Some supernatural force must have been trying to tell me something. Moving house last week I found the following, emptying the fridge and freezer: a duck leg, 3 rabbit legs, and a jar of duck fat left over from a roast I treated myself to one weekend when the vegetarian was away. So I simply had to make some rillettes. Now I realise that I have now lost any entitlement to cry foul when next Nigella or Jamie makes something utterly contrived from stuff allegedly found at the back of the fridge. But in mitigation I would plead that rillettes really are not as cheffy as you might think and are quite easy to get a handle on. A rillette is basically a rough paté. There are only 3 components to the dish – fatty meat, fat, and seasonings, and the process of slow cooking in fat is very forgiving. Some effort is required in shredding the meat with the necessary attention to detail, but it is nothing to be afraid of. Traditionally you would make rillettes from pork, perhaps combined with other meats but since I had duck and rabbit at my disposal, that is what we get. What with easter approaching, what better way to teach the kids that the Easter Bunny might not exist, but he’s damn tasty.
700g rabbit and duck legs. Any mixture will do, but the less duck you have, the more fat you will need
100g duck fat (or more)
A few sprigs of thyme
2-3 bay leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed with a knife and the skin removed
Salt and pepper
- Put all the ingredients, covered, in a snug fitting saucepan or casserole.
- Place over a medium heat until the fat has melted, and bring to a very gentle simmer. Simmer at this lowest possible level (either over a low flame or in a low oven, i.e. 110C) for a few hours or until the meat is tender. The fat should barely tremble during cooking. Move the contents of the pan around from time to time to ensure even coverage.
- Tip the contents of the pan into a colander set over a bowl.
- When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred with two forks, or preferably your fingers, being careful to ensure that there are no shards of bone in the meat (rabbit bone can be particularly sharp), pieces of gristle or large pieces of fatty skin. Add the collected cooking juices, combine and season generously (you want it to taste a little over-seasoned as it will taste less seasoned when it cools down).
- Put the mixture in a food processor and pulse a few times until it has a spreadable but coarse texture. Do not over-process or it will turn to mush and resemble cat food.
- Pot into a jar and keep refrigerated. It will last up to a week or so.
- Serve at room temperature (this is essential – the taste and texture will be all wrong if it is too cold) with toast and pickles.
Makes about a 450g jar’s worth. A jar of meat jam, if you like.
Variation – swap the water for sherry and add a teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika to the pot for a Spanish take on this dish (this idea comes from the Moro cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark).
Wine suggestion: rillettes are a Loire speciality so why not try a dry or off-dry Loire chenin blanc? The 2002 Chateau de Berrye Saumur Blanc is only £8.75 from the Wine Society and it’s a cracker – razor sharp acidity to cut through all that fat, with layers of peach, wet hay, and honeycomb. It does exactly that which you want an old wine to do – taste young. It has an Alsatian style to it – the initial hit on the nose of peach skins and a bit of kero reminds me of mature dry riesling, and as the wine opens up you might even mistake it on the nose for a pinot gris or pinot blanc. So I’m pretty sure something Alsatian would work too.