Pork Rillettes

Rillettes is a funny word. It always sounds like a card game – “Care to play a few rounds of rillettes?” I never figured out how this spreadable cornerstone of the charcuterie world got its name, but I’m sure some etymologists out there might have some insight to share?

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying being back in the kitchen. After sweating over my next book, a memoir with recipes, I’m excited (and so are my eyes) to step away from the computer, after scanning pages and paragraphs, checking French verb tenses, and verifying timelines of events, to get all the details right. Thankfully there are just a few more passes (lookovers) and now I have more time to spend back into the kitchen.

I can also get cracking on the lovely stack of recent cookbooks that came out this year. One that I was particularly interested in was La Vie Rustic: Cooking and Living in the French Style, the newest book from Georgeanne Brennan. Georgeanne has written a number of cookbooks during the last few decades on French cuisine. I’ve cooked from many of them over the years and always enjoyed her more rustic (or rustique?) take on French food.

Georgeanne lives most of the year in San Francisco but has French roots. Her husband is French, as is her son-in-law. And her daughter helped style My Paris Kitchen. So it’s like we’re one big happy family, with deep roots in both cultures and countries.

Speaking of family, traveling recently in the U.S., I engaged in one of my favorite activities: Prowling around the markets, butcher shops, and supermarkets, to see what’s available, and what might be the U.S.-equivalent to French products, so I know more about them when I write up recipes.

Meat tends to be especially vexing because the cuts of meat in France don’t necessarily correspond to those in the States. Perplexed visitors who dine out in France often are confused by onglet, palette, and sot l’y laisse, the “oyster” on poultry, known as “the part the idiot leaves behind,” in French. (Which admittedly is less confusing than calling a poultry part an oyster.)

Tackling this recipe, I had to figure out the French equivalent of fatback, which Georgeanne calls for in the book, for making the rillettes. I asked my friend Kate Hill, who teaches charcuterie-making in Gascony, and she told me that fatback is the firmest fat in the animal. I tried that the first time I made this and it barely gave up any of its fat when I cooked it. So I tried it again with the slightly softer fat from the pig jowl or belly, which a local butcher hooked me up with.

So you might need to go to a butcher and ask for belly fat, rather than soft fat, which is lard in English, not to be confused with French lard, which is what we would call bacon in the States. Sorry to be so confusing, but at least you get a glimpse of what it’s like to translate all this stuff between two cultures! (And which makes writing about it all a little overwhelming at times.) But at least you know that if you go to France and order a chicken or pork with lard, it’ll come with bacon, not slathered in pork fat.

Which reminds me of the time way back in the 1990’s when, on a visit to Paris, I ordered cassoulette, which turned out to be a big, heaping bowl of steaming tripe that the waiter presented to me, rather than the cassoulet I thought I was ordering. The upside is that I’ll never make that mistake again.

Both Kate and Georgeanne (and I) agree that making rillettes requires a little bit of intuition and making adjustments based on ingredients. Artisanally raised pork will throw off a different amount of liquid (water and/or fat) than its industrially raised counterpart, and I found myself wrist deep in pork trying to figure it out.

My conclusion is that it’s best to just follow the base recipe that I give, draining off most of the fat, then adding back what you need. The result is a meaty spread that’s great on a baguette along with some cornichons, or smeared on a baguette for a hardy sandwich.

