Behind the Classics–Rillettes
My name is Mandy Kennedy and over the last 25-plus years I’ve worked in the hospitality and food industries: managing cafes, restaurants, a butcher shop, and even cooking paella for 100 people on a weekly basis. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of Victoria’s best producers and providores. Being a food writer isn’t always the most glamorous of occupations but it sure does mean I get to visit some cool places. So, I jumped at the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of charcuterie specialist City Larder’s rillettes-making process.
Which ingredient is the most important in City Larder’s Free Range Pork Rillettes?
If you said free-range pork, you’d be wrong. Maybe you guessed duck fat because let’s face it duck fat makes everything taste better. Nice try but no. Must be the spices which add that all-important flavour balance? Nope, not that either.
Hands down, the most important ingredient in creating City Larder’s melt-in-the-mouth rillettes is time. Their new production facility boasts fancy new machines to streamline the process but perfection cannot be rushed. The real secret to great charcuterie is time-honoured recipes, each with a set rhythm that rewards patience.
There’s no denying pâté and terrines get most of the attention in the charcuterie world and rillettes are sometimes thought of as the poor cousin but I’m here to convince you otherwise. Let’s start with the obvious first question - what are rillettes? Always plural, never singular, this French word refers to cooked shredded meat that is preserved in fat.
Now you’re thinking how do I say it?
Rillettes is pronounced ree-ette. The ‘s’ at the end is silent. Here’s a handy link if you want to get lost in the world of French pronunciation.
More importantly, how are they created?
On day one, City Larder’s team of chefs go about the busy task of preparing kilos upon kilos of free-range pork shoulder. It is seasoned generously with a secret blend of herbs and spices, massaged, and left overnight.
Come day two, the marinated meat is combined with aromatics such as carrots, celery and onion as well as extra pork fat and duck fat before being cooked low and slow for several hours. Cooking the meat low and slow is crucial to achieving the fork-tender properties of the final product. For the technically minded amongst us, it’s the collagen in the connective tissues breaking down dissolving into gelatin - a process that only occurs with time.
Once the meat has finished cooking, it is rested and allowed to cool. At this point, another shiny machine steps in and takes over the manual labour of pulling apart the meat. The reserved cooking juices are then thoroughly blended in, ensuring that all-important succulence.
In centuries long past, they would have then been packed into stone jars, covered with a liberal cap of fat and set aside to mature in a cool, dark larder. Nowadays, the jars are filled and refrigerated, allowing the flavours to mature before being released into market.
All this to say, rillettes is the magical transformation of meat into a tender, rustic flavoursome spread which marries the sweetness of pork with unctuous duck fat accented with just enough spice to keep you coming back for more.
How do I consume this jar of alchemy?
Consider a jar of rillettes in the fridge as a present to your future self. After a long day, dinner can be just moments away. Take the jar out of the fridge as you get home and pop it on the bench while you get changed. Toast up the last of the loaf, tumble a handful of pickles onto a plate and grab your implement of choice. While a knife is obvious, I love a fork for scraping across the top of the rillettes. There’s something very satisfying about exposing the blush-pink ribbons of tender pork and vegetable slivers so deliciously bound together.
I’d be remiss not to mention the bottle of wine I’m also opening which is probably a higher acid white wine such as an Assyrtiko or Albariño. If I’m in the mood for red, it could be a Cabernet Franc or Grenache. But honestly, you do you.
Maybe you want to go a little further than crunchy croutons for your rillettes. Try leaves of witlof or radicchio, their natural bitterness works really well against rillettes’ richness. Not into bitter? Slice some carrot, celery or even cucumber for a burst of freshness.
If you really feel like pushing the boat out, rillettes make a fabulous shortcut to filled pasta. Make your own silky ravioli or tortelloni with a few simple pasta sheets which - no shade - you can buy, or make your own for a little extra effort. (Find Robbie’s tried and trusted basic pasta recipe here.)
So, what’s the takeaway here?
We live in a society that’s moving at an ever-faster pace where next day delivery happens with the press of a button. When it comes to award-winning charcuterie, City Larder seems to understand that time is the most valuable ingredient of all.
- Tags: charcuterie, chef, city larder, classic recipe, france, french, french classic, french cooking, rillettes
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