Rillettes and Hellebores

The hellebores are flowering outside the kitchen window, they seem to arrive in the nick of time every year just before I’ve decided that I really have to emigrate.

I know it’s a bit early to be celebrating but, after the wettest winter since British records began,  the sun shone all day yesterday.  There’s a huge damp patch on the sitting room ceiling but at least the relentless dripping has stopped and with the unbelievable sight of thousands of flooded homes every time I switch on the news, I really can’t complain. Meanwhile, Pete has been “working hard” on a whale watching trip in sunny Baja California, leaving me and Imi to batten down the hatches alone.

I’m always much more productive when Pete’s away, I sometimes even get out the sewing machine of an evening, there’s no one to offer me an Aperol Spritz (my current tipple) and more time to hatch domestic plans. So this month I’ve been on a preserving roll. I started off with marmalade but, since the Seville Oranges have pretty much been and gone, I won’t ramble on about that now (you can look at my Borough Market post in any case). My other endeavour has been to make the perfect rillettes.

When I teach bread classes at The Bertinet Kitchen in Bath there’s always a fabulous spread of cheese, salads and pots of homemade goodies for lunch (along with plenty of bread, of course). I always make a beeline for the jar of rillettes. Okay, consumed on a daily basis this fatty, pork pâté-ish mix would be recipe for a heart attack, but relished from time to time with some cornichons and plenty of salad it’s perfectly healthy and tastes superb.

Making rillettes at home is surprisingly simple, the only draw back when it comes to the traditional French technique (used by Richard Bertinet of course) is the quantity of fat. It’s not that I’ve got a problem from the calorie aspect, it’s just that most of us Brits don’t have large pots of goose or duck fat lurking around the house to cook the pork in. Nigel Slater uses no extra fat at all in his recipe- just slow roasts some really fatty belly meat by itself, I can’t ever seem to get my hands on any sufficiently fatty belly. So here’s my recipe which does use a few tablespoons of duck or goose fat, you’ll find it at plenty of butchers and supermarkets.

The pork must obviously be the best you can find. I would never dream of buying meat from a factory-farmed pig in any case, but here the distinctive flavour of slow-reared, free range pork is key. The beauty of the dish is that pork belly is cheap cut anyway and that the rich rillettes will go a very long way. My pork came from Sheepdrove, the organic butchers in Lower Redland Rd.

The recipe will make about 4 jam jars or 2 good size kilner jars.  So here you go:  It’s really just a question of assembling all your ingredients and then cooking them long and slow until everything simply falls apart.

Rillettes – 2 large jars

1 kg pork belly – bones and skin removed but ALL fat left on
1 heaped tsp of salt
2 bay leaves
8 juniper berries, lightly crushed
12 peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 sprigs of thyme
4 whole, peeled cloves of garlic
250 ml white wine
4-5 tbsp good lard, goose or duck fat (depending on how fatty your pork is)

Cut the pork into chunks (about 2-3 cm ) and then put all the ingredients into large ovenproof dish and cover with a lid. I covered the meat with a layer of greaseproof paper too as my lid was not that good a fit.  Place in the oven for 3 – 3 1/2 hours at 150 c °/ Gas 2 until really tender.

Lift the meat out from the juices and shred it with 2 forks. Squash the garlic cloves and add to the mix too.

Have a taste to check the seasoning  and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Press the meat down into jars or pots and then, using a sieve, strain over the fatty juices from the pan.

If you are wanting to keep your rillettes for any time (and that’s the general idea, rather like duck confit) then use sterilised jars, press down the meat and juices to expell any air, melt some more goose or duck fat and tip over a thick layer to protect the meat. Keep up to 2 months in the fridge.

Serve at room temperature with sour dough toast or fresh baguette and some cornichons, pickled peppers, radishes  or any other zippy ingredients that take your fancy.

Rillettes for lunchNigel loves his rillettes with a baked potato, I stirred some into hot Puy lentils with plenty of parsley and red onion the other day and I’m also planning on stuffing some Piquillo peppers.

I needn’t have bothered with the sterilised jars, my rillettes aren’t going to be hanging around for long.

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