Like many of the best recipes this came about by accident. I bought a box of free-range organic pork and didn’t have enough room for it all in the freezer so left out 4 thick slices of pork belly. I originally thought of giving them an Asian spin but suddenly hit on the idea of rillettes, spiced not in the classic French way but Italian-style with fennel. A great success and a really useful dish to dig into over the holiday period.
2 tsp flaked or coarse sea-salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried thyme or herbes de Provence
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
About 700g-750g good quality organic pork belly cut into 4 thick slices
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bayleaves + a couple more for decoration
You will also need a pat dish or earthenware bowl, about 725ml (1 1/4 pints) in capacity)
Put 1 teaspoon of the salt and the peppercorns and fennel seeds into a mortar and bash with a pestle until roughly ground. Add the thyme or herbes de Provence, grind again them add the chopped garlic and pound until you have a wettish paste. Put the pork belly pieces side by side in a small roasting tin and rub with the oil. Season both sides with the garlic paste rubbing it in well and tuck a piece of bayleaf between each piece. Cover loosely with foil, put in a hot oven (200°C/Gas 6) for 10 minutes then turn the heat right down to 130°C and cook for about 3-4 hours until the meat is practically falling apart. (I cooked mine overnight in the simmering oven of the Aga.) Cool for about half an hour then pour off the fat and pan juices.
Cut away any skin, remove the bones then pull the meat apart with a couple of forks. You can leave a bit of the fat behind if you want to but it’s fat that gives rillettes its flavour and spreadable texture. Sprinkle over the remaining salt, mix together and pack into a lightly greased pat dish or earthenware dish. Skim off the fat from the roasting juices and pour it over the surface of the pork.
Decorate the dish/bowl with some bayleaves and a few peppercorns, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge to set for at least 12 hours, preferably overnight. Bring to room temperature for an hour before serving with sourdough toast and cornichons or cippolini (balsamic glazed onions).
What to drink: This needs a fresh-tasting wine with good acidity to cut through the fat. Beaujolais is the classic match for French charcuterie but you could easily accompany it with a modestly priced Italian red. The tail end of the 2005 Cascina Fontana Langhe Nebbiolo we were drinking with our goose yesterday was perfect. You can buy it, as we did, from Vino in Topsham or from Berry Bros & Rudd.