So here we go with the quarter pig.... It's safely in my freezer. Including a trotter and a half head. Why a half head and not a quarter head? Because my friend Mark, whom I'm sharing the half pig with also wasn't enamored of having dead pig stare back at him whenever he opens his freezer. Luckily I have a friend that's from France, and her mom makes a pate (head cheese?) out of pork heads. She actually goes out and buys them from the butcher. Brave woman! In any case, my half pig head is now waiting for her next visit, and I went on to deal with some other funny things that came along - the first one being a knee.
Ok, I'm German, I can deal with it. The bits just below, the shanks, are really a German specialty, Schweinehaxe. I have two of them and will have to make them this summer, preferably slow and on the rotisserie, to make my man happy! And the bit above the knee of course is the ham, which is being turned into prosciutto by my friend Mark. But that's a whole different story, sos back to the knee. It had a good bit of meat on it, but also a lot of fat. Perfect for rillettes. Rillettes? It's a pate, and if you're lucky enough to find it buy it. It's essentially meat that has been slowly cooked in its rendered fat, and then shredded in little bits for a pot of meaty goodness that's perfect spread fresh bread.
Looks good, huh? I first got hooked on rillette when I went to France as an exchange student. Yes, that's a long time ago. I think it's because you can see what you eat, as opposed to pates or sausages where you can't tell what went in. My absolute favorite is duck rillette, but pork or lamb are excellent bases as well.
There are as many recipes for it as French mothers. And then some more. It's very easy to make, it's just time... You start out with a piece of fatty meat. Cube it, in about 1" pieces. Salt the pieces, and put them in the fridge for 24 hours. The next day they go into a large enough pot, with a bit of water (don't cover it, just enough to get some heat in and start releasing the fat without frying it, perhaps 1/2 cup), some onions, celery, and carrots, lots of herbs, peppercorns, bay leaves. Turn on the heat. Once it starts simmering turn down the heat, and leave it alone.
Ok, check it every hour or so if you must, and if it's just to ensure that it's not burning. I usually put it in a roaster. A slow cooker is a perfect tool for this as well. How long you cook it depends on the meat, on how hot you have it, but start checking after 4 hours. The goal is to have the meat so soft that it falls apart when you poke a fork in it. In my case it took 6 hours. Once you're there turn off the heat, and when the meat is cool enough to handle take it out and shred it. I like my rillette fairly coarse, but again, there are lots of French mothers.... Put it tightly in a sterilized vessel, like a jar or a ramequin. Press it down with the back of a spoon, to have as few air pockets in as possible.
The next step is crucial for a perfect rillette: Toss all the remainders of the veggies, but salvage the cooking liquid. In my case it was a bit watery, so I boiled it down until most of the water was gone. Then pour the hot fat over the meat. If you have done your job better than I have you will only have lard on the top - I have a few bits of meat stick out.
The main advantage of having it covered with the lard is that it will now keep forever, ok, at least for a few months. That wasn't really an issue in my case, it won't have to last longer than a week anyways... Cover the rillettes, put them in the fridge overnight (while you bake some bread perhaps?), and then enjoy it the next day as an appetizer.