Pork Rillettes

pork rillettes

I am decidedly not a superstitious person but there’s a few folk traditions I follow. They tend to be food related, what a surprise! 🙂

I’m not sure if this particular belief exists in other countries, but here it’s considered bad luck to be eating chicken around NYE. Instead, it’s strongly advised to eat pork. As the saying goes, chicken scratch away your luck while pigs root it out for you. So be it!

I am always amazed when I see underrated dishes considered to be the food of the peasants suddenly becoming upscale. It’s what’s happened with rillettes, the poor man’s pâté: once a way to preserve the cheapest cuts of meat, now so gourmet, sold as a delicacy in tiny jars with a big price tag.

I, for one, already loved it before our so-called gastro revolution, when rillettes didn’t have such a name to themselves. Truth be told, I had no clue what I was eating was called a rillette at the time, we called it potted meat. Still.

So, what is this meaty spread?

A confit. Excuse my French: confit is a centuries-old meat preserving method where the cuts are slowly poached in fat. As the fat cools and solidifies, it creates a protective seal on top of the meat, preventing it from spoilage. Food prepared this way can be stored for months.

We do have refrigerators now, but rillettes are so much more than just a way to save meat: they are a perfectly delicious option for hors d’oeuvres, the cornerstone of any charcuterie plate and super convenient to have on hand for entertaining.

It’s guaranteed to wow and better yet, easy peasy to make. I would admit it requires some intuition, but nothing you can’t handle. I made a few bathes experimenting with different cuts of meat and spices to find what best suits my palate, and I guess you’d do the same if you make this recipe. That’s the beauty of it.

I started with pork leg, but it was a bit too lean for this dish so I switched to shoulder which is juicier. Perfect!

Following in the steps of David Lebovitz I rendered the fat for myself first, but found it to be an unnecessary hustle as I have access to quality rendered lard.

As for the spices, salt, black pepper and bay is a must, and then you’re free to test out whatever rocks your boat. My choice is juniper berries and garlic. Lots of garlic. They cook to a soft, sweet, dark amber deliciousness.

Liquid-wise, while a cup of water would do just fine, why not use white wine. Feeling fancy? Get the whiskey or brandy.

When the meat is cooked, you shred it with a fork like you would when making pulled pork, or you can also use a potato masher for the job. When rillette is cool and fat starts to solidify, pack into jars tightly with the back of a spoon to avoid air sockets. Spoon a few tablespoons of melted fat on top to seal, and they are at your disposal, stored in the fridge, for weeks. Take the jar out an hour before serving to soften into a spreadable consistency.

In my opinion, rillettes are best on rustic, toasted bread, accompanied with pickled gherkins, olives, capers and chili flakes.

Pork Rillettes

  • Difficulty: easy
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This French delicacy is a meaty spread full of flavor, perfect for entertaining. Recipe is easy to scale up or down to suit your needs.

Ingredients

500 g pork shoulder, cut to inch-thick slices

400 g rendered lard + a few tbsp to seal tops

10 cloves garlic, peeled

200 ml dry white wine

3 bay leaves

8 juniper berries

salt, black pepper

Directions

  1. Season pork generously with salt and black pepper, let rest at room temperature for an hour.
  2. In a heavy bottomed pan or casserole dish (that has a lid), melt lard on medium-high heat.
  3. Add pork to hot fat, let slices cook on the outsides and color slightly. (Fat should cover meat. If not, add more lard to the pan.)
  4. Add garlic, bay and juniper berries, reduce heat to low. Add wine and cover pot.
  5. Cook on low at a slow simmer, turning slices occassionally until liquid becomes clear, meat pieces are very tender and colored evenly on both sides.
  6. Turn heat off, let meat cool. Remove bay leaves and juniper berries.
  7. Using a fork or potato masher, shred meat pieces.
  8. Place pot in the fridge, stir from time to time as fat hardens. Transfer rillettes into jars and pack tightly with the back of a spoon. Pour reserved fat on top of meat to seal from air. Store in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

Love,

Fruzsi

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A Short Introduction to Sourdough and Pre-ferments

bread dough

Artisanal sourdough breads are all the hype, and rightly so. In fact, it might seem like if you’re even a wee bit serious about your bread, sourdough is the only way to go.

