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Pork Rillettes

Packed and ready for a layer of fat.

A Rillette is a rustic spread made from meat (generally pork, poultry, or fish) that’s been cooked in the method of confit; meaning cooked in some kind of fat. It could be its own, another animal fat, olive oil, or butter. I’ve made duck, salmon, and tuna rillettes, but not pork until now. In this recipe I used a combination of lard and duck fat.

The spice measurements and herbs are deliberately loose. For example, if you don’t like allspice, leave them out and add more peppercorns. You could also had a knob of fresh ginger or a cinnamon stick instead of the mace. If you don’t have a leek, but an onion instead; use the onion. And by all means if you have a rosemary sprig languishing in the fridge add it too.

Once cooked the meat is then shredded and stored in some of the fat in which it was cooked. This method of cooking was a way of preserving meat prior to refrigeration. But since we have electric iceboxes the rillettes can be refrigerated for up to 1 month if the meat remains covered with a layer of fat.

10 – 12 whole allspice berries
1 – 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon mace
1 star anise, broken into pieces
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 large leek, white and light green parts only
3 – 4 strips orange peel, preferably organic
8 – 10 fresh thyme sprigs
6 – 8 garlic cloves, peeled
3 pounds (give or take) trimmed boneless pork butt, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 quart rendered pork or duck fat
1 medium shallot, peeled and  finely minced
Splash brandy or cognac, optional

Using a mortar and pestle slightly crush the allspice berries. In a large bowl mix together the crushed berries, peppercorns, coriander seeds, star anise, and salt. Set aside. Trim the leek, cut in half and then cut into 1/2 inch slices. Add the leek slices to a bowl and fill with cold water.  Toss the slices around to dislodge any grit and allow it to settle in the bottom of the bowl. Gently lift the leeks out of the water into a colander to drain and set aside; leaving the grit behind.

Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife remove 3 or 4 strips of orange zest each about an inch wide and the length of the orange, being careful not to include any of the somewhat bitter white pith.

Toss the pork with the spice blend until well coated. Add the drained leeks, orange zest, thyme sprigs, and garlic cloves and toss again. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The following day when ready to proceed move a rack to the bottom third of the oven and set it to 300 degrees F. Fill the bowl containing the pork mixture with cold water to wash off the salt.  Remove the pork pieces to paper toweling to dry. Strain the remaining ingredients through a fine sieve, rinse again under running water to remove any remaining salt. Set aside to drain.

In a large enameled cast iron pot melt the fat. Add the pork, rinsed spices, orange zest, thyme sprigs, leeks, and garlic. Set a round of parchment paper that has a small hole in the middle on top of the contents (called a cartouche in French). This keeps evaporation to a minimum and the underside of your pot clean. Cover with the lid.

Place the pot on a medium fire just and cook just until the pork comes to a simmer; then move it to the oven. Cook for about 4 hours or until meat is very tender. Check every now and then that the liquid is bubbling at a bare minimum. Raise or lower the oven temperature to adjust. Once the pork is tender, remove the pot from the oven and using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the pork and garlic to the bowl of a stand mixer. Discard the thyme, leeks, and orange peel as they have given everything they have to give.

In a small saucepan heat about a 1/4 cup of the fat from the pot.  Add the shallots and sauté until translucent. Turn off the heat and if using, add a splash of brandy or cognac.  CAREFULLY ignite the alcohol with a match and allow it to burn off. Remember to have a lid handy to cover the flame in case it gets out of hand.

Once the meat has cooled break up the pieces, discarding any gristle. Put the bowl on the mixer and using the paddle attachment, stir the mixture on low speed until the pork begins to shred. Add the sautéed shallots along with the fat in which they were cooked. Continue mixing and add more cooled fat until a desired, spreadable consistency is achieved. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and/or freshly ground pepper if necessary. Pack the meat into a ceramic bowl or individual crocks and refrigerate until cold.

Reheat the fat and ladle a 1/4-inch layer of fat top of the pork. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The remaining fat can be strained and saved to make another batch of rillettes or for another use (say pan frying potatoes or eggs).

Serve the rillettes with toasted crostini, cornichons, and a bit of jam or dried fruit compote.