A brief hop over the English Channel to France for this post…
I have a great love of potted meats – not the awful ones you get in those little glass jars on the supermarket shelves, but the proper job. Making them is easy and satisfying, but you can’t go too long flicking through the cook books and history books without eventually having to give a huge nod to French cuisine. Pâtés are of course well known and popular, but don’t forget the classic rillettes. They’ve been around for at least six hundred years, yet of recent times they have fallen out of favour in Britain, though they were very popular in Victorian and Edwardian Britain – the heyday for savouries such as these:
Rillettes: A French savoury meat preparation, used for hors-d’oeuvres and savouries
Charles Herman, Culinary Encyclopaedia 1898
See? I told you.
Rillettes are a classic, similar to a pâté in that you spread them on toast and eat them with some nice cornichons, but it is made in rather a different way; long slow cooking with plenty of fat is needed and, rather than being pulverised, they are stripped and potted along with their juices. They are subtly flavoured – the glory comes from the slowly cooked meat and the mild herbs. If I were to be a ponce, then I would say they are sublime. However I am not, so I shan’t.
Any kind of meat, or even fish, can be used to make rillettes but the classics are pork, duck, rabbit and goose. The best rillettes come from Tours and Reins.
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Rillettes de Porc (Potted Pork)
Here’s the recipe I have tried out a couple of times now for rillettes de porc. I can’t wait to get back to England and try some rabbit rillettes (wild rabbits are a rarity in America). There is little variation in any recipe you see, whether found online today or in an eighteenth century cookbook.
Technically you can use any cut of meat as long as it has plenty of fat. I have been using pork belly, but neck would be okay, and for the less squeamish amongst you, the head.
2 lbs pork belly (weight after removal of rind and bones)
2 tbs salt
1 lb back fat
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg
Around 10 fl oz water
Cut the pork belly into strips around 1 ½ inches wide, place them in a bowl and rub in the salt. Cover and leave for around 8 hours. Cut the back fat into cubes and place it, along with the pork belly, in an ovenproof casserole or similar. Tuck the herbs and garlic under the meat in the centre and sprinkle over a good seasoning of pepper and a little nutmeg then pour over the water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid or foil and bake in a very low oven, 140⁰C (290⁰F), for 4 hours.
Remove the foil and take out the bay leaves, garlic and thyme – they have imparted their flavours. Place a sieve over a good-sized bowl and toss the contents of the pan into the sieve so it can drain.
Next – and this the good bit – grab two forks and start stripping the meat and fat into shreds.
If it is easier, do this in a separate bowl. Pot lightly into jars, ramekins or earthenware pots and cover with the salty-fatty juices. Keep covered in a cool place, failing that the fridge.
Serve with thin toast and pickles.
It is very important that the rillettes are spreadable, so if they are kept in the fridge, make sure you let them get to room temperature before eating them.