My very first recipe is a classic of French Cuisine. I am particularly found of this recipe because it is easy to do, cost-effective and does not require a lot of ingredients.
First of all, what is “rillettes”?
According to Wikipedia: “Rillettes is a preservation method similar to confit where meat is seasoned then slow cooked submerged in fat and cooked at a grandmotherly pace for several hours. The meat is shredded and packed into sterile containers covered in fat.”
There are so many ways to cook rillettes. There are also a lot of variants. Pork, Duck, Goose. Mix of these.
Over the past few years, I have made rillettes countless time. Why? Because it is very easy to make in big family-friendly batches which you can freeze. But also because it is delicious.
Rillettes are one of my kids favorite treat. It is usually consumed spread over bread.
Rillettes are soft and buttery, therefore you need to add a little of crisp and acidity to fully enjoy their flavor.
Prefer a bread that is not too sweet. French baguette or country-style bread are fantastic matches with rillettes.
Soft bread will not be ideal but you can make it work by toasting the bread to add some crisp.
Rillettes are usually associated with Cornichons. Baguette – Rillettes – Cornichons is a Parisian snack classic.
Cornichons are small cucumber pickles but not your regular type of cucumber, these are called French cucumbers, Parisian cucumbers, or Parisian gherkins. I am sure we will find time for a post about Cornichons which is another French delicacy extremely easy to make.
Coming back to our rillettes, my recipe will focus on the most basic, simplistic and cost effective form of rillettes. Therefore, you have no excuse to try it and if you like it, to find ways to make it more sophisticated if you wish.
For this recipe, the most important ingredient is the meat. For 100% pork rillettes, I would recommend you to play with two parts: pork shoulder and pork belly. You can use other parts like pork neck or ribs. The most important thing when making rillettes is to find the right fat balance. The golden rule is one-third fat, two-third meat.
I found a good balance by mixing 1KG of pork shoulder and 1KG of pork belly. I like this mix because it is extremely easy to remember. Plus, belly and shoulder are boneless which make it very easy to work with.
Once you have found your meat, you are almost done! To speak frankly, the only other ingredients you would need is salt and pepper.
Pepper is a super important ingredient of rillettes. In good rillettes, you should truly taste the pepper. Pepper is a very welcome kick to the fatty texture of the rillettes.
If you own a pepper grinder, please adjust it for coarse grain. You really want to feel the pepper grain when you eat rillettes.
If you do not own a pepper grinder, you can perfectly use a mortier (1) to grind your pepper.
You may want to add herbs to your rillettes but don’t overdo it. I would recommend using thyme or bay leave. If you use herbs, don’t chop them. Use them during the cooking and remove it before mixing the meat.
So let’s summary our recipe:
- 1 KG Pork Shoulder
- 1 KG Pork Belly
- Ground Pepper (worst case, pepper powder)
- Fresh thyme leaf (optional)
- Bay leaf (optional)
There are plenty of methods to cook rillettes. Some slowly simmer the meat over the gas stove. I really don’t like this technique for multiple reasons.
First, rillettes is slow cook so you would have to keep a big pot with bubbly water on the stove for hours. When you have kids running around, it is definitely not ideal. One of my cooking principle is to limit as much as possible slow cooking on the stove. But this is just me.
The second reason is that you would have to écumer (2) from time to time your pot. This is not a low maintenance cooking method. I love low maintenance cooking 🙂
To my opinion, the techniques that follow are the two best methods to cook rillettes but let’s start with a little bit of foreplay.
First of all, cut your pork parts into large chunk.
In an iron pot (or a pan), sear your meat for 5-10mn with a pinch of salt, pepper and the herbs.
You do not need to cook the meat completely. Searing is just to activate the so-called Maillard reaction that should enhance the meat flavor.
Be careful with the salt. Put just a pinch for now. We will be able to adjust the seasoning later on.
Turn your meat chunks on every side until it gets a nice golden brown color.
Then comes the slow cooking:
Option 1: In the Oven
If you seared your meat in an iron pot, cover up and put it directly in the oven. If you used a pan, you would need to transpose your meat with the juice and herbs in a pot that can go to the oven. Make sure to cover the pot.
Cooking time : 3 hours at 180°C or 350°F
Option 2 : In the Slow Cooker
This is my favorite method to cook rillettes. It is extremely low maintenance and the slow cooking allows the meat to reveal all the flavors. You still need to sear the meat first before using the slow cooker.
Set the slow cooker to LOW and cook for 9H-10H.
The meat is cooked when it falls into pieces with a fork.
Now, that it is cooked, let it rest for a couple of hours or more depending on your busy schedule.
For the last step, you have two strategies. The “rillettes nazis” would tell you that using a mixer to make rillettes is a sin. They preach to use a fork to smash your rillettes.
On my end, I am happy with the use of the mixer but feel free to skip the mixing part and use a fork instead.
Whether you use a mixer or a fork, it is time to get your hands dirty! I recommend doing the following with your bare hands but if you want, you can use kitchen tools.
Take the chunks of meat and put them in the mixer or in a large bowl. For the pork belly, you would need to remove the skin part which will not mix well. This is easier to do by hand. Remove the herbs as well.
Depending on the time you let the meat rest, you may have liquid or solid fat in your pot. Take roughly half of this fat and put it into the mixer bowl.
Keep the rest of the fat for the final step, do not throw it away!
Now, you can mix the pork meat. Don’t mix it too much, you want to keep small pieces as much as possible. Once you are happy with the texture, it is the perfect time to taste and adjust the seasoning.
Note: at this stage, your rillettes will not taste great. They will not taste bad either but they definitely need to rest a little.
Now that you have your mix, you need to stock it. I recommend using clear glass jar like the one below:
They are easy to clean and re-use for your next batch.
You can also re-use jam or pickle jars to store your rillettes. But one advice: use jar with a wide neck. Narrow neck will make it complicated for serving.
Once you have all your jars full of goodness, heat up the remaining fat and pour a fine layer of fat on top of your rillettes. This technique has the advantage of protecting the meat from getting dry but also from getting spoiled too quickly.
Note: you are not supposed to eat the fat layer. When you serve the rillettes, use a butter knife and push the fat to the side, extract the meat and when you are done, try to spread the fat on the remaining meat.
Your jars of rillettes can definitely be frozen. That is the best way to preserve your rillettes.
When you open a new jar, you should aim to finish it within 7-10 days. After that, it will probably be spoilt.
This recipe shall allow you to make 6-8 jars of rillettes. You should be good to go for 1 or 2 months depending on your family appetite!
Glossaire / Glossary:
(1) Mortier: Mortar
(2) Ecumer: Skim