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|Place of origin||France|
|Main ingredients||Meat (pork, goose, duck, chicken, game birds, rabbit), salt, fat|
Rillettes (/( )/; French: [ʁijɛt]) are a preparation of meat similar to pâté. Commonly made from pork, the meat is cubed or chopped, salted heavily and cooked slowly in fat, 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.
- Honoré de Balzac also called rillettes "brown jam": Honoré de Balzac, Le Lys dans la Vallée [The lily of the valley] (Paris, France: Charpentier, 1839), p. 7. From pages 6&7: "Les célèbres rillettes et rillons de Tours formaient l'élément principal du repas que nous faisions au milieu de la journée, entre le déjeuner du matin et le diner de la maison dont l'heure coïncidait avec notre rentrée. Cette préparation, si prisée par quelques gourmands, parait rarement à Tours sur les tables aristocratiques ; si j'en entendis parler avant d'être mis en pension, je n'avais jamais eu le bonheur de voir étendre pour moi cette brune confiture sur un tartine de pain ; … " (The celebrated rillettes and rillons of Tours formed the main part of the meal that we had in the middle of the day, between breakfast and dinner at home, the hour of which coincided with our return. This preparation, so prized by some gourmets, appears rarely in Tours on aristocratic tables ; if I heard of it before being sent to boarding school, I'd never had the good fortune to see this brown jam spread for me on a slice of bread ; … )
- Editions Larousse, Nouveau Dictionnaire Etymologique et Historique (1971), p.651.