Thursday, December 15, 2011


My First Homemade Rillettes

I have always had the ambition to make rilletes, an irresistible French meat spread that is perfect for parties or for casual snaking with a glass of wine.  Rillettes are milder than pate. There are as many recipes for rillettes as one can imagine and the steps vary greatly, which is why I've resisted making them, until now. The classic rillettes is made from pork and pork fat and little else (a few aromatics, some chicken broth) and requires a long soft simmer in a heavy pot while you go about your business (some recipes call for duck, some for uncured bacon, and other cuts of pork--it can be come very elaborate). I read through all of my French cookbooks (I Know How to Cook, French Farmhouse Cooking, Around my French TableGlorious French Food, Jacques Pepin's new Essential Pepin, my all-purpose cookbooks (Gourmet Today, How to Cook Everything).  I consulted Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (both volumes) and From Julia Child's Kitchen.  Surprisingly, she makes no mention of rillettes at all.  So I probably have at least thirty recipes for this heavenly spread.  But the easiest, most efficient, least fussy was FROM THE GROUND UP: Hundreds of Amazing Recipes from Around the World for Ground Meats, including Beef Chicken, Pork, Seafood, and More by James Villas (Wiley), which was published this fall. I've already reviewed it, and it has a place in my best-of lists.  Villas' mastery makes sense. When you count Beard, Child, Craig Claiborne, Jacques Pepin, Pierre Franey and other cooking legends as friends, you're bound to pick up a tip or two.  In this case, Mr. Villas has distilled the essence of this spread.  My first batch (I'm making two) produced two impressive pints, which are going under the Christmas tree and traveling to a few parties this season.  This is one of those recipes you might incorporate into your season plans, and who doesn't love getting a crock of this silky stuff as a gift.  Best of all--you made it. 

Here is James Villas' glorious recipe. 

French Rillettes of Pork

French pork rillettes are one of the most glorious appetizers ever conceived, and I’ve never served a crock or ramekin that wasn’t wiped clean by guests. Traditionally, rillettes are made by shredding the cooked, tender, unctuous meats with two forks, but so long as you don’t over-grind, they can be prepared quickly in a food processor. Packed into small ramekins, the rillettes could be served as individual appetizers, but I prefer simply to place a large crock with a big basket of toasted French bread rounds in the middle of the table and let guests help themselves. Do try to make the rillettes a day in advance and place in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
3/4 pound fresh pork fat
1 medium onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Herb bouquet (1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 2 bay leaves, 3 whole cloves, and 2 parsley sprigs tied in cheesecloth)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine

1. Trim off any skin on the pork shoulder and cut the meat and fat into 2-inch chunks. Place the meat, fat, onion, garlic, herb bouquet, and salt and pepper in a casserole or large saucepan. Add the broth, wine, and enough water to cover by 1 inch, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer till the meat is very tender, about 3 hours, skimming from time to time. Uncover the casserole and continue simmering till the liquid has evaporated and the meat is cooking in the fat, about 1 hour.

2. Transfer the meat to a heavy bowl and let the fat cool to room temperature in the casserole. Shred the meat with two heavy forks (or grind coarsely in a food processor), add the cooled fat, and continue working with the fork till the mixture is smooth and silky—almost a heavy paste. Taste for salt and pepper, pack the rillettes in small ramekins or a large crock, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Serve with small rounds of toasted French bread.

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