Rilettes make a tasty first course , and are an excellent picnic or take-along snack. You pack them in small containers, which are highly portable. I think they look and taste elegant, spread from their pretty little crock, which has been sealed on top with its thin coat of fat. They are as easy to make as anything could be, no special equipment needed, and no expensive ingredients required. Recently, I learned that rilettes keep several weeks in the refrigerator, which is a plus for a person who lives on her own. It really is strange that more people don't make them. I had never made them before myself.
I was planning on doing some casing sausages for my next project in the new-to-me realm of charcuterie. However, I hadn't yet rounded up any casings. (I finally did get some a bit later..at last.) I realized , leafing through my primer on the topic, that it contained a simple sounding plan for Pork Rilettes for which no shopping would be necessary. Moreover, what it called for, primarily, was time, rather than attention. It all seemed perfect, as I planned a day at home anyway, finishing some written work, and doing some too long neglected laundry.
It was a good thing I had all day, because it took more time even than I had realized. This was in part because of the process of rendering the pork fat for the seal- an entertainment not recommended for the hopelessly impatient. I actually found it relaxing, which I suppose means I'm not nearly the frenzied soul I once was. Described in various places as taking an "hour or two", or "a couple of hours", rendering one pound of pork fat took me 4 hours. And you will probably want to render your own fat for this, unless you have a source for additive free, carefully rendered lard, which is not, I assure you, your ordinary American supermarket product. A peak at the ingredients on a bucket of supermarket lard is not for the queasy.
Perhaps I was overly cautious and kept the fire a bit too low under my pot. I did not want to turn the heat up too high, because of warnings that if the fat colored, it would be ruined. One does not, after all, want to putter around for hours with a bit of fat, and have it turn out worthless due to a moment's impatience. In any event, as I had much more beautiful, clear-as-a-window rendered lard than I needed to seal the crocks, I am now in the fortunate position of deciding what to do with the rest. More charcuterie? A lard/butter crust (my favorite) for a splendid pie? A "player to be named later"?
If you would like some homemade rilettes, this is what you do, adapted from Messers Polcyn and Ruhlman in Charcuterie:
1. Render some pork fat
In a small heavy saucepan, put about a pound of fresh pork fat, cut in smallish cubes. Add 1/4 cup of water. Bring to a simmer, then turn down very, very low and cook until the water is evaporated and you have a pan of clear fat, ornamented with lovely little brown crackling bits. This takes hours. Stir occasionally. Strain through a strainer lined in cheesecloth (or, in my case, a jelly bag, as I was out of cheesecloth). Cool, then keep refrigerated. Extract the little brown bits from the strainer and save to season your vegs, or sprinkle over mashed potatoes. (another bonus-bad for you, yet divine.)
2. Make rillettes
I made a considerably smaller amount than the Charcuterie directions, but the principles are the same.
You can make more if you have more folks to feed. As I said, it keeps for several weeks.
Fatty piece of pork butt, cut in 1" cubes 1 pound
herbs of choice for bouquet garni (I used marjoram, fennel fronds, bay and thyme)
small onion stuck with 3 cloves
opt, Veal broth to cover (Didn't have any hanging around, I used water-an option)
pinch of 4 spice (my Penzey's version has white pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves)
Preheat oven to 300F. Slit, wash, and trim the leek. Insert herbs of choice in the middle and tie the lot up with kitchen string. Cute, no? Put peppercorns in some cheesecloth, or a tea ball.
Set your pork cubes in a little sturdy oven-friendly pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Drain and rinse with cold water. Pour in stock or water to cover by an inch. Add bouquet garni, 4 spice, peppercorns, 1 tsp salt, and the onion. Bring to a simmer, and cover, slide into oven. Cook 4-6 hours, until it's all falling to shreds.
Cool a bit, and drain, saving the liquid. Put the meat in the bowl of your electric mixer, and beat for a minute or two, adding some of the liquid, until it reaches a paste-like texture. Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning. Pack into small decorative containers, leaving a bit of space on top. Once they have cooled , heat the rendered fat, and pour over to cover the rilettes completely and come to the top of the container. Chill until hardened and white, then cover with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge. Tasty and rich, these are nice spread on crusty bread, toast, or crackers, and well set off by something pickled. My smaller version of the recipe makes 3 little 6 oz crocks as pictured, plus a bit left to try right away.
If my sweet and sour prunes were ready, I'd offer some with the rilettes. I think I'm going to need to make a few more pickled garnishes for future experiments in charcuterie. Fine with me, sounds like fun. Further readings on rilettes have alerted me to the possibilities of sealing the crocks with clarified butter, which is a tad less time consuming to fix than the rendered pork fat. Maybe next time. There is definitely going to be a next time.