With a nickname like “pig jam,” rillettes don’t always receive the sort of accolades they deserve, but these silky meat spreads are beloved among crusty bread lovers beyond their native France. Although originally made with pork, rillettes now refer to any chopped or shredded meat that’s seasoned and poached in fat over low heat until tender. Today, rillettes can be made from rabbit and other game meat, fish such as salmon, trout, or sardines, and poultry, especially duck.
Rillettes grace the table as a snack or appetizer and are most often complemented by bread and crunchy miniature pickled gherkins known as cornichons. For a decadent treat, there’s even fresh-made ravioli stuffed with rillettes. Regardless of how they’re used, the rillettes’ soft and spreadable texture has become their calling card.
Luxuriant mouthfeel aside, mixing fat and meat is a handy preservation method that keeps oxygen from penetrating and thus spoiling the food, a boon to shelf life before refrigeration. The technique inspired similar French culinary innovations including pâté, terrine, and confit. Preserved properly, rillettes can have a shelf life of many months, so it’s never the worst idea to consider doubling (or tripling) the recipe.
Need to Know
You can find rillettes at French restaurants worldwide. And for vegetarians, don't fret, there are recipes for rillette-style vegetables and beans.