|This article does not cite any references or sources. (August 2007)|
|Place of origin||France|
|Main ingredients||Meat (pork, goose, duck, chicken, game birds, rabbit), salt, fat|
Rillettes are a preparation of meat similar to pâté. Originally made with pork, the meat is cubed or chopped, salted heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded, and then cooled with enough of the fat to form a paste. They are normally used as spread on bread or toast and served at room temperature.
The term rillette perhaps refers to the final product and its appearance when spread on sliced bread. Rillettes were traditionally made with fatty pork belly or pork shoulder. The meat was cubed, salted and cured, cooked slowly over low heat until very tender, then raked into small shreds and blended with the warm cooking fat to form a rustic paste. Rillettes could be stored in crocks for several months. In Anjou, rillaud was a speciality, plated in the shape of a pyramid and topped with the pig's tail; the rillettes were proudly displayed to the guest of honor. In time the rillette cooking style was applied to game birds, wild rabbit, and fish. Eventually several preparations for seafood rillettes were developed including an anchovy, tuna, and salmon version. Though the fish is not actually cooked in the fat, it is blended with fat to form the characteristic paste-spread. The soft, smooth texture is a deciding factor in determining a good rillette dish.
Like cassoulet or fondue, this French dish has its many regional definitions. In general most rillettes are served at room temperature, as a spread with toast points, much like a pâté. Pork rillettes from the northwestern regions of Tours and Anjou are famous for the rich texture and bronze color achieved during the cooking process. Rabelais called rillettes "the brown jam from the pig" (brune confiture de cochon). Rillettes from the adjacent département of Sarthe are distinguished by a more rustic texture, complete with larger pieces of pork and less color.
In Quebec, cretons are similar to rillettes.
The French word rillettes is first evidenced in 1845. It derives from the Old French rille, meaning a slice of pork, which is first attested in 1480. This is a dialect variation of the Old French reille, meaning a lath or strip of wood, from the Latin regula.
The word rillettes is thus cognate or linked with the English words rail, referring to railways, and ruler, meaning a straight strip of wood for measuring.
- Editions Larousse, Nouveau Dictionnaire Etymologique et Historique (1971), p.651.