Rillettes are a great introduction into charcuterie because they're fairly easy to make and absolutely delicious. These salty-meat spreads are best described as a cross between confit and pate, and our one of my favorite ways to start a casual gathering or a multi-course tasting menu.
Traditionally, rillettes were made with pork. The tougher parts of the pig after slaughter would be cubed up, heavily salted and cured overnight, just like when making confit. The following day, the pork cubes are slowly simmered in rendered pork fat, pulverized into a paste with some of the cooking fat, placed into ramekins or glass jars and then sealed with a layer of fat across the top.
The layer of fat on top of the rillette will keep out oxygen and light, allowing it to "ripen" and cure, much like how duck confit is stored under it's own fat cap. Stored in the basement or cellar, these high calorie treats were eaten throughout the winter when fresh meat wasn't constantly available.
Now like most charcuterie techniques, rillettes live on in their many variations not out of necessity, but out of deliciousness. The traditional pork approach has given way to many modern variations that use any number of meats including rabbit, duck, chicken, game, and of course, fish.
In the video above, I demonstrate how to make a salmon rillette using white wine and butter. Because fish offers a lighter flavor and texture than pork or poultry, fish rillettes are a great way to start a light lunch or a multi-course tasting menu.