Rinse the beans thoroughly, discard little stones if any, then set aside.
In a large stock pot, place the ham hocks with one onion, the thyme sprigs, 1 tbsp salt and a good grind of pepper. Cover with water and bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce heat to medium – low and simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours. (While cooking you may start on step 3.) Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Remove the ham hocks from the stock, tear off the meat and set aside. Discard the onion, thyme, skin, fat and bones. Reserve stock.
While the ham hocks are cooking, place the pork rind, the ham bone and one onion in a large, heavy-based pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes, or until the pork rinds become translucent.
Add the beans to the pork rind mixture, and enough water to cover (about 2 litres). Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low until the beans are tender (about 1 hour and 15 minutes). Ensure the beans remain submerged; add water as needed.
Set aside to cool. You should have at least 4 cups of the bean cooking liquid. Combine with leftover reserved stock.
In a blender, add the last onion, the whole garlic cloves and ½ cup of water. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
Melt the duck fat in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausages, stirring until brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic/onion puree and reduce heat to medium/low. Sauté, turning the sausages occasionally, for another 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
With a slotted spoon, remove and discard the ham bone and the onion from the beans. Then transfer half the beans with the pork rind to a cassole or heavy 5-6 litre cast iron casserole dish.
Layer the ham meat over the beans, then the sausages and garlic puree and spread evenly. Arrange the duck legs on top.
Add the remaining beans. Season with the nutmeg and add just enough stock to cover the beans (about 750ml). Reserve remaining stock for later use.
Bake uncovered for about 1 hour, until the cassoulet comes to a simmer and a crust begins to form.
Reduce heat to 120C/250F and cook for 3 more hours. Regularly check and press down the top with the back of a spoon to break the crust and bring fresh beans to the surface. Add stock to keep cassoulet bubbling around the edges.
Remove the cassoulet from the oven and allow to cool before refrigerating overnight, covered. Refrigerate any remaining stock. Day 2
Remove cassoulet from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature (about 45 minutes). Warm up the stock. Preheat the oven to 175C/350F.
Bake for about 1 hour, until cassoulet comes to a simmer and crust begins to form again. Add stock as needed. Cassoulet should be bubbling along the edges and feel moist with a crust on top.
Reduce heat to 120C/250F and bake for another 3 hours, breaking the crust regularly with the back of a spoon and adding liquid as necessary (if no stock remains, add water).
Remove the cassoulet from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before serving. Place the cassole at the centre of the table and serve.
Extracted from Cassoulet Confessions by Sylvie Bigar, published by Hardie Grant, £16.99
1kg dried Tarbais or other large white beans
4 fresh ham hocks
3 large onions, peeled and quartered
5 thyme sprigs
1½ tbsp coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
150g fresh pork rind, cut into 5cm cubes
1 ham bone
1 large garlic bulb, cloves peeled
1 tbsp duck fat
450g fresh garlic pork sausage, cut into 7cm long pieces