Rillettes

RILLETTES

rillettes

Syllabification: ril·lettes

NOUN

Pâté made of minced pork or other light meat, seasoned and combined with fat.

I signed up for appetizers for a small 4th of July dinner party at a friend’s house. Then the guest list grew. To a total of 24 people. So I had to rethink my original plan.

Last summer I made pork rillettes after having some at another friend’s house party, so I thought I’d do them again. This is the fattiest way of serving pork I know, but somehow it works as a kind of country pâté, made with plenty of salt and served at room temperature or a little cooler on crackers or cripsbreads with mustard and pickled red onions on the side.

First the meat. The pork is slow braised for a couple of hours, so you want cuts rich in connective tissue. Fat is a big part of the appeal so cuts that might give you pause for a dish to be served for dinner have their place here. I chose pork shoulder and ribs.

The Meat

This is about 1 1/2 lbs of pork shoulder and 3 country style pork ribs, about a pound. They get chopped roughly and seasoned with quite a lot of salt.

Meat, chopped

Step one is to brown the meat in batches in a big heavy pot, to create a fond, render some of the fat, and make the meat tastier (thank you Louis-Camille Maillard, about whom more here). I started things off with a little bacon fat.

The meat starts to cook

It took four batches. It’s critical to keep the temperature right while you do this. Too cool and the meat doesn’t brown properly. Too hot and the fond burns. It should bubble and burble along. If you see traces of blackening, turn it down and swish everything around to even out the temperature. This is one of those times when you are so glad you bought a spatter screen.

Browned meat

I was pretty happy with this fond          Fond

Purists make rillettes with pork alone, but I think there is a lot to be said for making the flavors more complex with the usual aromatic suspects: leeks, shallots, carrots, celery, garlic. I just pulled the carrots from the garden which is why they are not market-perfect. There are some bay leaves, pepper corns, cloves and thyme there too. They get bundled into a cheesecloth package.

The AromaticsAromatics and herbs ready to go

There’s no need to chop carefully, since everything is going to disintegrate anyway. That is, except the carrots. I pull them out later so the orange is not a distraction in the finished rillettes. (Next time I might chop them bigger to make that task a little easier, though it wasn’t too much of a chore.)

In go the aromatics. I always add a splash of white wine to help deglaze the pot. You just want to cook until the shallot softens and goes transparent.

Aromatics softening

Back goes the meat, a splash of Pastis, and a 1/2 a cup of chicken stock.

Sidebar: Pastis is the generic name for aniseed flavored aperitifs. Pernod is the most common, but I found the Marseilles specialty, Ricard. I am sure I know this from film noir, so it felt more decadent. I was in Paris once with a bunch of software engineers, and ordered Pernod as an aperitif, to everyone’s astonishment. It’s one of those drinks that turns cloudy when you add water and it tastes of licorice.

PastisReady to braise

Bring the pork back to the boil, and then it goes into a long slow oven

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This low temp reduces most of the sinew down to gelatin and collagen and dissolves the bonds that hold the meat strands together. Don’t skimp on this. 3 hours is a good guess. You want all the meat to be meltingly tender. Better to do an extra half hour than not be sure. Stir every 20 minutes or so.

Next time I would put a round of parchment paper over the mixture and then seal the pot with foil. Why? Because it keeps in the juices until you are ready to boil them off.

Now you can take a break, or, as I did, make salmon rillettes.

Time passes. Mountains rise, mountains crumble. Finally the pork is cooked. Let it cool: the next step is best done with your hands.

Some pour off fat at this point under the guise of possibly adding it back later. To them I say, be brave. This is not diet food.

Pull out the sachet and the carrot. You coud leave the carrot in to provide a visual texture. If that is your wish, then take it out, finely chop it and add it back.

Pick through the pork by hand, discarding bone, gristle, and lumps of gelatinous stuff. There isn’t much.

Clean the pork

Now we need to create texture. I thought a food processor would produce paste, so I used a pastry cutter. It didn’t work. Pulse it in the food processor for a few seconds.

Press the rillettes down into some containers. You want to push out the air, and level the surface better than this. (I fixed it later.) The back of a serving spoon is good for this. We’re eating these in a couple of days. If you’re keeping it longer, pack it into sterilized mason jars and store it in the fridge.

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Here it is with the duck fat cap.

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Take this off before serving or people get anxious. Close to room temp is best for eating.

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Rillettes

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