Rillettes: Not Just For Breakfast!

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.

11 Replies to “Rillettes: Not Just For Breakfast!”

  1. this is essentially the essence of pork (and duck) in a jar.

    12 ounces of water seems like not a lot. i suppose the pork is releasing so much liquid (and fat) during cooking that it doesn’t just boil off. still, though, i’m amazed at how little you used, and I would have been tempted to use more, probably ruining the entire thing.

  2. two questions: how long do you suspect this would last, with simple jarring.

    and how much duck fat? i plan on getting a little tub of d’artagnan from Goffle Poultry.

  3. Lots of questions!

    1. After four hours of cooking, an extra few minutes to boil off any additional water isn’t going to change the texture or flavor. So if it seems like it needs more water I imagine it will do fine.

    2. I made two 12-ounce jars, and the first one lasted about a week. It is quite rich, and one ounce is a nice little portion. The second jar I froze for a few days, and then defrosted and ate over another week or so. I prefer fresh (marginally), so I won’t be freezing it again, but it seemed perfect after at least a week in the refrigerator. My guess, because it is thoroughly cooked and then covered in fat to keep the air away, is that two weeks is a reasonable life.

    3. I put in 3 heaping tablespoons of duck fat, but please don’t buy it from D’artagnan. Go to Goffle Road Poultry Farm, buy a large duck, and render the excess fat. You will get a cup or more of fat, plus the meat from a duck, all for less than the price of that amount of commercial duck fat.

  4. i’m assuming you had to do some skimming at some point. pork shoulder has a tendency to create lots of scum. thoughts?

  5. I skimmed a little bit, but not for very long. My theory is that if I had grilled or roasted or smoked the same piece of pork, I would be eating the “scum” instead of skimming it.

    By the way, I will be trying again today!

  6. i’m in the process.

    i’ve also read that pork belly is a good addition. i’m kicking myself for not picking up the belly i saw at the Paramus Whole Foods yesterday. Go get some. If they don’t have it, go to Giant in Hackensack.

  7. I’ve never added any water. Think of it as a kind of confit. You are trying to get rid of water to intensify the flavors, make the fat component more pronounced and originally to preserve the meat. Belly is good, but maybe too fatty alone for rillettes.
    It’s good to marinate the meat with the salt and whatever herbs or spices you are using. S and P alone is great. Then drain well, and simmer, slower the better( under 212) if you can, in lots of fat. Pure leaf lard is a good deal cheaper than rendered duck fat. Remove the meat from the fat when done. cool and shred, adding softened fat as you go. If you do this with some eye towards good sanitation, and then seal the top of your jars or crocks with more melted, boiled and strained fat, your rillettes will last weeks.
    You can make awesome salmon rillettes from the bellies, (save them in the freezer, or ask your fishmonger) Marinate, poach half way, beat with softened butter, add dice of smoke salmon to finish.

  8. I like using duck fat (which I render myself, so the cost is minimal) because it seems to melt at a lower temperature and have a nicer mouth feel at serving temperature.

    Larousse says to use water in one of their recipes, and I have seen a few others that suggest it as well. I think the purpose is to keep the meat from sticking.

    I used heavy glass jars, fresh from a wash and a dousing in boiling water. I poured the last of the fat over each jar, so there was a nice layer on top. Unfortunately I ate it too quickly to judge whether it will last for weeks, but maybe next time!

    The salmon sounds great. What spices for the marinade?

  9. Yes, it can be difficult to test the shelf life of things that taste so good.
    For the salmon I usually toss it in some salt, pepper, a bit of minced shallot, splash of brandy, fresh bay if you have. 20-30 minutes. If you poach in a good court-boullion (sp?), you will need less or no marinade.
    Poach by hanging a mesh with a few pieces at a time in the 200 degree nage. Pull when half done, into a bowl, adding soft butter and beating. I’ve gone to about 50/50. If you are adding smoked salmon to finish, and if the salmon was marinated it could take that much butter. Otherwise 2 or 3:1 or there-abouts. You really can’t make it wrong. Some diced, roasted fennel and herbs can also fish it nicely. Chill and eat. You can serve it with the usual crusty things or wrap smoked salmon around a quenelle of it.

  10. IANAC – thanks for this posting, some really good detailed and practical info. I’ve got some solid rilette recipes but have yet to try so far. This does answer several of the questions I had going in so will have to give a try.

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