Although it’s extremely simple, and many would argue not at all exciting, rillette and pate are some of my favourite things to have for a starter in a restaurant. Sometimes if you’re going for a more adventurous main course you need to begin with something a little more dependable. But you don’t need to only have it in a restaurant, pork rillettes are actually super easy to make at home and keeps in the fridge for weeks, ideal for when guests come over.
Whereas the meat (and usually liver) in pate is blended down into a paste-like consistency, rillettes have more texture as the meat is braised down and then mashed to give a mixture which is almost like a fine pulled-pork. Using tougher cuts of meat such as shoulder and belly provide the right balance of flavour, along with the gelatin and fat needed for the perfect rillette.
You could use pretty much any herbs and spices you like to flavour your meat during the braise, but I prefer the more classic French style, but with plenty of fennel seeds for a delicious aniseed twang. Fennel and pork and an age-old combination that keeps cropping up everywhere because it just works so well. To be honest, I try and sneak the seeds in wherever I can, especially if pork is going to be involved.
So now you’ve got a perfect pot of tasty pork, what do you do with it? The best way to eat pork rillettes, and the simplest, is just heaping it over some fresh crusty bread with a slathering of salted butter. Try and go for the best bread you can find though, from a bakery, not a dodgy supermarket ‘French stick’ or a sliced loaf, you’re just not going to get anywhere near the same experience.
A great accompaniment to the pork rillettes is something pickled and is commonly what you see at restaurants. The pork is both salty and fatty (a good thing), but having a little bit of something that can cut through the fat on your palette is perfect, and pickles are the ideal candidate. The most common option is probably the French-style cornichons, tiny cucumbers pickled with spices, but anything will do. I also love pickled beetroot, sauerkraut and Vietnamese do chua.
Notes on Cooking
When you’ve mashed your meat and are at the point where you need to season the rillettes, make sure you do it very well. The pork will likely be quite cool when you eat it, and it will be quite bland if you’re not careful. You want it to be slightly too salty when eating it warm, before potting.
If you want to keep your rillettes for more than a week, you need to make sure your jars are properly sterilised. I use Kilner jars with a rubber gasket, which are generally available quite cheaply (I got mine from IKEA). Also, make sure that you properly cover the meat with fat before refrigerating. You should have enough from the cooking process, but if not you can supplement with some extra lard or butter, melted down and then poured over the top.
Some of my favourite starters in restaurants are rillettes and pate. Rillettes are simple to make, and just needs a bit of time alone in the oven. A mixture of pork shoulder and belly gives an excellent flavour and texture, while the herbs are a match made in piggy heaven.
- 500 g pork shoulder
- 500 g pork belly
- 20 black peppercorns
- 2 tbsp fennel seeds
- 4 cloves garlic squashed
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 tsp salt uniodized
- 500 mL pork or chicken stock
Remove the skin from the pork belly and cut the meat and shoulder into chunks or about 2.5 cm.
Place the meat and skin in a braising pot with the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Cover and braise at 120oC for around 3 hours, until the meat is falling apart.
Remove the herbs and skin from the braising liquid and discard. Remove the meat to a large bowl, reserving the liquid and fat. Separate the fat from the rest of the liquid and set aside.
Use a fork to mash the meat thoroughly.
Add some of the liquid back to the meat and mix well until the meat comes together. Season well with salt and lemon juice. Remember that you’re going to eat the rillette cold, so make sure it is well seasoned.
Press into sterilised jars, making sure there’s no air in the meat. Pour over a layer of fat to create a seal and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
To sterilise jars, clean them thoroughly with hot soapy water. Transfer to an oven at 120oC for at least 20 minutes. You can then switch the oven off and then leave them inside until needed. If using ones with a detachable rubber seal/gasket, remove this before putting the jars in the oven and boil for 10 minutes in a pan.