Rillettes is due for a comeback. This I know. After so much time spent in the dugout while the soul-less, calorie and fat-conscious players took over, it’s back in the game. With a vengeance. Okay, maybe not with a vengeance. More like a whisper. The kind of whisper that tells you this is God’s food; food that really nourishes the heart and soul. It’s the real deal — know what I mean? It’s not the crap-ola that aims to cleanse or detox.
Lest you think I’m about to launch into a diatribe against the Hippie Fat Police, be not ye afraid.
A dish of rillettes, according to Anthony Bourdain, “gets right to the heart of what’s good: pork, pork fat, salt, and pepper….Rillettes is something you serve friends – and people you already know you like.” *
My sentiments exactly. If you’ve never tried it, rillettes is something like a rough, meatier country pâté. Its origins are shared by several regions of France, namely Le Mans, Tours (and Angers), and Orléans. In Le Mans, goose meat is often added to the pork while in Orléans, wild rabbit is often added to make their rillettes, which they serve with fresh walnuts in the fall. In the rillettes of Tours, an all-pork version is made.
Eating this brings me back to the college semester I studied in Angers, located less than an hour’s drive west of Tours. Our midday lunch at school was the one of the highlights that I looked forward to each day. Unlike the cafeterias or dining halls here in the States, where students line up to slop dubious food onto trays, there, we sat family-style in long tables and passed homey platters of rillettes, salades, and fromage around the table.
The last time we were in France, we made sure to bring back some fresh rillettes du Mans – from where Pierre’s grandmother was raised and where his great-aunt had lived most of her life. When that precious stuff was finished, we still had some tins of rillettes that we’d purchased at what I call the French Costco – Carrefour.
Now that all our porky provisions have been depleted, Pierre’s been wondering when he’ll get to eat rillettes again. Well, wonder no more, Mon petit chou! This recipe is from a book I received as a gift from my good friend Zarena. I love this book because its recipes are old-school and just really good and reliable. The photographs aren’t the modern, high contrast, blown-out shots that you often find nowadays. They depict rustic scenes, naturally lit and sometimes underexposed.
As for the recipe, it’s alarmingly simple: Brown meat. Slowly cook meat for a long time. Add seasoning. Shred meat. Enjoy.
And, never wanting to miss an opportunity to add some American lazy to a time-honored French classic, I decided to make this using a slow cooker. And instead of using the French quatre épices, I used my homemade five-spice powder. I’m happy to report that it turned out beautifully.
In case my flip recipe above does not suffice, below is a more detailed version:
RILLETTES DE TOURS
INGREDIENTS: at least 6 servings
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 4 med-large shallots, quartered
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme, crumbled
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 lbs. pork belly, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 lb. pork fat (fatback)
- 3/4 cup water
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- pinch of black pepper
- 1 tsp. five spice powder
- additional bay leaves (for decoration) optional
- Flatten the garlic cloves with the side of the hand. Wrap garlic, shallots, thyme, bay leaves and cloves in a square of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen thread.
- Remove rind (and bones) from the pork belly; cut the meat into 2 inch cubes.
- Melt the pork fat in a heavy 4qt. saucepan over med-low heat. Add the pieces of pork belly and brown them, turning constantly. Remove the browned meat with a slotted spoon and strain the fat through a sieve into a small bowl. Set aside.
- Place the browned meat into a slow cooker. Add the cheesecloth bag and the water, cover – leaving a little space for air to escape.
- Cook on the lowest setting for 5 hours, stirring from time to time, adding a little more water (by the Tablespoon) if the mixture seems too dry. The meat needs to cook low and slow – never to be boiled.
- At this point, the meat should be tender but not mushy. Remove the bag of seasoning. Stir in the salt and five-spice powder and cook for another 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool to lukewarm, then remove meat from the pan and shred using two forks. (The shredded meat will resemble American pulled-pork). Add the reserved fat and mix well.
- Turn the spread into one large container, or divide it among several smaller ones, top with bay leaves and cover. Store in the refrigerator and serve after two days. The rillettes will keep for about two weeks.