Pork Rillettes
Print Recipe
6 servings
Adapted from La Vie Rustic by Georgeanne BrennanFeel free to adjust the seasonings. The juniper berries lend a nice flavor, but may be hard to track down, so they can be omitted. I like allspice so I added that. Bay leaf or shallots can be cooked with the pork, if you wish. I chose to add some thyme branches.If you're avoiding alcohol you can use apple cider with a squirt of lemon in place of the brandy or whiskey, and the wine.Note: The original recipe in La Vie Rustic noted that after the pork shoulder is cooked, in step 6, to drain the pork shoulder in a mesh sieve set over a bowl to collect the juices and fat, then shred the meat and set it aside. When the liquid cools and the fat separates, warm the juices in a pan with the shredded pieces of pork shoulder, adding 2 - 4 tablespoons of fat, to make it spreadable.I didn't get any liquid when I made it either time I made it, but if you end up with liquid, you can follow those directions.
1/4 cup (60ml) brandy or whiskey
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 juniper berries, well-crushed
10 allspice berries, well-crushed
1 pound boneless pork shoulder or butt, cut into 1/2-inch (2cm) pieces
10 sprigs fresh thyme, optional
5 ounces (155g) fresh pork belly, cut into 1-inch (3cm) cubes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1. Mix together the brandy or whiskey with the garlic, salt, pepper, juniper, and allspice berries with the pork cubes in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. In a large saucepan (that has a lid) or a medium-sized casserole, heat the pork belly pieces with 1/3 cup (80ml) water over low heat. Cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, encouraging the pork pieces to give up their fat. If the water evaporates, add a little more to help the fat render.
3. Preheat the oven to 250ºF (120ºC).
4. Add the macerated pork and any liquid to the pan along with the thyme. Cook, stirring frequently, for another 15 minutes, until the pieces of pork are cooked on the outside. Cover the pan and put it in the oven.
5. Lift the lid after 1 1/2 hours of cooking. Press on the chunks of fat with a fork to release more of their fat and encourage them to break down. Add the wine, replace the lid, and bake the pork for another 1 to 2 hours, until the pork is very soft.
6. Remove the pork from the oven. Pick out the thyme branches and discard. (The original recipe said at this point to drain the pork through a sieve, over a bowl, to collect the juices, but mine didn't have enough to warrant that. If yours does, see headnote for more information on that.)Press on any visible chunks of fat to get the fat out of them, then remove them from the pan and discard them.
7. Pour most of the fat out of the pan into a small bowl and reserve. Scrape the meat chunks, and any pan fat, juices and brown bits, into the bowl of a stand mixer. The spices should all be very soft and dissolved, so it's not a problem to include them.
8. Mix the meat on low-to-medium speed with the paddle attachment until well-mashed. (You can also make this by hand, mashing the meat with a fork.) The mixture should resemble dry tuna salad. Add enough of the reserved liquefied fat to make it juicy and moist. I ended up adding about 3 tablespoons, but it'll probably need between 2 and 4 tablespoons. The more fat you add, the richer and creamier it'll be.

Serving and Storage: Serve at room temperature. Rillettes will keep in the refrigerator for one week to ten days. I don't recommend freezing them as charcuterie tends to get soggy, if frozen and defrosted.

Related Recipes

Salmon Rillettes

Sardine Spread

Chicken Liver Pâté

Homemade Cornichons (Papilles & Pupilles, in French)

Monique’s Cornichons (Susan Loomis on Epicurious)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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32 comments

  • Roberta Smith
    June 16, 2017 10:26pm

    Oh my . . . That first photo showing the serving on a wood board stopped me cold. It looked like it was placed on some man’s whiskers or on a hairy pig. Oooff

  • Claire
    June 16, 2017 10:31pm

    Hi David,

    Your rillettes look fantastic.

    Try these rillettes if ever you visit Montreal:

    https://porkshop.ca/charcuteries/

    One type is cooked with an IPA beer from Quebec and the other with a rum from Quebec. Both very good.

  • terry
    June 16, 2017 10:32pm

    This looks so very good. I love rillettes even more than pate. Thank you for taking this on and giving us something that looks doable for the home cook!

  • GB
    June 16, 2017 10:32pm

    pork rillettes are the 1st food I look for upon arriving in France. I attended a fabulous week of cooking and touring with G. Brennan in Haute Provence years ago and miss that trip still today. I would sign up today.

  • Cassandra Brecht
    June 16, 2017 10:48pm

    I love a good rillettes recipe, and this one looks stellar. I like that garlic is in there, but I also wonder if some oniony business would improve or detract? Only one way to find out . . .

  • David Kincheloe
    June 16, 2017 11:14pm

    “Rillette” derives from the Old French “rille,” meaning a “slice of pork,” in 1480. “Rillette” was first used in the way in which you are using it in 1845. “Rille” is a dialect variation of the Old French “reille,” a lath or strip of wood, from the Latin “regula.” From the same Latin word, English acquired “rail” (as in “railroad” and “handrail”). Thanks for all of your delicious recipes and delightful writing, David.

    • June 17, 2017 12:06am
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for the info!

    • phanmo
      June 18, 2017 10:13am

      Must be the same root as for “rillons” which are chunks of pork belly marinated and roasted then eaten cold (at least in the Poitou region).

      I’m a big fan of making rillettes with roasted pork hocks!

  • Deb
    June 16, 2017 11:22pm

    Yum!!

  • Lynn
    June 17, 2017 12:10am

    I still make your delicious sardine pate that you showed in your Paris market video. Sometimes when I’m busy and don’t have sardines, I cheat and make with canned tuna :0

    • june2
      June 17, 2017 2:01am

      Yes! That’s what I was thinking about this recipe – it would be amazing using fresh tuna instead of pork…not sure what fat, maybe just olive oil..

