Wander into a charcuterie anywhere in France and you will see a dizzying variety of meat concoctions of various consistencies, generally known as pâté, made from an equally confusing selection of animal parts. Some are elegant, expensive, and intended for special occasions. A few are great looking but vile, as I discovered a few years ago in a small town in Brittany. Many are simple preparations whose original function, before the advent of refrigeration, was to preserve meat for weeks or months. Obviously that is the point of these dishes, but I have a refrigerator (although last week we didn’t, thanks to that particularly nasty storm), so making this stuff is an exercise in taste rather than necessity.
But it is spring, you say. Why is he making preserved meat? Because Tommy, of tommy:eats fame, mentioned it to me in passing and I immediately became obsessed. I had made rillettes a long time ago, with an irritatingly busy recipe that was good, but too much work. But I am lazier and smarter now, so I poked around until I got a sense of what rillettes actually is, and wow! it is as simple as meat, fat, salt and pepper.
I chose pork for my first attempt, because it’s cheap and…it’s cheap. My preferred flesh is duck, but I am not going to experiment on $20 worth of beautiful duck when I can pick up a chunk of pork shoulder for less than $5. I did add duck fat to the pot because I couldn’t find extra pork fat and, to be honest, duck fat is one of my favorite ingredients, which I will add to just about anything.
Oh, the recipe. Cut pork shoulder into thin slices. Crack bones. Toss into the smallest pot that will hold it. Add duck fat to taste, several teaspoons of kosher salt, some whole peppercorns, and just enough water to keep it from sticking. For about two or three pounds of pork I added about 12 ounces of water. heat on high until boiling, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for four hours. Uncover, peel the meat off the bones, pick out whatever gristle remains, try to dig out the peppercorns, and then boil off the water. I also picked out several chunks of pork fat that hadn’t rendered. That’s one of the nice things about the duck fat; it melts at a very low temperature and becomes perfectly incorporated. When all of the water has boiled off simply transfer the mixture into freshly cleaned glass containers with good lids. Make sure that the glass is hot, because it may crack from the abrupt change in temperature. And make sure that the fat is evenly distributed between the containers; it helps preserve the mixture, and it sure tastes good. Cover, let cool, and refrigerate.
Serve cold or at room temperature on slices of fresh baguette.
Notice that this isn’t complicated. In fact, it is moronically simple. I am embarrassed that it took me this long to fix my mistakes of a dozen years ago. It doesn’t need herbs or spices other than salt and pepper, which really don’t count. And the slow, gentle cooking breaks down the meat into a marvelous consistency that is difficult to describe, but easy to enjoy. My next attempt will be duck, but I can’t imagine that it will be better than the pork, which was terrific. Regardless, it is a marvelous dish that will impress your friends, wow your boss, and probably improve your sex life.