There I was all ready to do a post on a great cabbage salad (vegetarian too!!) and then I go and make a big batch of pork rillette. Not that I have anything against cabbage, but this was a darn sight tastier, so it is getting blogged first. Sorry vegetarians!
Rillette is one of my favorite charcuterie items outside the world of cured meat. The perfect comfort and picnic food, it has a relaxed elegance to it that can really jazz up any lunchtime. Or dinnertime… Or breakfast time (OK gross, but I have done it..). Rillette is tough meat that has been cooked in fat (or sometimes stock, or a mix of stock and fat) until incredibly tender and falling apart. This is strained from said liquid, and torn up into shreds, and mixed back in with some of the cooking liquid and fat. This gets spooned into dishes, and more fat poured on top to make a rich and delicious seal to potted meat that can happily sit in the back of the fridge for a couple of weeks.
Of course, you and I both know it will never last that long.
The biggest trick to a rillette isn’t what herbs, spices and flavorings to use. The trickiest part is getting the right meat to fat ratio in the mix. You want it smooth, a little creamy, but still with texture. Too much mixing and the meat ends up so broken up you end up with a product a little too close to cat food for my liking. Too little fat and you end up with dry shreds of meat that are unappealing to eat. Personally what I like to do is to add in a mix of both cooking liquid and fat – this lubricates the meat, gives a good mouth feel, but nothing too slimy. Topped with 1/8″ of pure fat, and things are going to be pretty tasty.
And whilst we are talking fat, lets look at our options.. Since this is a pork rillette, the additional fat of choice would automagically be lard (pork fat). Me, being me however likes to add in some duck fat into the mix as well. There is a few reasons for this. Firstly, it is tasty, rich and smooth. It has another property that I like in rillettes however.. it’s melting point. Duck fat is almost liquid at room temperature, where as lard is still reasonably solid. When you use a mixture of the two in the rillette, you get some body from the lard, but then the melting smoothness from the duck fat that is pretty liquid.
When I make rillette I like to season the meat, and let it sit for 24 hours in the fridge to absorb the flavors, and almost “cure” (somewhat like you would a duck leg for duck confit). From here I cook it in a mixture of fat and stock. My stock of choice is veal, however I almost never have that sitting around. Next best bet is a good homemade chicken stock. Not being a food snob here, but because this meat is going to be sitting in this stock for a very long time, we need to make sure it is a good one. No cans, jars, cartons or cubes here. Got no stock? use either more fat or some filtered water instead.
I am always shocked at just how darn easy rillette is to make. Especially pork. The duck rillette I made last year took much more time, since I had to pick all the meat off a bunch of duck legs. In this pork rillette recipe however the meat is just cubed, so all you have to do is strain it, and shred it up with a couple of forks. Three to four hours of cooking (of which you are doing nothing), and perhaps 20 minutes to assemble the rillettes for weeks of lunches, and fantastic first courses to dinner parties. Seems like a no brainer to me…
There isn’t really that much more to be said about rillette – apart from how to serve it..
My personal suggestion is to take it out of the fridge about 2 hours before you plan to serve it. Let it get to room temperature. If you want, even warm it slightly in a low oven. The fat melts a bit, more flavors come through and it becomes almost like carnita, but in a French way. This is best served with a great chewy bread, a simple green salad and something acidic – like pickled red onions or shallots.
Pork Rillette Recipe – with Apple Brandy
2.5lb pork shoulder
1/4 cup apple brandy (Calvados is great, but Apple Jack will do)
2 bay leaves
1 small handful of thyme, leaves picked
1 tablespoon of sea salt
10 black peppercorns
3 juniper berries
1 cup of fat – either lard, duck, or a preferably a mixture of both
2 cups of good stock – chicken or veal
small handful of chopped parsley
Cut the meat in to 1inch cubes. In a spice grinder (or mortar and pestle if you want the work out) grind up the bay, thyme, salt, peppercorns and juniper berries. Put the meat in a large bowl, pour over the brandy. Pour over the spices, and toss really well to combine. Cover the bowl, and bung it in the fridge for 8 to 24 hours, whatever takes your fancy really.
Preheat oven to 225-250F
In a heavy (enameled cast iron would be lovely) large pan with a tight fitting lid, heat up a couple of tablespoons of the fat. Toss in the meat, and brown lightly. Add the rest of the fat, and let it melt. Pour in enough stock to almost cover the meat. Pop the lid on, and place in the oven. Let this cook for about 3 hours.
Check on it from time to time. Give it a good stir. If the liquid level looks too low, add some more of the stock – or water.
After three hours remove the meat from the cooking liquid. Let the meat cool just enough to handle. Pull the meat apart with your fingers, and put it into a large bowl. Shred the meat up using a couple of forks and cross-wise strokes of them against each other. Careful here, there will still be some mixing that will happen later – so don’t shred that meat up too fine. We are looking for something with texture here, not a completely smooth emulsion.
Add the cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time to the meat. If the liquid has separated into fat and broth, mix it back up. After adding each tablespoon give the meat a good mix up. You want the meat to be moist, but not soaking. When you have reached your desired consistency, add the chopped parsley to the meat, and mix some more.
Pack this meat into small ramekins, leaving about 3/4″ headroom – we are going to top these bad boys off with some fat. Once you have all the meat packed into the ramekins, put them in the fridge. This will help them set up, so when we pour liquid fat on top, it forms a nice clean layer, and doesn’t go down in to the meat, making it fattier.
Strain the cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a measuring jug. The fat will settle on the top. Spoon this fat off into a separate bowl. Once the ramekin meat has set up well (3o minutes to an hour should do it) pour this liquid fat over each one. You want to cover the meat with about a 1/4″ layer of fat – enough to get a good seal.
Return to the fridge, covered with aluminum foil. Covered like this, they should last a couple of weeks easy. Once you break the fat seal however you will want to eat them within a couple of days. Like that is going to be hard to do….