    • AnnieN
      June 20, 2017 6:16pm

      @Lynn, I re-created that sardine pate with canned sardines (in olive oil). That Paris market video is my favorite. I have made all the dishes in that video many times over. Wish there were more :)

  • June 17, 2017 12:36am

    I love rillettes and always have them when I am in Europe. Your recipe is worth a try.

  • Lora
    June 17, 2017 1:07am

    I had no idea that little spot on the chicken was called an oyster. I LOVE those two little pieces and make it a point of getting to them before anyone else can, if they even know about them.

    • Greg
      June 18, 2017 4:39pm

      We always called them “bishop’s cheeks”; went along with the “Pope’s nose”. Maybe because I’m from a Catholic family or my Grandmother was English and Protestant originally? ‘Oysters” is certainly less problematic a term.

      • dan
        July 1, 2017 8:24pm

        is that oyster what people in less civilized countries call the chicken’s arse?

        • Nix
          July 2, 2017 10:30am

          We’ve always called that piece dan, the pope’s nose as Greg’s family does. The oysters are two oval soft pieces of dark meat that sit on each side of the backbone in an indentation towards the thighs.

  • June 17, 2017 4:48am

    I love that you can so readily buy sardine and tuna rillettes here. Carrefour makes nice ones. Also happy to read they are made simply with butter and olive oil. Your salmon version sounds perfect.

  • Gavrielle
    June 18, 2017 2:00am

    Care to play a few rounds of rillettes?

    LOL! Or a casino game – the high drama and electric excitement of the rillette table:). Actually, I think there would definitely be electric excitement if I made these rillettes!

  • Kate
    June 18, 2017 3:59pm

    This immediately made me think of the French Canadian savoury potted pork called Cretons. Looks like the next cool rainy day I get I’m going to have to make both of these. :)

    • June 18, 2017 6:07pm
      David Lebovitz

      I didn’t know that cretons were so I looked them up and they are similar, except the recipes I saw mostly used ground meat and had bread (or breadcrumbs). Similar, but different! : )

  • Jonur
    June 18, 2017 4:28pm

    Thanks, David. The recipe looks divine! I also appreciate the difficulty of translating meat cuts, etc. On that point, bear in mind that, outside North America, “cider” is alcoholic by definition, and sticking the word “apple” in front of it is as meaningful as saying “grape burgundy” (what else would it be made of?). :-)

  • Nathan
    June 18, 2017 5:18pm

    I love rillettes, and while I’m living in Paris I want to make sure to keep it around the house, but I’m not sure where a good place is to buy it. Everything I see at my local Monoprix just looks kind of gross in its jar, and the charcuterie in my neighborhood doesn’t appear to carry it. Anyone have any ideas? I’m living in the 4th but am very willing to travel for rillettes.

    So very grateful for this website and all of David’s work.

  • Lisa
    June 18, 2017 7:06pm

    When does the thyme go in? During macerating or cooking or both.

    • June 18, 2017 7:36pm
      David Lebovitz

      You can either add it during the marinating/macerating, or later during cooking. I left the branches in during the whole time and plucked them out right before mashing. Sorry it wasn’t clear! : )

  • Sheila
    June 18, 2017 8:14pm

    Is your new book in French, or are you just referring to all the French words I know you’ll put in?
    Really looking forward to this book; it should be fun! Please put in lots of the juicy bits!
    Sheila

  • June 19, 2017 9:07am

    My husband LOVES rillettes, especially duck, but I haven’t yet dared to make them. To me, the cornichons are the best part! They are a great counterpoint to the creamy rillettes.

  • Patrick
    June 19, 2017 4:44pm

    In Houston I buy pork at a farmers market from a guy down in Wharton that raises heritage pigs. Picked up some beautiful pearly white fat last week and rendered about a quart of lard.

    I put the rillettes in small crocks then top off with more lard to seal. Michael Ruhlman says this will preserve them for two weeks. But they usually don’t last that long anyway.

  • Maxine
    June 26, 2017 10:09pm

    I live far away from anywhere that actually has a butcher of any variety–so both fatback and pork belly fat (or even pork belly!) are entirely out of my reach. I do, however, have a cache of pork lard. I know they are not the same, but in a pinch, would lard work?

    • June 26, 2017 10:22pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, although I would add about half of the amount called for of fatback. Let me know how it turns out if you try it!

  • Jan
    July 2, 2017 10:16pm

    I made this recipe using local, pasture raised pork shoulder and guanciale.
    It is so good! Thank you for a great recipe that made the house smell delicious!

  • July 7, 2017 9:05pm

    Not to sound all Star Wars, but this is the recipe I was looking for! I remember something like this from a picnic years ago, and have some fresh, crispy radishes and thought of it. THANK YOU, thank you, thank you! Making tomorrow…

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