This is somewhat of a cautionary tale, where victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat. I’ve decided to make rillettes, using pork belly, since, with the exception of leg that’s been turned into Parma ham, it is the tastiest bit of the pig, and bloody cheap, too.
Today I’m using…
- pork belly (I’m using an 800g piece from the posh supermarket, which was just under a fiver)
- a bunch of fresh woody herbs – I’m using thyme, sage might be nice, but rosemary or tarragon probably a little overpowering – check with your guests
- bay leaves
- salt, pepper
- as many peeled and squished garlic cloves as you like (I’m using four)
Get the butcher to bone and skin the meat, as you will not enjoy trying to do it at home. Remember, he has better knives than you will ever have, and you’re paying him to risk his fingers. Rub it down with plenty of salt, about a tablespoon, and maybe some pepper as well if you fancy.
Now, I’ve put the herbs, garlic, bay leaves, etc on the bottom of a roasting dish…
…and laid the meat on top…
…so you can probably anticipate what’s about to go wrong.
For each 100g of meat, you’ll need to add 25mL of water. Cover the dish with foil, or if you’re using a casserole (probably more sensible) just pop the lid on.
Three hours in the oven on about 150C should have reduced it to a quivering mush of piggy, garlicky goodness. But not in this case. There was enough thyme to keep the pork well clear of the bottom of the dish, and the dish was too wide, so the pork drained its fat, and started to dry out. In fact, it would have made excellent roast pork, had I been doing that instead. So, with a bit of cursing, everything was transferred to a smaller dish, with the meat on the bottom, a little bit more water, and left for another two hours. Piggy mush ensued.
Once you’ve gotten this far, you need to shred the meat. Do this with a pair of forks, using one fork to hold each large lump, and the other to stroke the meat off. Since the meat has collapsed by this point, it’s very easy. There will be a few tougher bits of meat, usually from the edges, where they’ve become sticky and caramelised. These can be set aside for sandwiches, or just go straight into the cook without any further comment.
Finally, squish, squeeze and shove this meat into the terrine, ramekins etc. You want to pack it down as tightly as you can. Use a small tumbler or something to tamp it in. Finally, pour enough of the juices from the pan into the terrines, to cover the meat, and refrigerate or freeze, depending upon when you’re going to use it.
Crusty bread and cornichons all round.
June 2011 addendum. I forgot to mention that you can also salt the meat first: hack the meat up into large chunks, add about a tablespoon of salt, and seal in a plastic bag at the bottom of the fridge overnight. Discard the liquid and rinse the meat before proceeding as above. You can get fancy and add any of the following to the cure: pepper, crushed juniper berries, hacked up thyme, sugar, honey, and so on.
Oh, and you can use pork shoulder as well. Or a mix of shoulder and belly.