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Volume 40 Issue 6 • June 10-16, 2010
now in our 40th season

Russian Rillettes

by Jenn Farmer
Chef, Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm 

Years ago I was interested in charcuterie, (the culinary branch devoted to preparing meats like bacon, paté, ham, sausages etc.).  I was so interested I took an intensive butchery course and a garde manger/charcuterie course.  I really enjoyed it, but ended up broke (like many fresh college grads do), and took jobs where the money was, instead of pursuing the more specialized fields like charcuterie.  Though I have used my knowledge of charcuterie over the years, I have forgotten more, and always regretted losing the information I took so much time to learn.  So needless to say I was very excited to hear we had hired a charcutier at the farm to make fresh sausages, and other delicious meats.  Incidentally she also is our cheese monger, which is one of my favorite foods too!  You cannot imagine how difficult it is to come into work and HAVE to taste new, charming, local cheeses.  Oh woe is me!

She is not just any charcutier; Leah is very skilled at what she does, not to mention a delightful ray of sunshine to work with.  I have truly been getting an amazing education from her.  Ok, I am not just excited for the knowledge, but I get to eat really amazing sausages, pate, bacon, duck confit, and (my personal favorite) rillettes every day!

I had forgotten about rillettes — how, I don’t know.  Rillettes from an eating standpoint are savory, buttery, a little salty, rich, and deeply satisfying.  From a culinary standpoint they are a labor of love, with a long, economical, shelf life. Rillettes were originally a form of meat preservation before refrigeration.  They were first made with pork, and are very popular in France, with most provinces having a favorite style of rillette.  Though pork is still popular for making rillettes, they can be made from goose, duck, chicken, game birds, rabbit, or even fish. 

Rillette is made is by salting diced meat (often seasoning it with other spices too), and letting it cure for about 24 hours or so.  Then the meat is cooked slowly in fat, (much like a confit) until it is tender enough to shred easily.  During the shredding process, enough cooking fat is added back to the meat mixture to form a spreadable paste.  It is then potted in crocks (or other container) and cooled.  Once the mixture has cooled down, the crock is sealed by pouring a thin layer of melted fat over the meat to prevent oxygen from getting to the product, and significantly slowing (almost stopping) the spoilage process.  When serving rillette, remember that it is very important to let it come to room temperature before you serve it, so it is spreadable on toast, crackers, or bread. 

I realize it sounds like a very heavy, rustic food, but when made properly it can be light, exceptionally flavorful, and very appealing. It is so flavorful in fact, a little often goes a long way, which is why it is great as a hors d'oeuvre at cocktail parties.  Rillette pairs very well with wine, beer, champagne or any other alcoholic beverage.  Often when I think rillette, I envision a picnic overlooking the ocean.  Imagine crisp linens, assorted crackers and crusty bread, a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne, platters of glistening grapes, and berries, and a bright green salad (perhaps peppery arugula?).    It is a food that is romantic to me, and very elegant, but can be enjoyed equally with a beer at home.  One of my favorite taste combinations is sweet and salty.  I have found that adding a small dollop of blackberry jam or fig jam to a bit of rillette on a cracker is very nice, not to mention it looks pretty.

Though rillettes can be made at home, they are very time consuming, and pretty messy to make, so I am not including a recipe.  If you are set on making your own rillettes, do some research first.  There are some great websites online and a whole lot of great books on charcuterie, and garde manger for you foodies who want to try this out. 

Confit is another method of preserving meat by salting and slow cooking in fat.  More people seem to be familiar with confit than rillette.  It is more frequently made with waterfowl, like duck or goose, but can be made from chicken or even pork.  This winter I made a gorgeous chicken confit for the festival of the trees, and served it on crackers with jalapeño and cranberry jam.  Confit is usually slightly salty, so it pairs well with sweet or peppery foods.  Confit is also a very important ingredient in traditional cassoulet.  Cassoulet is a casserole of beans and various meats slow cooked into deliciousness. 

I realize all this meat sounds very heavy and unhealthy, but since it is so rich, and flavorful, it can be used in very small quantity to make elegant dishes.   One of my favorites is in season right now.

Duck Confit and Arugula Salad

  • one pound baby arugula (about 8 cups) washed and spun dry
  • 2 legs duck confit
  • 1-2 ripe pears (Bartlett or Anjou are good), small diced
  • A small bunch of red and/or green grapes, halved
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chopped chives and thyme leaves
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • One half cup of crumbled blue cheese (optional)

Heat a small skillet with a tablespoon of vegetable oil.  On medium to low heat sear the duck confit legs (skin side down) on the skillet.  It may take some time, but if you can make the skin crispy without burning, it can be chopped and used as a great, crispy garnish for your salad (optional).  The warm duck pulls off the bones much easier, so do this immediately.  The pieces should be bite sized or smaller.  Set the meat aside, discard bones, and cartilage.  Toss the arugula with the fresh herbs, pears, grapes, duck, and cheese (optional). Dress with your favorite vinaigrette.  For a real meal add some pecans and dried cherries or cranberries. Serves 4-8

Here is one of my favorite vinaigrette recipes.

Shallot and Tart Cherry Vinaigrette

  • 1 cup tart cherries, pitted (if previously frozen, thaw them)
  • One third cup olive oil (light or a mild extra virgin)
  • 3 Tablespoons shallots, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • Maple syrup (optional)

Puree the tart cherries and olive oil together in a blender.  Stir in shallots, taste and season with salt, pepper and a little maple syrup if you don’t like the tartness.  Toss with greens and enjoy!

Take a risk, try rillette


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