Rillettes belong to the great classics of French charcuterie. Essentially it is just meat that has been simmered until it is falling apart. In principle rillettes can be made from all kinds of meat. But the traditional varieties are made from pork (Rillettes du Mans) and duck or goose. There is even fish rillettes, but this has nothing to do with the original concept anymore.
In some respect, pork rillettes can be regarded as the French answer to Pulled Pork. What makes it different is its vastly increased fat content. Because basically this is an ancient method of conserving meat from the time before the invention of the refrigerator.
Shortly before Christmas I have taken on the task to make port rillettes myself. This idea had been simmering in the back of my head for years but somehow I have not got around to actually do it so far.
Most recipes for rillettes require the meat to be gently simmered for about three hours. But there is also the possibility to make it with low temperature cooking. This is the method I decided to use. If you start with the preparations in the evening, you can finish it the next morning. Alternatively you can start early in the morning in order to finish it in the evening.
- 1,3 kg boneless pork belly, skin on
- ca. 0,2 spicy white wine (I used French Muscadet)
- ca. 20 g lard
- 3 large bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- More lard, just in case
Preheat the oven to 90 degrees. First the meat is cut into roughly 2 cm cubes:
Heat the lard in an ovenproof pot, preferrably made of cast iron, on not too high heat. Then brown the meat in batches thoroughly from all sides except the skin. Depending on the size of your pot this can take quite a while. But the roasted flavours created by this procedure are essential to the success of the final product. The more time you invest here, the better the result will be. The heat should be such that there is a nice sizzling but the meat will not burn soon. If in doubt, go lower but slower. One side of a meat cube took me about a minute..
Then deglaze with the wine and put the meat back into the pot, along with the bay leaves and the cloves. Close the lid and put the pot into the oven overnight. In the early stage of the cooking it is important to check that there is no boiling going on in the pot. This is no problem for a short while, but if the meat is simmering all night long it will become dry. You may want to use a thermometer because some ovens are not calibrated very well.
Already after two to three hours a delicous aroma will be wafting through the kitchen. Now you need to be strong and keep the lid closed. After roughly 12 hours in the oven, my meat looked like this:
When the meat has cooled down a bit the skin is removed. It is best to pick piece by piece out of the pot to do this. The skin can be used otherwise or eaten as a snack, if you like such things. There ought to remain as much fat as possible with the meat.
After all the meat has been treated, remove the bay leaves and the cloves form the pot and let the stock reduce until almost only fat is left. In the mean time pull the meat apart with two forks until you get a nice mass of meat fibres.
Now add the remaning stock along with the fat and mix thoroughly. Only now add salt to taste. In doubt add less, there can always be added more during consumption. Now the rillettes can be filled into jars or ceramic pots.
I did not have enough fat to cover the rillettes properly. So I topped up with melted lard to create a cover in order to increase shelf life.
The taste was outstanding and far superior to the standard French supermaket rillettes. But the texture was a bit on the firm side. Some additional pork back fat as an ingredient would have increased the quality even more.