pork belly rilettes

i’m on a cookery book ban at the moment as there are far too many recipes in the books that i already own, which have been marked up on my “to try” list but have got no further, for me to justify buying a new book. i’ve also stopped buying food magazines, finding them increasingly repetitive. however, this self-imposed ban is no great hardship thanks to the amazing recipe and food content available online.

the one purchase i still make is the observer newspaper when observer food monthly is the special supplement. this month’s article by Nigel Slater was incredibly timely, with its pork belly recipes as i had a freezer full of belly off-cuts. i decided to make Nigel’s recipe for rilettes.

i was surprised how unfatty the resulting rilettes were – once the meat has been cooked it is a dirty but satisfying job discarding any fat and seeking out the little morsels of tender meat. obviously, if you like fat you can be less assiduous in separating the two.  there wasn’t much liquid left at the bottom of the roasting tray but i squashed the roasted garlic into this and pushed it through the sieve, with the liquid, rather than just discarding it along with the herbs – this added a subtle flavour of garlic.

the rilettes tasted good and i’ve enjoyed eating them on crusty bread all week but next time i will make changes. i’ll season the cooked meat before patting it into its serving bowl. i’d also like to add a bit of gentle spicing, probably by adding cloves and peppercorns to the poaching liquid. i’d be interested in any other ideas people have for adding an extra layer of flavour.

update: i made this again, for new year's eve, and added peppercorns, a star anise, a few cloves and some chopped carots (for sweetness) to the poaching liquid. it was much improved as a result and i suggest you do the same.

nigel slater’s rilettes serves 8

1kg belly pork, skinned* and boned

3 bay leaves

3 large sprigs thyme (i used dried as i didn’t have fresh)

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled

250ml water

put the piece of pork in a roasting tin or large shallow pot for which you have a lid (i used a baking dish which i then covered with foil). set the oven at 160°c.

rub a tablespoon of salt all over the meat, drop in the bay leaves, together with the thyme, the whole garlic cloves and the water (see narrative above for details of extra spicing i added when i made this a second time, and which i recommend). cover, either with tight foil or a lid, then leave in the oven for 3 hours or until the pork is completely tender.

remove the lid, lift the meat from its juices, then tear it into very fine shreds with the aid of two forks (abby note: discarding the unrendered fat as you go). this takes a little while to do thoroughly, but is a rather pleasing task. pack tightly into a china or earthenware bowl. pour the liquid in the roasting tin through a sieve (abby note: i squashed the garlic cloves through the sieve to add extra flavour) over the rilettes and mix lightly. leave to cool, then refrigerate till the fat has set.

serve with toast or exceptionally crusty bread and cornichons, or perhaps pickled chillies.

* don’t do what i did, and discard the skin – keep it and making crackling/scratchings!