A traditional French concoction of shredded meat, fat, spices, and herbs, rillettes are similar to pâté, but with a more rustic texture and appearance. If you are familiar, then you likely know your food; if not, prepare to be amazed at the beauty a simple preparation, of seemingly humble ingredients, can create.
Traditionally made with pork—though they may also be prepared with any type of poultry, game, or even fish—rillettes were a method for families to preserve meat for long periods of time, safely sealed under a layer of fat. And, like many other time-honored food traditions, it was also a means to utilize the whole animal, making the most of trimmings and odd bits of fat and meat, while stretching the prized, and pricey, protein during less-plentiful times.
The chopped meat is heavily salted, then cooked slowly in fat or liquid (comparable to preparing confit), before being shredded or finely chopped, then combined with some of the drained fat and an assortment of seasonings to create a chunky spread. It’s a great way to utilize tough, yet flavorful, cuts of meat, and those weird pieces you’re not quite sure how to use. I’ve even made renditions of it using leftovers! Additionally, the fat lends luscious richness and incredible flavor to lean (read: bland) cuts of meat, and the mixture can be adorned with all manner of seasonings and additions for unique taste and textural components. Additionally, rillettes are an excellent way to sneak some organ meats into your family’s diet, virtually undetected.
Many recipes I come across utilize warming, assertive, and herbaceous flavors, like juniper and rosemary. For a fresh, spring-timey vibe, I opted to add in some bright flavors of orange and thyme for this recipe. The citrus cuts through some of the richness of the fat, lends faint floral notes, and harmonizes well with the full-bodied meat. It is actually traditional to serve rillettes with cornichons: tiny, tart French pickles, which serve the same purpose, and which I absolutely adore, so I always include them on the side.
Rillettes are a great thing to have around when company drops in, and would make a unique and tasty gift, to boot. Few things are better than offering your own handmade delicacies to those you love. The recipe makes quite a lot, making it easy to have a stash of adorable canning jars full of deliciousness on hand for any last-minute needs.
Serve rillettes with sliced bread, crackers, vegetables, or as part of a picnic spread or charcuterie platter. The mixture also makes a great sandwich filling, nestled thickly within a crusty baguette, and is heavenly spread on thick, toasted bread and topped with a soft-cooked egg. Perfect for a mid-day snack or a more substantial meal, served alone, with pickles and cheese, or adorned with a simple salad or lightly steamed veggies drizzled in vinaigrette, rillettes make it easy to please discerning palettes—hearty without feeling heavy and, best of all, downright delicious.
Makes approximately 6-8 ½-pint jars
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 3 hours (longer if using duck)
2 lbs. pork shoulder, diced large; alternately, use pork country ribs or belly, whole duck, or a large 5 lb. chicken (the duck will take closer to 4-5 hours to cook)
2 teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons black pepper
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 fresh bay leaves
1 small onion, quartered
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth
½ cup pork or duck fat (see instructions)
½ cup butter (see instructions)
Additional butter or fat to seal jars
6 oz. shallot, finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon cognac
1 teaspoon Dijon or whole grain mustard
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 275°F. Combine salt, pepper, coriander, and cloves. Toss cubed pork with spice mixture (if using duck or chicken, keep whole and season inside and outside with spice mixture) and place in a large heavy pot. Pour in wine and chicken broth, add thyme, onion, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil on stovetop, then cover and place in oven.
- Braise, checking every hour or so and adding more liquid if necessary, until very tender. Remove from oven, drain meat from liquid, reserving liquid, and let meat cool until easily able to handle. Strain liquid and set aside. Separate pork fat from braising liquid and reserve both.
- Shred, chop, or pound meat until smooth without any large chunks.
- Measure pork fat and add enough butter to make 1 cup total fat. I like a ratio of 1 part fat to 1-3 parts butter (25-50% fat, 75-50% butter). Melt fat and butter in a large pot. Add shallot and sauté until tender.
- Combine fat and shallots with shredded meat, herbs, orange zest, cognac, mustard, orange juice, and enough of the cooking liquid to make a flavorful, moist spread. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, and herb levels to your liking.
- Rillettes taste best when allowed to ripen at least a few days before serving. To seal in jars, pack meat mixture among clean half pint jars, smoothing down to release air bubbles. The more packed and air-free it is, the longer its shelf life. Pour a layer of melted fat or butter, about ¼ inch thick, atop meat to seal. Wipe jar rims clean and screw on lids tightly. If sealed completely, will last for up to six months. Keep chilled, but bring to room temperature to serve.
Image from Briana Goodall.