I feel like I spend an increasingly large portion of my life rendering pork fat.
On a daily basis I’m either slowly frying bacon, to make sure there are no visible white bits (George would have got on well with Jack Spratt, me and his wife would have had much more in common) or I am cooking oversize shoulders of pork with the aim of melting the layer of fat beneath the skin to produce the softest meat and the best crackling.
Making Pork Rillettes takes the pork rendering to a whole new level. I didn’t even plan to make them this week but I had my usual ‘I’m not buying enough’ panic when purchasing only one item in the butchers and therefore asked for a large slab of belly pork. Not really sticking to our lets-cut-back-a-bit-on-calories-before-Christmas regime.
Then Ed came up with the genius suggestion that we should use it to make Rillettes. We have meant to make some since we saw Simon Hopkinson cook his version. You can see Simon’s version here which is altogether more involved and refined than ours, but he’s a chef and I’m just hungry.
Most recipes that I researched seemed to have extra fat in, so that the meat slowly cooks in the fat like a confit, but also so that there is enough to seal the top of the jar. This meant I had to nip back to Uncle Jerry’s butcher’s shop and ask for supplementary fat. This embarrassed George no end; he was standing next to a female school friend in the queue as I asked if they had any spare back fat out the back. I bet he wishes he had a normal Mum that bought fish fingers for tea.
Other than the belly pork, the only thing you really need to make this is a love of slow cooked porky things on toast plus lots of time. Once you have the mixture up to a gentle heat you need to cook it very, very slow to render out all the fat and leave you with soft belly pork that can be shredded and seasoned and spooned into jars for a rainy day.
It’s kind of got a medieval feel to it with its subtle, spiced, aromatic flavours. In the days before fridges it must have been a great use for cheap cuts of pork which could be used months later when the expensive joints had long ago been used up for roasts and stews.
We worried that having made several jars of the stuff we wouldn’t be able to eat it in a timely manner, but those fears have receded. Ed and I polished off half a jar in one sitting at lunch time, with crisp little gherkins and toasted ciabatta and a large pot of tea.
One word of advice…make sure you plan your day so you don’t end up shredding pork and trying to find clean jars very late at night after a bottle of wine has been consumed.
That would be a silly thing to do.
3lb/1500g belly pork, skin removed, chopped into 1″ cubes
1lb/500g pork (back) fat, chopped into 1″ cubes
2 teaspoons of salt
1 tsp juniper berries
3 bay leaves
a bunch of fresh thyme
3 garlic cloves
Heat all the above very gently in a large, heavy, ovenproof casserole.
You can put the aromatics in a muslin bag to fish out later, I don’t bother.
Preheat your oven to 130°c or 260°f.
Simmer for ½ an hour, occasionally stirring, then cover and place in the oven for 5 hours.
Check on it occasionally to ensure that just a few ‘plipping’ bubbles can be seen.
Don’t let the meat ‘brown’ at all.
It is ready when can almost see no white fat, just clear oil and meat.
Take out of the oven and allow to cool for a while.
With a ladle scoop out the very clearest fat into a jug.
Take the meat out with a slotted spoon and shred well with two forks.
Remove peppercorns, thyme stalks, cloves, juniper and any lumps of fat as you go.
Add some of the less clear ‘juice’ (fats) back in to make it soft and mixable.
Season well with:
plenty of grated nutmeg
more than plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon mixed spice
Season a little more than you think as the flavours dull as it cools.
Spoon it into small clean wide necked jars, then flatten the top.
Pour 1cm of the reserved clear fat over the meat to provide a seal.
Refrigerate for a week to let the flavours develop.
I am told that they last in a cool place for 6 months. I can’t see that happening.
Allow the rillettes to come to a warm room temperature before you scrape off the dripping and spread the soft meat on crusty, toasted bread or a baguette, with cornichons on the side….and maybe some cheese, and chutney.
You get the idea.