When I have friends over for dinner, I want to enjoy their company and not be slaving away in the kitchen. This is especially true when they first arrive and it is time for a pre-dinner cocktail. I always want to have something ready to go to serve with those cocktails; preferably something slightly salty, something that can be made at least the day before and something with a bit of a “wow” factor. The answer is often Pork Rillettes.
The French name makes them sound fancy, but really they are simple to make (but no need to tell your guests that). Rillettes are basically spreadable meat. They are traditionally made with pork but can also be made with poultry, rabbit and fish like salmon or tuna. What makes Rillettes special is the cooking method. The pork is cooked confit, which means it is cooked it slowly in its own fat or another fat. This method has been around for centuries and traditionally was done out of necessity to preserve the meat, but today we just do it because it is delicious!!!
There are many recipes for Pork Rillettes out there. Many contain warm spices like juniper berries, all-spice, cloves and nutmeg and many also include wine or brandy. After several tests (it was hard but someone had to do it) my favourite version is the Serious Eats version. It uses much simpler spices (bay leaves and thyme) and includes no additional liquid. The beautiful pork flavour is at the forefront and additional flavour elements can be added through the condiments you serve with it.
Pork Rillettes can be made up to a week ahead of time and stored in your refrigerator, or you can freeze them for several months. I often make a double or even triple batch so that I always have a supply ready. If you freeze them, defrost them in the refrigerator overnight before serving. Pork Rillettes can be served right out of the jars . For a slightly more elegant presentation, line your ramekin or jar (or use a pâté terrine) with plastic wrap. You will then be able to lift the Rillettes out of the container and slice it. Serve Pork Rillettes with country bread and accompaniments such as grainy mustard, cornichons (small French sour pickles), pickled onions and fruit preserves.
Simple Pork Rillettes
Serves 12 – 16 as appetizer
1 kg (2 lbs) boneless, skinless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (about 1kg)
180 ml (¾ cup) duck fat, warmed to just melt, more as required
4 bay leaves
6 fresh thyme sprigs
2 large shallots, very roughly chopped
4 medium cloves garlic, split in half
sea salt & coarsely ground pepper, for serving
freshly ground nutmeg, to taste (optional)
Adjust oven rack to lower position and preheat oven to 275°F (135°C). Season pork gently with kosher salt and pack into a Dutch oven, roasting pan, or casserole dish. The pork should be in a single layer and there should be little to no space between the pieces of meat. Pour duck fat over the pork. Place bay leaves, thyme sprigs, shallots, and garlic amongst the pork. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil, transfer to oven, and cook until pork is completely tender and shows very little resistance when pierced with a knife, about 3 hours.
Remove from oven, discard bay leaves, thyme, shallots, and garlic. Set a large strainer over a heatproof bowl and carefully pour pork mixture into it. Reserve drained fat and juices. Transfer pork chunks to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn mixer on to low speed and gradually increase speed to medium, allowing pork to break down and shred. Slowly drizzle in the fat and juices a few tablespoons at a time, tasting in between each addition until the mixture is as loose and creamy as you like it. If you seem to be running low on fat, add some more melted duck fat to the reserved fat and juices. This may happen if your pork shoulder is too lean. When the texture is to your liking, season with kosher salt until it almost tastes too salty. As it chills, the Rillettes becomes more bland so it is important to season aggressively at this point. If you don’t have a stand mixture, you can use a potato masher for this process. Your Rillettes with not be quite as smooth, but still delicious!
Carefully pack mixture into jars or ramekins,* spooning it in a little bit at a time and making sure to remove all air bubbles. Smooth tops of mixture with the back of a spoon, wipe rims of jars with a clean cloth, then pour a quarter inch of fat on top of each one. Close lids or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to a week before serving. Serve lightly chilled with a sprinkling of sea salt, coarse pepper and nutmeg if you like. Accompany with bread or crackers and cornichons, whole grain mustard, and fruit preserves.
*If you would like to serve sliced Rillettes, line jars or ramekins with plastic wrap before filling.
Slightly adapted from Seriouseats.com