I was ladling melted duck fat the other night when I started thinking about my own mortality. The amount of fat used over here would make a cardiologist weep.
I purchased the fat from Ottomanelli’s, where they sell it in gallon buckets. We were making rillettes, and short of slaying a dozen ducks I couldn’t think of a better way to get my hands on that much duck fat. Rillettes is a French word. You can tell by the way the “s” at the end isn’t pronounced. It means, more or less, meats simmered in fat, shredded, and preserved in same fat. Anyone who’s eaten duck confit has a suspicion that there’s a bit of fat involved, but I don’t think you really know the ugly truth until you make your way through the process on your own.
To submerge any beast in any liquid requires a lot of liquid (think of when you take a bath). The amount of fat, it follows, necessary to drown a bunch of duck legs is significant. However, with duck confit, the leg is removed from the fat crisped up in the pan. In the case of rillettes, I’m sad to say, the confit meat is shredded in a giant bowl and subsequently bound together loosely with a few quarts of the cooking fat. It’s a weird concept when you think about it: simmered in fat only to be sloshed about in later in that very same stuff.
Though fatty, rillettes maintains a meaty texture from the shredded meat, and are, in that way, different from, say a smooth pate. For this reason I prefer rillettes, which is rustic and meaty. Technically, it’s fancy snacking food; potted, preserved meat meant to be spooned on toast or forked out for the occasional meal.
While this recipe is delicious-we grabbed it from the Balthazar book-and uses a bunch of different meats, to whiz by the fridge for a midday fat snack is kind of, well, unhealthy. To resolve the issue I recommend storing it next to a bag of those mini carrots, which you can use as a sort of dipping device.
(NOTE: Even if you make this for a party, you’ll have leftovers. The good thing about this stuff is that, like anything with high fat content, it freezes really well. Slice into pieces, wrap individually, and remove as needed. As the Balthazar guys note, you can also do it the traditional way: stuff the meat into crockpots, screw on a lid, and dip into it whenever. Finally, you may not need all that fat when stirring into the cooked meats. As long as it comes together into a semi-smooth mixture, you’re cool.)
Rillettes a la Fermiere (from the Balthazar Cookbook)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons quatre-epices (grind up allspice and cloves and nutmeg and mix ‘em up)
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 whole rabbit cut in six pieces
2 duck legs (about 2 pounds)
1 pound pork butt cut in 4 chunks
½ cup sea salt
2 heads of garlic, the cloves of 1 peeled and smashed, the other halved horizontally
2 cinnamon sticks
½ teaspoon juniper berries
4 whole cloves
4 star anise pods
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 quarts duck fat (see online, especially D’Artagnan, but I used a local butcher)
½ cup dried fruits (cherries, prunes, apricots) quartered
½ cup brandy or Armagnac
- Cure the meats: combine the sugar, quatre epices, and white pepper in a small bowl. In a large bowl, rub the meats with the mixture. Add salt, smashed garlic, cinnamon, juniper, cloves, star anise, and peppercorns. Cover, refrigerate for 24 hours.
- The next day preheat oven to 300.
- Render the fat in a large Dutch oven over medium low flame. Remove meats from the cure, reserving the spices. Brush lightly to remove excess seasoning and add to duck fat. Wrap spices and halved heat of garlic in cheesecloth, tie with kitchen twine and add to pot. Bring to a simmer, cover tightly with a lid, and cook in oven until meat falls from bone, about 3 hours.
- Meanwhile, soak the dried fruits in brandy until needed.
- When the meat is done, remove it using tongs and set aside to cool in a large bowl. Reserve 2 cups of the melted duck fat from the pot and set aside.
- Pull the meat from the bones and shred into a large bowl. Begin adding the reserved duck fat, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate. When all the fat has been added, drain the fruit and stir to combine.
- Fill a loaf pan or a terrine with the rillettes, taking care to distribute the fruit throughout. Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper to the size of the terrine and cover. Refrigerate 24 hours until serving, but 1 week would be better. To serve, run a warm blade around the edge of the terrine, invert onto a cutting board, and cut 1-inch slices. Serve with grilled country bread and cornichons.