Recipes from the French Wine Harvest is all about rustic family food - that's what you need when you work in the vineyards. The same dishes are great after something sporty. Last night, after a day's skiing in the Chamonix valley, my friends and I really enjoyed a first course of duck Rillettes with a big green salad.
This soft,melting kind of potted pork is in every charcuterie in the Loire region, and in most French supermarkets, but it is easy to make at home.
FOR 8 PEOPLE
1 kg (2 lb) belly or neck of pork, rind and bones removed 500 g (1 lb) pork back-fat 1 clove garlic
bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the meat into short strips about the width of a finger. Cut up the back-fat coarsely. Put all into an ovenproof casserole with the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and enough water just to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover and cook in a very slow oven - gas mark 1⁄2, 250°F, 120°C - for about four hours.
It cannot be said to look very appetising at this stage. The next step is to drain off the fat and keep it. Throw away the bouquet garni. Pound the meat in a pestle and mortar for a few minutes. The meat is soft and the job is easy. Resist the temptation to use a food processor - it ruins the texture which should not be that of a smooth paste. Finally, take two forks, one in each hand, and pull the pork into shreds. You end up with a pale mushroomy-pinky-brown mass of meat marbled with deeper pink streaks. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary - rillettes should not be bland.
Traditional rillette pots are like rather thick, salt-glazed, earthenware mugs, but any earthenware,glass or china pot or bowl will do. Whatever you choose, pile the mixture into it without pressing it down into a compact paste. It is local practice to pour the reserved melted fat over the top.
Rillettes will keep for 2 to 3 weeks in a cool larder or fridge sealed by the fat (which is there to preserve rather than be eaten) and covered with foil. Remember to take them out of the fridge in good time before serving, so that they are soft, to spread on fresh bread and enjoy with a glass of Vouvray or other fruity Loire wine. Small gherkins (cornichons) are indispensable.
To make this dish with rabbit, use 250 g (8 oz) of rabbit to 750 g (11⁄2 lb) of pork and cook with the other ingredients as for the pork.
For ‘Rillons’, add an extra half kilo (1 lb) of belly of pork, cut into roughly 5 cm (2 in) chunks, to the pork and fat of the original recipe. Cook as before. When you come to drain the fat off and before pounding the meat, extract these chunks and let them brown in a hotter oven. Eat them hot with a purée of potatoes, or cold as part of an hors d’oeuvre, (this is a close cousin of pork scratchings!)- either way with plenty of mustard.