Can't say I'm a big fan of rillettes, a specialty of France's Loire Valley. It gets made by slow-cooking the meat in fat, then shredding and mixing it with some of the fat and chilling it to a fatty, porky spread for toast or bread. The chilled fat reminds me of schmaltz, or chicken fat, which in the old days East European Jews would also spread on toast. But admittedly rillettes are better than that, and I know quite a few folks who absolutely love the stuff. The following recipe, culled from the 1972 cookbook Pâtés & Other Marvelous Meat Loaves (which I wrote about yesterday), is for such fans.
One note: The recipe calls for a mix of lean pork shoulder and fat salt pork because when it was written, pork belly was difficult to find. I'm leaving the recipe as is, but I do believe that using an equal weight of pork belly (in this case, 2 pounds) would make a tastier, and less salty rillettes.
"The following recipe makes about 3 cups, which will fill four 6-ounce pots, jars, or custard cups, and will keep for four weeks in the refrigerator, covered just with its own fat and a piece of foil or plastic."
1 pound lean pork shoulder, in 2-inch pieces or squares
1 pound fat salt pork, with little or no lean, in 2-inch pieces or squares
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
(Short Order note: no salt, because salt pork is salty; salt to taste if substituting pork belly.)
Put the pieces of pork shoulder in a heavy lidded, flameproof casserole, preferably enameled ironware. Rinse the salt pork under cold running water to remove the salt from the surface, and add to the pork shoulder. Add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, add pepper, thyme, and bay leaf, cover, and place in preheated 250F oven.
Cook for 4 hours, checking occasionally to be sure that only the merest simmer is being maintained and that the pork is not drying out. If it does seem to be drying add a little boiling water.
At the end of the 4 hours, the pork should be very soft and the fat almost completely liquid. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
Discard the bay leaf and strain, reserving the drained-off fat. Put 1/4 cup of the melted fat into the blender, then add a quarter of the pork, whirling briefly to break it up but not long enough to make a mush. Remove to a bowl and repeat until al the pork is used. Mix all the batches together, using two forks, to make sure the pork is evenly shredded. Add melted fat to make the mixture soft.
Put the mixture into the pots jars, or custard cups, leaving about 1/2-inch of room on top, and pour melted fat over to fill the containers. When thoroughly cool, refrigerate and cover with foilor plastic pressed on to the fat when it has hardened.
To serve, remove the solid fat from the top (but preserve it to cover leftovers) and set out the container with a small spreading knife and a basket of good bread and some thin dry toast.
A glass of Anjou rosé, red Chinon, or white wines such as Vouvray or Sancerre, and it's a picnic!
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