Pork Rillette

We’ve been doing a lot of French cooking lately. In part, inspired by our recent trip to France, and in part, trying to make something elegant and exotic out of ordinary everyday ingredients. I did a bunch of research before settling on this recipe, which is a combination of a couple of different sources. But it turned out SO GOOD that we will simply have to make this again. The best part of it all is that the actual hands-on time is minimal, maybe 30 minutes — and most of it is in the prep work.

“Rillette” is “potted meat”, I read somewhere. It is similar to pâté in that it’s a charcuterie item, and is composed of different cuts of (usually less expensive) meat, different spices, and longer cooking time. Actually, the next time I try this, I might want to try it in a crockpot — long cooking time with low heat settings. The trick to this recipe isn’t really about the spices to use or the cut of meat or the temperature and cooking time. Believe it or not, it’s the ratio of fat to meat. And if you’re worried about “diet” at all, this is not for you. On the other hand, the amount of fat is minimal if you were to consider how much of it you are actually consuming per portion. Anyway, it turned out so stupendously good that I just had to include the recipe. We brought a big pot of this to a party and it was gone within seconds! Yes, it is that good.

You will want to serve this with toasted brioche or ciabata (or some type of fluffy yet firm bread that will toast up nicely), and cornichons or pickles/olives or something that will cut through the fat.

The duck fat adds an incredible depth to the taste and richness of the following recipe. I also decided to render my own pork fat instead of buying lard. I would recommend doing the same. Rendering pork fat means getting a nice chunk of pork belly (recommended) or pork back fat, and cooking it very slowly over a low flame or low heat in the oven, and draining/reserving the liquified fat periodically, say about every 20 minutes or so until the fat is gone.

I am fortunate living in the Bay Area. I took a trip up to Ranch 99 and got almost all my ingredients there. The pork fat, a whopping 3 pounds of it, cost me all of 50 cents. The guy behind the counter does not get too many of these requests. 🙂 You can also do the same thing with duck fat, although that might be harder to come by simply because a duck is just a lot smaller than a pig. You would need a lot of duck to render a half cup of fat. Fortunately, Whole Foods sell rendered duck fat in 7-ounce containers.

I should also mention that if you go to Asian markets, you are likely going to get the pork fat or duck fat with the skin attached. Personally, I love fried pork rind; it reminds me so much of Grandma and childhood. You can find “chicharones” in almost any Asian/Hispanic market, but it’s really great to make your own. Unfortunately, I was watching my waistline, so the puppies and Annabelle ended up benefiting the most.

Ingredients:

3 lb. pork shoulder
1/4 Cup apple brandy (I used Laird & Company Apple Jack, which is about $20 a bottle)
2 bay leaves
1 small handful of thyme, leaves picked
1 Tablespoon of sea salt
20 or so black peppercorns
10 juniper berries
1 C. of fat (preferrably half duck half pork)
2 C. of chicken or pork stock (homemade is best)
1/2 C. chopped flat parsley

Cut the meat into 1-1/2 inch cubes. In a spice grinder, add bay leaves, thyme, salt, peppercorns, and juniper berries. Put the meat in a large bowl, and pour brandy all over. Add the ground-up spices, and toss really well to coat and combine. Cover the bowl with  foil or cling-wrap, and refrigerate over night — up to 24 hours if you can stand it.

When you’re ready to cook the following day, preheat oven to 275°F.

In a heavy large pan with a tight fitting lid (I used a 5.5 Qt. Le Creuset enameled cast iron pan), heat up a couple of Tablespoons of the fat over medium high heat, until hot but not smoking. Brown the pieces of pork lightly. Add the rest of the fat and let it melt. Pour in enough stock to almost cover the meat. Put the lid on and place in oven for three (3) hours.

About every hour or so, take it out and stir it up a bit. Add more stock if it looks too low.

When the three hours is up, pull the pork from the oven and let cool just enough to handle. I used my fingers to pull apart the meat, but you can use two forks to “cross cut” the meat if you want. The idea is to have the texture of pulled pork, say carnitas, but not too much finer than that. Don’t overdo the shredding, because you’ll do a little more in the next step. You’ll want a little texture to the rillette. Otherwise, it will end up as a pâté.

Mix the cooking liquid together again, if it has separated into broth and fat. Spoon about one Tablespoon at a time to the meat. After adding each Tablespoon of the liquid, mix the meat well. You will want the meat to be moist, but not soaking wet. When you have reached the desired consistency (I used about 3/4 of the cooking liquid), add in the chopped parsley and mix up more.

Next, pack this mixture into small ramekins. I got a bunch of  these cute ramekins at World Market (4 for $2.99). Compact these well, leaving about 1/4 inch from the top. Put these ramekins in the fridge to let them set, say about 10 to 20 minutes.

While the ramekins are setting, strain the cooking liquid through a sieve to remove any remnants. You want a nice “clean” layer of fat to seal the ramekins that doesn’t go down the packed meat. I ended up adding fresh rendered pork fat to the mixture. You want a fat layer between 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch to seal the meat.

This shoud last several weeks if covered with aluminum foil. (One website stated several months…) Since we don’t have any left, I can’t say for sure how long, but I would venture a guess of three weeks. Once you break the fat seal, though, you’ll want to consume it pretty quickly.

To serve, let it warm to room temperature, or pop it in the oven for a few minutes, and serve it with toasted bread and mustard and cornichons or pickled sweet peppers. We scraped all the fat off the top, but in France they serve it with the 1/4-inch layer of fat on.

It is such a nice way to spend Sunday morning in bed, with a glass of champagne or rosé.

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