Is there any other dish more inviting than a warm bowl of cassoulet at the beginning of a New England fall? This recipe from Julia Child is as good as it gets. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare - this isn't a quick meal. But trust us, the slow cooking process develops deep, robust flavors. It's worth it.
Pick over the beans to remove any debris, wash and drain them, and place in a large pot. Add 4 1/2 quarts water, cover and bring to a boil. Boil uncovered for exactly two minutes. Cover and let sit for exactly one hour
Meanwhile, if you are using the salt pork, remove the rind and cut pork into slices 1/2 inch thick. Simmer rind and pork in three quarts water for 15 minutes to remove excess salt. Rinse in cold water, drain and set aside.
When the beans have finished soaking, bring them to a simmer, adding the optional pork and rind, the onion and herb bouquet, and one tablespoon salt if you have not used salt pork, 1/2 tablespoon if you have.
Simmer slowly, partially covered until the beans are just tender, about 1 1/2 hours, adding boiling water if needed to keep beans covered at all times, and salt to taste near the end of the cooking. (May be done up to three days in advance; refrigerate. Bring just to a simmer before proceeding with the cassoulet.)
Dry the lamb pieces. Film casserole with fat or oil, heat to very hot, but not smoking, and brown lamb pieces, a few at a time, removing the browned pieces to a dish. Pour out excess fat and brown the onions lightly.
Return lamb to casserole, and add garlic, tomato paste, herbs, wine and enough stock just to cover lamb. Salt lightly, cover and simmer slowly until lamb is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Correct seasoning.
When cool, remove and discard bones from lamb. (May be cooked up to three days in advance; when cold, cover and refrigerate lamb in its cooking liquid. Discard congealed surface fat before using.)
To assemble, remove bones from preserved goose and, if you wish, the skin. Cut goose into serving chunks the same size as the lamb pieces. If using salt pork, cut it into thin slices. If using sausage, cut in half lengthwise, then into chunks, and brown lightly in a frying pan with goose fat or oil. If using sausage meat, form into cakes about 1 1/2 inches across, and brown in fat or oil.
Using a slotted spoon, remove beans from their liquid, but reserve liquid. Arrange a third of the beans in the bottom of a six-quart casserole. Cover with a layer of lamb, goose, sausage, a handful of goose cracklings and, if using it, half the salt pork. Repeat with a layer of beans, then meat. End with a layer of beans, coming to within about 1/4 inch of the rim of the casserole.
Ladle the lamb cooking liquid plus as much bean cooking liquid as needed just to cover the beans. Spread breadcrumbs and parsley over the top. (Recipe may be prepared to this point up to two days in advance, but if the beans and lamb have not been freshly cooked, bring them to a simmer for several minutes before assembling cassoulet, to prevent any chance of spoilage. When cool, cover and refrigerate.)
If you have assembled and refrigerated the cassoulet in advance, place the covered casserole in a 325-degree oven for an hour or more until its contents are bubbling and the center of the cassoulet reaches 212 degrees when tested with an instant-read thermometer, then proceed as directed below. Heating the cassoulet on the stove to this point may cause the beans on the bottom to scorch.)
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring casserole to a simmer on top of the stove, then set it in the oven. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until breadcrumb topping has crusted and browned lightly.
Break the crust into the beans with the back of a spoon and return casserole to the oven. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking 15 minutes or more until a second crust has formed. Break it into the beans, and if the cooking liquid seems too thick or the beans dry, add a spoonful or so of the bean-cooking liquid. When the crust forms again, the cassoulet is ready to serve.
“Cassoulet” from THE FRENCH CHEF COOKBOOK by Julia Child, copyright © 1968 by Julia Child. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.