Sunday, January 15, 2006

An Adventure in French Cooking

My First Attempt at Making Pork Rillettes

photograph picture pork rillettes with cornichons

What's a girl to do when The Fatted Calf is on vacation? Where is she supposed to find her charcuterie? Last weekend, when Taylor and Toponia were taking a well-earned rest from the Saturday market, and inspired by Slow Pig Weekend, I decided to take matters into my own hands and attempt to make some pork rillettes.

I don't have a book with a rillette recipe, but I had the internet to search and a French friend who has made rillettes on several occasions. Seeing as I have dinner with the SF French Mafia every Friday night, I took the opportunity to question them on every aspect of rillette making, in English of course. They suggested I use no other spices or herbs other than green and black peppercorns and bay leafs. They insisted I use a wine from Languedoc, the region from where rillettes originate. They suggested I put some bones (ribs) into the mix. They failed to impress upon me the importance of the salt. Pah!

photograph picture belly of pork, pork butt and pork ribs

So I bought 1lb pork ribs, 3lb pork butt and one whole 5lb belly of pork from The Golden Gate Meat Company situated in San Francisco's Ferry Building Market Plaza. Belly of pork has to be ordered the day before collection and is only available as a whole belly.

photograph picture pork rillettes with cornichons and recipe for how to make rillettes

I chopped up the meat into little clubes, separating where I could, the meat and the fat from each other. This took blimmin' ages. Luckily my friend Katja popped by to deliver me some of the famous Voigt Family Secret Hot Mustard, a generous gift to me from one of her friends. So, as I chopped, we drank green tea from Keiko and ate cookies from Farmgirl and passed the time of day as I hacked away at the meat. It certainly made the monotonous task less lonely.

What I should have done at this stage, but only found out once it was too late, would have been to heavy salt the cubed meat and cure it for at least 12 hours. No I didn't do that - but next time I certainly shall. After the fact, I asked Toponia at The Fatted Calf, and that was just about the only thing they do differently to what I did, as far as I can tell.

photograph picture pork rillettes with cornichons

Into the pan went the meat and the fat and 2 cups of white wine. (Shhh, pease don't tell the Frenchies, but I actually used Italian wine.) I went to the everso helpful Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants to find a "Languedoc wine without much personality", but there were none. All the French wines were too bold so I ended up, instead, with a bottle of Frascati that was pronounced to be perfect for cooking purposes.

I also added a couple of bay leaves, at least one hundred grinds of green and black pepper plus about 20 teaspoons of salt. Twenty not enough. Can you believe that?

The advantage of an electric stove is that you can set the burner at a really low heat. My French friend had suggested the secret of a good rillette is to par-cook it for a few hours on one day, leave it to rest overnight and then continue the cooking process the next day. As I was due to go out in the evening, this suited me perfectly. I cooked it very slowly for 3 hours (be careful - do not let it boil!) and then left it covered, at room temperature over night, before continuing the process the next morning, cooking the meat slowly for another 7 hours until it was meltingly tender.

Once cooked, I scooped all the rendered fat from the top of the pan into a large bowl. Then Fred and I carefully separated the remaining solid fat and the meat, using one of my favourite kitchen utensils, the Asian Skimmer as recommended to me by the lovely Restaurant Whore.

The solid fat was discarded whilst the meat was shredded, using a couple of forks, into a bowl. The meat was then packed into ramekins before being covered with a spoonful of the still-liquid rendered fat that had been reserved from the top of the cooking pan. As the fat cools it hardens into a solid pure lard that seals the rillettes and helps to preserve them.

photograph picture pork rillettes with cornichons

This recipe made enough to fill 14 ramekins. Luckily it freezes well too. Leave the rillettes to mature a few days before eating or freezing. We serve it on toasted pain au levain from Acme. It has a delicious, creamy, meaty, fatty taste. Of course, with some Maille cornichons and a generous sprinkling of salt it tastes that much better!

PS. Read about my first ever tasting of rillettes here.

PPS. Happy Blog Birthday, today, Alder at Vinography.

Links, Resources and Further Reading

Bay Area Resources:
My Butcher | The Golden Gate Meat Company
Great Wine Advice | The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants
Bay Area Masters of Charcuterie | The Fatted Calf
Market Place Grocer of Choice | Village Market
One of many local places to buy Maille Cornichons | Cheese Plus

Other Resources:
The Queens of Slow Pig Weekend | Kate and Diva
Fans of Fergus Blog | Going the Whole Hog
What are Rillettes? | Find out here
Rillettes and Rillons | from Anne Wilan
Check this out | The Potted Meat Museum
Salt gathered by women from the marshes of France | Fleur de Sel de Guerande
The Cornichons we buy | from Maille
Something I stumbled across today | Baby's Head Pudding
The Asian Skimmer | Can't Live without it by The Restaurant Whore
Chocolate Biscotti For Beginners | by Farmgirl at Gather

Blogging Rillettes:
The Five Pints | With Yorkshire Puddings
Obsession With Food | Salmon rillettes
I Heart Bacon | A Fundraising Dinner Menu

Archive Alert! On this date in 2005: The Chef's Market in Davis.

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An Adventure in French Cooking


  • At 15/1/06 22:40, Blogger Ced said…

    Beautiful. This is Frencher than French. Also, the new layout of your posts (with all the links and resources at the bottom) is very impressive. Thanks for spending the time to make it so useful.

