The Joys of Slow Food and Rillettes

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“What are you going to do with the spine?”
Jesse, looks up after casually tossing the pig spine in a bucket, cocks his head and says, “It would be good for stock.  Want to bid on it?”  
I’m in a small hall in East Austin at the Slow Food Austin annual fundraiser and I’m watching Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due butcher a hog to auction off the pieces.  Of course, it’s not just any old hog.  This beautiful specimen is from Richardson Farms where Jim and Kay Richardson raise some of the most delicious pork around.
I’ve been outbid on all the prime cuts – the belly, the chops, the ham, the loin.  I managed to squeak by with the high bid on the bottom of the belly and am now also the proud winner of a pork spine.  
As soon as the auction is over, I beeline for Jesse to find out what I should do with this bottom of the belly cut that I’ve never cooked with before.  Jesse recommended using it for rillettes, a pork spread less refined than pate, and shared a surprisingly short recipe.  
Never having made these delicacies before, I mistakenly assumed the preparation would be complicated.  Jesse’s recipe requires a long cooking time for the pork,  but the assembly was simple and manageable even for a novice like me. 

The rillettes make a rich, lovely spread on bread or crackers, particularly when paired with a spicy mustard, chutney or pickled treat like Confituras Apple & Hatch Chutney or Pickled Blueberries.  They were also pretty tasty with pickled green beans made by my friend Marshall from Eat This Lens.
Pork Rillettes with Confituras Pickled Blueberries

The rillettes were the perfect celebration of the spirit of Slow Food.  I bought a gorgeous piece of locally raised meat that I’d never worked with before to make a dish from scratch that I’d never cooked before to share with people I love.  I’d say that embodies “pleasures of the table” pretty well.

If you aren’t familiar with Slow Food Austin, I highly recommend participating in one of their programs. Each month they offer educational Slow Sessions, farm tours, workshops and happy hours all in support of reconnecting us with our food.  You can join Slow Food USA for $25 now through October 22nd and automatically become a member of Slow Food Austin.  Based on my experience from this last year, my membership was worth every penny and then some.  Won’t you join me for this next year?
Pork Rillettes
from Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due
2 lbs pork belly, cubed
fresh thyme
bay leaves
pinch of pate spice (see below)
salt and pepper
olive oil* (I added this, see note in recipe)
Place the belly, fat, thyme and bay in a large pot and cover with cold water. (Note: Tie the thyme together with twine to make it easier to fish out the stems.)  Bring to a boil, skim and lower to a simmer.  Cook until completely tender, about 3-4 hours.

Cooking down the pork belly & fat
Not pretty, but the pork smells terrific while it cooks down.
Strain and discard the water (or save for stock), thyme and bay. 
In a bowl, begin stirring the meat with a wood spoon, breaking up the meat and fat into fine shreds.  Beat with the spoon until the mixture starts to become homogenous.  (Note: My rillettes were too dry – more flaky like tamale meat than a spread.  I don’t know if I drained them too well or if there wasn’t enough fat on my cut, but I adjusted the consistency by adding olive oil about a tablespoon at a time until I got the consistency I wanted.)

Pork Rillettes - first processing
Still the wrong consistency, I started adding olive oil until
the rillettes became smooth.
Season aggressively with salt, pepper and pate spice.  (Note: Jesse says to use a pinch of spice.  His pinch must be much larger than mine because I had to add 5-6 “pinches” and still thought it wasn’t seasoned enough.    I would start with 1/2 tablespoon and adjust from there.  You want to mix it well, then taste. Prepare to use every tasting fork/spoon in the house.)
Pack the rillettes into a terrine mold, loaf pan or ceramic bowl, cover and refrigerate.  
Serve with bread, cornichons, mustard or other pickled items.  If storing for some time, pour rendered lard over the top of the chilled rillettes to seal – this will keep for a couple of weeks under the fat.
Pork Rillettes
Pork Rillettes
Note: Bring the rillettes up to room temperature before serving.  You lose the richness of the spices when the pork is cold. 
Pate Spice

This recipe makes enough for several uses.  
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground white pepper
Combine all spices.
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