Simple rillettes often get lost in the big charcuterie picture-that diverse family of patés, terrines, boiled hams, and other salt-cured meats. Really, it’s hard to make a pot of cooked meat and fat look sexy (although I think I did a pretty good job above). Cold meats can be the star of summer garden lunches, pique-niques by the river, and wine-fueled aperos that turn into an excuse for dinner. All you meat mavens can say what you want about bacon, but for me, rillettes are the gateway to learning about charcuterie and remain one of my favorite things to make and eat. Like right now for your summer parties!
Call me an”In-Season-Only Gendarme”, however, I think it’s perfectly fine to make rillettes throughout the year. After all, were not talking about huge quantities- just mouth watering, small batches simmering in your 4 liter/quart le Creuset/dutch oven and packed in a few nice pots to stash in the fridge. Traditionally, the offspring of Winter’s slaughter of pig and duck, rillettes are the by-product of all the carcass meats after making confit de canard, or the sacrificial bits of trimmed belly and loin from the pig. So last month, when Jayne, the Small Batch Queen of Australia (Preserved & Pickled) came for a professional crash course in Patés & Rillettes- we ignored the season and attacked the project with gusto. I’m glad we did, because it confirmed what I felt about confitures- small batch is better!
The lesson began with three rillettes, based on similar techniques, and seasoned in three complimentary palates: pork, duck and rabbit. Less a recipe and more a technique, I make my rillettes by beginning a condensed bouillon/broth/brodo with the falling aromatic vegetables, herbs, and spices: leeks, carrots, onions, fennel, bay leaf, thyme, a bit of lovage, and 50% white wine/50% clean water. Oh, and add a healthy dose of fat-; it’s the fat that makes the rillettes bind together. For the rabbit, I used olive oil and seasoned with lemon juice; lard for pork and duck fat for … yup.
As the bouillon starts to simmer and I pack in the meat (2 whole rabbits or one whole duck, jointed for example, or 2 kilos of pork shoulder/loin), cover with tight fitting lid and bring to a hearty boil. I keep the temperature high and let the meat fall off the bones and start to shred- about 1.5 hours for the rabbit; 2.5 hours for duck; 4 hours+ for pork. Pick through and remove all bones, gristle, cartilage, tendons, etc… Be meticulous! And as you pick the bones out, start to shred the meat.
When you are bone-free, start to add back the warm fatty broth and mix with a wooden spoon or your hands. You should have just enough concentrated bone broth (the real kind…) to moisten and emulsify the meat and fat. This is the tricky part as it’s a matter of ‘hand’- too gentle and the proteins, fat and liquid won’t bond; too rough and you’ll get soggy cotton wool. I think of this as making chunky mayonnaise- with just enough moisture and fat to be silky. Now, weigh your total mixture and measure salt and pepper- 15 grams salt and 4 grams pepper per kilogram as a starter. You can add more and I did- 17 gr was about right. Use a scale. Remember this will be eaten cold and will taste a little flat unless well-salted; a couple days resting will enhance the flavors. And please, use a restrained hand with spices. A pinch of quatre-épices for the duck, a bit of confited lemon zest for the rabbit, and just salt and pepper for the good Chapolard pork.
Here at Camont, like in most of Gascony, we toast the bread for the tartines, scratch a raw garlic clove over the surface, and eat the rillettes straight up, barely at room temperature (remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving) and alongside a glass of very cold rosé wine- a fruity Côte de Gascogne like UBY or if you are lucky, Elian Da Ros’ seriously wonderful Outre Rouge. These rillettes are charcuterie at it’s most simple- good meat, salt, fat and the time to make your own good food in your own kitchen. Aux Rillettes tout le monde!