Rillettes (pronounced Re-Yet with no S) is a French potted meat used mainly as a bread spread. The most common types of meat going into a rillettes are goose (rillettes d’oie), duck (rillettes de canard) and pork (rillettes de porc). Back in the old days, before there was electricity or refrigeration, this was one of the best ways to preserve meat without altering its texture or adding a lot of preservatives. Some people call it the peasant’s pâté since it costs a lot less than pâté de foie.
To make rillettes, raw meat is salted and simmered with some herbs at low temperatures in lard (from the same animal) for a long time, sometimes as much as a whole day. Some recipes call for braising in stock instead of lard, but those are not the real deal. As the meat falls apart, the bones are removed. When the cooking is done the meat is strained, raked with a fork to shred it, then allowed to cool in jars or pots. After the strained liquid is cooled, any congealed gelatine is mixed back into the meat with some of the lard. Each jar is then topped off with a thin layer of lard to the brim and sealed by placing a piece of wax paper on the lard. The meat is ready for consumption after aging for a few days in the fridge. The final product is a meat spread which contains very tender meat suspended in a matrix of lard and other natural juices. After you open a jar, you can keep it in the fridge for several weeks before it goes off.
The purpose of this post is to tell you how to cook with rillettes, not how to cook rillettes. One of the easiest ways to cook with rillettes is to spread it on fingers of brioche (or any other kind of thick soft bread) and then toast them in a toaster oven or grill. The fat melts into the bread infusing it with flavour, and you end up with a nice meaty crust on top. I normally serve these delicious fingers of bread as hos d’oeuvres or as a matching side to duck or chicken dishes.
Rillettes can be used to sautee various types of vegetables. The natural oil and flavour of the rillettes is all you need to for the job although you may wish to add crushed garlic and pepper. For this purpose I usually use the rillettes that comes in a huge tub which you buy in scoops at the meat counter. These are cooked in the traditional farmhouse style and have a higher fat content. Have a look at my Sauteed Mushrooms recipe as a reference.
One other way you can use rillettes is in the making of meaty ragout pasta sauces. You can avoid the tedious task of simmering meat for a long time and still end up with a wholesome sauce of nice tender meat. The pre-shredded meat also sticks readily to pasta because it is of the right size. I usually use the rillettes that come in small jars on the shelf for making sauces, as they tend to have less fat. Have a look at my Duck Ragu Pasta recipe for further details.