Rillettes (always plural) is a rough textured meat spread, halfway between a pâté and a purée of fatty pork. The proportion of fat varies by recipe from half the quantity of the meat used, up to an amount equal to the meat used.
The fatty piece of pork is chopped up into pieces, salted and let stand a few hours or overnight in fridge. Then it is baked until falling-apart tender in a covered pot, then it is shredded with a fork. The meat is cooked, and shredded, and then the fat that rendered off the meat is mixed back into the meat, along with the shredded fat.
You can’t really shred the meat and fat with a food processor, because it makes a mush instead of a coarse mixture. You could try a sieve with a wide mesh on it. Or, just do it by hand.
The mixture is seasoned with salt, pepper and occasionally a light amount of spice such as nutmeg or allspice, and herbs such as thyme or bay leaf.
Traditionally, Rillettes is put in a small jar or crock with a layer of melted lard on top so it will keep longer.
Rillettes is served at room temperature with crusty bread or toast points, accompanied by black olives and gherkins.
Some Rillettes recipes may include some duck, goose or rabbit meat.
- Rillettes d’Orleans – half the lean pork is replaced with rabbit;
- Rillettes du Mans – half the lean pork is replaced with goose;
- Tours — all pork.
Good pork cuts to use are fatty pork belly (“poitrine de porc”) or pork shoulder.
Rillettes can be kept refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Literature & Lore
Rillons, Rillettes, they taste the same
And would by any other name,
And are, if I may risk a joke,
Alike as two pigs in a poke.
The dishes are the same, and yet
While Tours provides the best Rillettes
The best Rillons are made in Blois.
There must be some solution.
— Richard Wilbur, Poetry, “Rillons, Rillettes,” The New Yorker, January 29, 1966, p. 28
“Rilettes” means “plank.”
Willan, Anne. “Rillettes and Rillons” in French Regional Cooking. William Morrow and Co., Inc. 1981.