Thursday, May 24, 2012

Birthday rillettes

For my birthday dinner, Ali made a first course of rillettes, that wonderful French concoction which is like a kind of heavenly cross between pate, terrine and the very best brawn. She served them with bread and butter, tiny gherkins (cornichons) and her own feijoa chutney. Magnifique.
         She's very kindly given me her recipe, which is a well tried and tested blend of recipes by Lois Daish, Elizabeth David, Stephanie Alexander and Nigel Slater. 
          "Traditionally, rillettes were made with very fatty meat, and sealed with fat to preserve them. Nowadays pork is much leaner, and we have fridges - but for the recipe to work you still need some fat. If the meat looks too lean, ask your butcher for some extra pork fat. The recipe can also be used to make duck or rabbit rillettes. If using rabbit, add 500 gm of pork belly to provide enough fat."

Ali's pork rillettes

1.5 kg of skinned pork belly, cut into chunks
1 Tbsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-3 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs of thyme
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cup (250 ml) water.

1. Place the meat in a large bowl, with the salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme and garlic. Mix well, cover and leave overnight in the fridge. 
2. Next day, transfer meat etc to a heavy casserole dish with a lid. Add 1 cup water, cover, and cook in a slow oven (140° to 150° C) for three hours or until the meat is very tender. Check occasionally, and adjust the temperature if necessary: the meat must cook very gently, otherwise it will develop an unpleasant sandy texture. (You can also use a slow cooker, but Ali hasn't tried that so can't say how long to cook it for. I would suggest about 5 hours, but check it carefully to see it isn't drying out or overcooking - you don't want sludge.)  
3. Remove casserole from oven (or ceramic pot from slow cooker) and allow to cool slightly. Strain the meat through a large sieve or colander over a bowl, to collect all the fat and meat juices. (There should be about 1½ to 2 cups of liquid.) Transfer the pieces of meat to a separate bowl, removing any bones, and the bayleaves and thyme, as you do so.
 4. Traditional method: Use two forks to tear the meat into fine shreds. Add the drained liquid and mix gently together. The resulting mixture should be quite soft and moist, though it will become firmer once the fat has set.  
OR, using a food processor: in 2 batches, ‘pulse’ the meat and liquid until well combined but still a little chunky.
5. Taste carefully, and add a little extra salt and/or pepper if necessary (it may not need any, as the meat has been well seasoned to start with). Pack into jars and seal. When cool, store in the fridge.
6. Bring to room temperature before serving with crusty bread or toast, little gherkins, and a fruity chutney. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, or frozen.

Rillettes are hard to photograph so that they look as good as they taste, but I've done my best. This may look like a small helping, but (a) rillettes are very rich, and (b) it was the first of seven courses! Of which more later.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lazy-cook dinner for one

I didn't post last week because I didn't have anything I considered interesting enough to write about. But tonight I made myself such a nice little dinner I thought I'd share it. It can of course be sized up to work for two or three or four, and you can play around with it to suit what you have handy.
            What I happened to have was: a nice piece of pork fillet, about 14 cm long and 4 cm thick - just right for me - along with some rich leftover sauce from the slow-cooked chicken I made last week, with apricots,  prunes and red wine, plus 5 rather ancient dried apricots which I'd had the foresight to soak in boiling water the night before, and two softish, longish Jersey Benne spuds, the last of a box.

I looked up The Lazy Cook (Harvey bought it, it was one of his favourites) to see whether I could flash-roast such a small piece of pork.

It seemed to be okay, so I heated the oven to 220C on fan forced, sprayed a small roasting dish with olive oil, and sprayed and salted the pork. Then I followed his suggestion about putting the pork on a bed of the soaked apricots, cut through into their separate halves.

I peeled the spuds, cut them lengthwise into 1/2 cm slices, put them flat on the tin around the apricots, sprayed them with olive oil and put the tin on the top rack of the oven. I cut up some pieces of broccoli to microwave separately. The apricot soaking water went into the sauce, ready to microwave in its Pyrex bowl.
         Then I set the table. I bought a new lamp recently, two halogens on a black pole, so I could stand it near my chair. It's always felt a bit too dim sitting there by myself, so the extra light was just what I needed to persuade me to eat properly, instead of having a tray on my lap.
          The Lazy Cook recommends 12-15 minutes for each inch of thickness. But when I tested the pork it was nowhere near the proper temperature in the middle - it should be 70C/160F, you certainly don't want rare pork. So I turned the potato slices and put it all back for another few minutes, while I cooked the broccoli and heated up the sauce. Then I took the tin out, checked the temperature and let the pork rest while I warmed my plate in the turned-off oven (with the potatoes on it to keep hot). It's these very small things that make all the difference, even when it's just for me.

So here it is, and it was absolutely delicious from start to finish. Well, the first slice was a tiny bit dry (it's been cut off already in the photo, as usual I started eating before I remembered to take one), but the rest of it was perfectly moist, marvellous with the apricots. The potatoes worked really well too, I wasn't sure if they'd cook that fast or maybe burn, but they were fine. I felt I'd taken good care of myself.