Utilizing sourdough starters and preferments will no doubt take your game to the next level: the complexity, the depth of flavor, the better texture a starter gives your bread simply can not be compared with anything else. Even the shelf life will be increased!

Starters do require time and commitment though. They are the challenge to top all challenges, and therefore can be a little intimidating at first. I am quite new to the art myself, but I thought it would be a good idea to share the basics in a not-too-scientific way to help you decide whether baking bread with starters is for you.

Let’s talk about yeast first!

Before commercial baker’s yeast was developed in Vienna, Austria in the 19th century (with Hungarian high milled grains, no less!), bakers had been using old-dough leavens to bake bread.

These are based on propagating wild yeast. Wild yeast refers to the natural yeasts and bacteria found in our surroundings: they float in the air and stick to the surface of objects. Basically when making a sourdough starter, you provide an environment sufficient for cultivating wild yeast. (The sour taste is the result of acetic and lactic acids produced by fermenting sugar.)

Believe me, this is completely achievable!  All that is required is flour, water and time, the yeast is already there around you, wherever you live.

Mix 50% bread flour and 50% water into a batter in a non-reactive, see-through container (note that the volume will double), place in a cool environment with no direct sunlight.

24 to 72 hours later your sourdough should be bubbling due to CO2 gas produced. At this point, the yeast population is still small and weak, not really ready for baking. From now on, every day (preferably at the same time) you’ll need to take out half of the starter and discard, then replace the pulled out amount with 1:1 fresh flour and water. This is called ‘feeding’ the sourdough.

In 7 to 10 days, you’ll have a batch that’s strong enough and ready to bake with. If you’re not sure about the strength of your sourdough, the float test will help: put a small amount in water; if it floats, you’re good to go.

As I said, it’s a commitment with constant monitoring and maintenance, but you’ll get the most out of a loaf. And you only really have to do this once, after the first 7-day period, one feeding is enough weekly to maintain the sourdough.

Still not sure if you’re ready to take on the challenge? That’s totally fine! The next best thing is using preferments. This also needs some forethought, but it’s ready in 12-16 hours at room temperature without the feeding process, and the bread will still have a wonderful aroma to it.

Preferments are flour, water and yeast mixtures, allowed an initial fermentation. Commercial yeasts (used when making wine, beer and bread) are quicker acting, take shorter to propagate, and leaven your bread quicker compared to wild yeast.

There are three main types of preferments. When mixing equal parts flour and water with 0,2 to 1% yeast, you’ll get a 100% hydration poolish-style starter.

The old dough method is more convenient when baking the same recipe on a regular basis: about 1/3 of the bread dough is reserved to levin the next batch. This old dough can be stored 8-12 hours at room temperature, or up to 3 days refrigerated. It can also be frozen for up to 6 months, in which case it will need to thaw fully before using.

Last but not least, the method that makes for results closest to sourdough: a stiff, bread dough like, low hydration biga. This Italian-style starter is more stable, contains more acid, and takes 16-24 hours to ferment. Made of flour, 60% water, and 2% yeast, once it has expanded by about double its original volume, biga can be incorporated into your bread dough. It stays fresh in the fridge for 3-5 days, and can be frozen as well (again, it needs to thaw completely to be active).

Biga is what I use mostly. I make batches with 500 g bread flour, 300 ml water and 10 g fresh yeast. When it’s ready, I divide the dough into 200 g portions, put them in ziplock bags and freeze. This amount makes enough starter for 4 loaves.

Ready to dive headlong into sourdough, or play it safe with biga? I’d love to hear your opinion! Also, share any experiences you have with starters!

Love,

Fruzsi

Photo by Sanda Vuckovic Pagaimo