  • At 15/1/06 22:47, Blogger Joycelyn said…

    Oh. My. God. Homemade rillettes. I am dying of longing here...

  • At 15/1/06 22:52, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    That is unbeleivable sam, no it is beleivable just amazing. Especially with how busy you are. Huge judos to you

  • At 16/1/06 00:23, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I had a taste of the lovely rillettes.

    I like foie gras, but I miss the rillettes. With a little pepper and salt they were just perfect. My favourite charcuterie in Brou, Beauce, doesn't make them better. Thank you for giving to me : a piece of France, better than Proust madeleines.

    You are just amazing Sam!

  • At 16/1/06 06:19, Blogger Kalyn Denny said…

    This was so interesting to me. Your attention to all the details is impressive. I've never had anything like this, but I can tell it would taste amazing. I was hoping to be able to participate in slow pig weekend, but life just got in the way of blogging. So I am going around reading what others made, and there are some very interesting entries.

  • At 16/1/06 07:34, Blogger Sam said…

    Barbara - can't wait to see the sausage-making results. And lucky you with the gifts. Fred gave me the Kitchen Aid a year ago, and if you had known me then, you would know that I cried.
    Then I bought the same attachemnts as you with the remainder of the Sur la Table voucher my mum had given me for my birthday, but I am yet to try them out.

    By the way Izze it was not. I used to like Izze a bit, as sodas go, until I discovered Fizzy Lizzy. Fizzy Lizzy knocks the socks off Izze. They are totally natural, no added sugar, no bright colours, no trendy packaging. I am sure Fizzy Lizzy will be even more up your alley.

    Ced - thank you. To have a Frenchman say such a thing is a compliment more than I deserve. I guess I feel a bit of rivalry between myself and the French in the kitchen. But so far I seem to be bearing up ok, for an English girl!

    J - I am sure Rillettes are something someone as adventurous as you would have absolutely no problem tackling.

    Claire - it isn;t difficult really, just takes a little time and patience that's all. Good thing to do on a Mintery, rainy Sunday when you don't feel like leaving the nest.

    Del - well what can i say? you were the only people I dare to let try the rillettes other than Fred and it seems you approve. Sorry about the salt - I will fix that next time. How was James Brown?

    Kalyn - I am sure the slow pig trend is going to be one that is revisited by many blogs over the next year!

    thanks for commenting everyone - this post is going to be up all day.

  • At 16/1/06 09:52, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    Wow, Sam, you made French carnitas! :D
    I had rabbit rillettes at Left Bank the other day, but I would much prefer pork. Do I dare? Hell yeah, I got nothing but time. But I do not have 14 ramekins! In fact, if I bought a pork belly, I might just try to cure some bacon instead.
    Thanks for the inspiring post.

  • At 16/1/06 10:34, Blogger Kate Hill said…

    Sam, talking pepper on my some pig post, I looked at my notes for salt when making sauscisse and pates here in Gascony- and 2 grams salt per kilo seems to be the rule of thumb, to taste of course!Brava and thank you. Don't forget to come to the blessing tomorrow!

  • At 16/1/06 13:34, Blogger Farmgirl Susan said…

    Wow. What an undertaking. And an amazing post. I am totally impressed! (And hungry.)

    P.S. Glad the cookies helped. : )

  • At 17/1/06 08:14, Blogger Sam said…

    cookie crumb - the ramekins were a years worth of buying rillettes from the fatted calf (you get to keep the pots)

    Kate - thank you for the much needed salt tip (and the much needed pig blogging weekend!)

    Barbara - I more than cried - I wept! Hope you find Fizzy Lizzy soon.

    Farmgirl - I couldn't have done it without the cookies!

    Christina - I actually tried to do some online reseasrch to see if there wwas some kind of medieval British version of potted meat that was similar. It reminds me of British meatpaset - if anyone would know, it would be you.

    thanks everyone


  • At 17/1/06 23:05, Blogger David said…

    Great post. Almost sends me back into the kitchen armed with another pork shoulder (except my own shoulder is still sore from hand-chopping all my pork shoulder...)
    Great effort, and from the looks of things around there, it paid off deliciously! Your French friends, and Fred (of course) must be quite happy.

  • At 20/1/06 07:01, Blogger Elvira said…

    Hey! Not bad!

  • At 20/1/06 14:32, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    god, i love rillettes! i try to buy them whenever i go to the borough market, although not bad, the rillettes you buy in france taste sooo much better! i've just read that you joined weight-watchers - i feel really guilty every time i prok out on rillettes... eating couldn't get any more sinful, could it?

  • At 31/8/06 15:11, Blogger susan said…

    hi sam,

    i can't get rillettes off my mind since ive had it at aoc. now it's time to make some! would you still put in 20 tsps of salt even if you salted & cured the meat overnight? how much salt would you use for the curing part? thanks!

  • At 31/8/06 15:21, Blogger Sam said…

    if i tried again i would use 20 tsp of salt - or more!

    maybe 20 and then leave over night for starters. the salt issue is very hard to get right because you wont really knoow til you try it at the end of the process.

    i did 20 and it want enough - maybe it would be enough had i cured it overnight first?

    good luck!


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