Monday, November 13, 2006

Rillettes 'café de Paris'

Every now and then we hear people enthuse over that extaordinary restaurant they discovered in Paris where they ate the best ever pot au feu, that simple trattoria in Tuscany where 'mamma' ruled the kitchen or that wood-panelled pub in that tiny Irish village where the men were singing sad songs, washing away the minor and not so minor hardships of daily life with large pints of Guiness. Unspoilt by tourists other than themselves (until that moment at least), these restaurants/trattorie/pubs gave them an impression of the authentic, something typically Parisian/Italian/Irish, untouched by modern times. We listen benevolently, trying not to show we've heard these stories before, knowing that these memories have everything to do with a romantic holiday mood and nothing with reality. We of course, experienced travellers, never fell for that humbug.
Needless to say, the café I discovered in Paris some thirteen years ago, was something quite different. It was a dark brown, quiet place near the Bourse, where I spent some pleasant hours drinking coffee and doing a bit of work, surrounded by real Parisians doing more or less the same. I had lunch there as well: rillettes de porc as a starter and beef stew for main course. All good value for money. Unfortunately they didn't do dinners because, as the landlady sighed: 'le patron est parti'.
I've been to Paris once or twice since, but never went back to that authentic little café. I can still remember, however, the velvety taste of those rillettes. As rillettes are not easy to come by in The Netherlands, why not make them 'on the premisses'? All you need is belly pork and some time.

Rillettes 'café de Paris'
1,5 kg fresh belly pork, 1 table spoon sea salt, 2 cloves of garlic, bay leaf, 1 table spoon of fresh thyme, 8 leaves sage, pinch of nutmeg, ground black pepper, 125 ml water, clarified butter (enough to seal two pots of 0,5 l - I reckon you'll eat the rest the same day)
Cut belly pork (in Dutch: buikspek or speklapjes) into small pieces (1,5 cm) and add salt. Let it be for several hours or overnight in the fridge. Put pork, herbs, spices, garlic and water in a pan (choose one that is just big enough), cover and cook for about 4 hours in a preheated oven (low heat, 125 °C max.).
Poor the juices into a bowl. Discard the bay leaf. Use a fork to shred meat. Add juices (I used all) and mix thoroughly till you get a smooth substance. Pack into pots, press well so no air will be left, and seal with a layer of 1 cm of clarified butter.

Rillettes are great on rustic bread or toast, with home-made pickled cucumbers (see picture) and a white Loire (Menetou-Salon, Tourraine) or Alsatian wine.


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