A jar of rillettes is a wonderful thing. French in heritage, it’s a seasoned meat spread slowly cooked in its own fat, then shredded and mixed with just enough of its fat to make a paste that’s spreadable on bread or crackers. Oh yes. Similar to a paté, but with no offal, it can be the hero of your next cheese and charcuterie platter. Rillettes (pronounced ree-yett) hits those same unctuous notes that paté does, but the absence of liver makes it a bit more universally appealing.
Many recipes require fussing over a hot stove, tending to a large vat of simmering fat, but the absolute easiest way to make rillettes—get ready—is in a slow cooker. You can pop in the meat and fat before bed and wake up to perfectly cooked meat. A quick whazz in the food processor, add seasoning, throw into the fridge to chill, and it will be perfectly set by the time cocktail hour rolls around.
Rillettes can be made with a variety of meats—this recipe calls for pork shoulder, but you can swap in duck thighs and legs, or chicken thighs with duck fat, or even more exotic meats such as rabbit. To serve, take out of the fridge an hour in advance and allow to come to room temperature. Serve with thin slices of crusty bread or crackers, mustard, fig jam, capers or cornichons.
This recipe makes a fairly large amount, but one of the best things about rillettes is that you are effectively preserving the meat in its own fat. If you pack the spread in jars and top with some of the liquid fat to seal it in, those jars can last in your fridge for a month or up to six months in your freezer.
Makes 3-4 cups
- 2 1/2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into one-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup dry white wine (or rose or dry vermouth)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 shallot
- 1-inch chunk peeled ginger
- 5 allspice berries
- 1 tsp. coriander seeds
- 10 black peppercorns
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 quart lard (preferably leaf lard, but regular will do)
Grind the allspice, coriander, peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add the ground spice to your food processor with garlic, shallot, ginger, and wine. Pulse until you have a cohesive paste. Season the pork chunks well with salt, and place in a ziptop bag. Add the marinade, and smoosh around to coat all the pork, then seal the bag well and let hang out in the fridge for anywhere from 6-24 hours.
When you’re ready to cook, melt the lard in your 4 qt. slow cooker set on low until liquid, about 30-45 minutes. When fully liquid, add the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Remove the pork chunks from the marinade, leaving as much liquid behind in the bag as possible. Add the pork carefully to the melted fat, and ensure that it is at least 3/4 is covered with fat, if not totally submerged. Cook on low with the lid slightly ajar so that no condensation occurs for 6-8 hours, until the meat is meltingly tender and breaks apart easily. Fish out the thyme and bay and discard. Remove the meat and place in the bowl of your food processor set with the metal chopping blade. Strain the fat and reserve in a glass measuring cup or fat separator, allowing any juices to settle to the bottom for at least 10-15 minutes.
Pulse the meat 6-8 times in your food processor to break up the meat into shreds. Add in one cup of the fat, pulse 2-3 times to combine, then taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper to your taste. Be somewhat aggressive with seasoning as you will be eating this at cool room temperature, and salt and pepper are more intense when dishes are hot. Once the rillettes are to your liking, place in four containers or jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom on top. Carefully spoon rendered fat over the rillettes to completely cover by at least 1/4 inch with no meat showing through the fat. Let rest at room temp for 30-40 minutes to cool, then cover tightly with lids and store in the fridge for up to a month with the fat cap undisturbed (one week after you break through that seal), or in the freezer for up to six months.
To serve, let come to room temp for about an hour, then carefully scrape off the fat cap to reveal the rillettes.
Note: The strained fat with all juices and bits and bobs removed can be run through a cheesecloth-lined sieve and stored in the fridge for up to a month for use in cooking (great for roasting potatoes or frying eggs), or in the freezer for up to six months for future batches of rillettes.