Rillettes conjure up a fantasy for me. When hunger calls in my dreams, rillettes appear. Their creation uncovers the special idiosyncrasies of lush enchanting lands where fruits and vegetables taste the way they are supposed to taste and meats, poultry and rabbit are raised, fed and killed humanely, which is reflected in the taste too. My dreams demand that its dishes of the sun be enriched with olive oil and fresh aromatic herbs. Maybe this place is much like the south of France, or maybe it’s more of a time caught in space, but it’s a place I can visit through my kitchen.
What are rillettes? Originally rillettes was pork that had been salted, cooked slowly in pork fat, shredded, then preserved in the same fat, and served at room temperature, usually spread on toast. It’s a common French dish, and I had a wonderful version in Quebec made with rabbit (pics of the restaurant below). It was possibly the best dish I’ve ever had. This isn’t hyperbole. It made me want to stop time and live in that moment forever. That kind of good. Today rillettes are often made with duck or rabbit and salmon, tuna or other fatty fish, or even mushrooms or broccoli. After seeing Ken and Jody’s version of rillettes on their beautiful blog. I had to try my hand at it.
My fantasy: When I set out to make these I imagined I would serve it with wine (lots of wine, rose or red)–and on a big wooden board or slate slab with pickled radishes, pickled carrots and onions, a chutney of sorts, olives, a small jar of mustard, long crusty bread, and cheese– drunken goat, mahon and brie to be precise. I would lay out some sort of beef or duck-based charcuterie. Maybe a rabbit or duck leg confit, smoked fish and nuts. Those are the essentials. There would still be room for my garden fresh blueberry, arugula, lavender, pepita salad–this is my fantasy after all. I’d be with a group of very close friends on a picnic blanket, or around my Spanish table in my dining room. Most of it would be homemade or from a trusted butcher. Everyone would be satisfied.
Reality: Rainy day on the beach with just A and me. No matter the rain. We bought a giant beach umbrella and what looked like a yoga mat, but not sure–all on sale at the drug store. I had packed a bag with three bottles of solid brown from my brother’s home brew and all of the above-named ingredients, minus the salad and I totally left the charcuterie on the counter at home! A Swiss army knife to cut the cheese and open the beer. Sand everywhere, light rain and no one to be seen, just the clear blue ocean and the seagulls. And we were both happy to be there gorging on rillettes.
Better than I imagined. Imagine that! How rare it is when reality lines up with how you envision the way things should be. A few details changed of course. Dreaming is important, necessary. You can learn from your dreams and use them as a guide or a haven. But it’s pretty cool to get lost in the nuances of reality. Not to say I won’t do this again and get all my peeps out to join me…with the charcuterie and salad next time! But this experience was a clear reminder that aside from passionate fantasies that might ruin the life you love–your dreams and your own expectations ought to be your lodestar, your light and your aspiration.
I could not have made these without Ken and Jody’s guidance. They pretty much walked me through this one personally after I got stuck on a step. Ken was nice enough to ignore my changes a.k.a. bastardizations and made suggestions where I couldn’t find the ingredients. When making the preserved lemons I consulted their recipe as well and used their idea to add them to the rillettes. They keep for a while too. While most people spread it on crusty bread, I took the spoon straight to the jar and ate these little by little for a couple of weeks straight.
Adapted from the amazing duo Ken and Jody over at the Garum Factory, a constant source of culinary learning and culture for me.
- 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ounces chorizo, cut into thin slices
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (you may not use all of it)
- 1 cup onion cut into ¼-inch pieces
- 4 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 cup dry rose or white wine
- 2 star anise
- 8 whole cloves
- 1 preserved lemon, cut into-¼ inch dice (See my recipe adapted again from Garum factory recipe, if you need it)
- 2 tablespoons chopped summer savory or thyme and/or fresh oregano, plus sprigs for garnish
Toss the chicken thighs with the salt and sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
Put the sliced chorizo into a large dutch oven and render over medium heat. Transfer the chorizo to the slow cooker. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the thighs, skin-side down, and brown lightly. Turn the thighs and and cook on the other side for 30 seconds, just long enough to create a light sear. Transfer the chicken to a slow cooker, placing the thighs skin-side up.
Add the onion, garlic and ginger to the same dutch oven and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, the star anise, the cloves and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil for 30 seconds, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Turn off the heat.
Pour the contents of the dutch oven over the chicken thighs. Cover and cook on the low setting for 4 hours. After this the meat should easily come off the bone. Remove the cover, allow the chicken to cool in the liquid.
Remove the chicken from the pot. Strain the juices into a clear measuring cup – reserve the strainer with the bits of onion and chorizo. Siphon the fat off the juices. Put the juices in a pot over medium heat and reduce to a glaze. Reserve.
Pick through the things in the strainer and discard the star anise, cloves and any cartilage, or skin. Onions, chorizo and perhaps a smashed garlic clove or two should remain.
Separate the skin, bones and cartilage from the chicken meat. Put the meat into a large bowl and shred with a couple of forks or your fingers.
Add the onions, chorizo, etc. from the strainer to the shredded chicken, along with the reduced juices. Add the preserved lemon and herbs and toss gently. Put into terrines or jars and pack down. Pour several spoonfuls of olive oil over each jare and cool.
Top each jar with a sprig of summer savory, oregano or thyme. Cover and refrigerate.
Before serving, if the top looks dry, drizzle the rillettes with a little more oil. Accompany with pickles, Dijon mustard, or chutney, olives bread and wine!