so I’m happy to do jobs one at a time.
Don’t bother to cook the beans in stock. There will be bean water left over, and if it’s stock, then there’s that much flavor that hasn’t gone into the cassoulet. In the final assembly, the flavors will have plenty of time to integrate.
The beans should be close to the point of disintegrating on the tongue, but not quite—a touch of al dente is desirable. They’ll be getting several more hours of slow cooking.
There’s a final naughty ingredient to be prepared in advance. In a food processor, combine ½ pound of (warm) pork fat with a dozen cloves of garlic and some hot stock to make the implement easier to empty and clean. This insidious suggestion comes from Paula Wolfert by way of the Sheres; mixed with the meat stews prior to assembly, it transports the cassoulet ineluctably to the higher realms of Dante’s Paradiso.
Final note: Of course the pressure cooker isn't essential. A heavy stockpot and long cooking will suffice.