Rillons are a Loire Valley specialty that I'm sure very few people reading this would ever attempt to make. It's not a complicated thing to do, but it is kind of messy and can easily take day, if not two, to accomplish. You need a lot of fat or lard. For me, the idea of making my own rillons resulted from a happy coincidence this week.
First, what are rillons? As I said, they are a Touraine specialty. Traditionally, the diet here in Touraine is based on pork, poultry, and river fish, along with garden produce, goat cheese, and wine. This is not cattle country, and ducks and geese are not that common. Rillons are a pork specialty. You can buy them in supermarkets and charcutier shops all around the region.
Before people had electricity and freezers, finding ways to preserve meats was essential, and making rillons is one of those. You take chunks of fresh pork and marinate them in salt and herbs for hours. Then you cook the pork chunks for several hours at fairly low temperature in rendered fat. You can use lard, which is rendered pork fat, or you can use rendered duck or goose fat. When they are done, you pack the chunks of pork into crocks or jars, pour filtered, melted fat over all to cover, and seal the jars. The rillons will keep for months in a cook dark place — a cellar, for example.
It's the same principle as in making confit de canard — duck legs and thighs that are salted, slow-cooked, and preserved in duck fat. Rillons are confit de porc — slow-cooked pork — especially pork breast, or poitrine de porc.
By the way, rillons is pronounced something like [ree-'yõ], with [õ] representing the French nasal O vowel. Maybe you know about rillettes? That's pronounced [ree-'yet] and it's another local delicacy. Well, rillettes are small rillons. It's too bad that the only name we have for such a thing is the unappetizing "potted pork."
Rillettes are eaten cold, on bread, like pâté but are distinctly different. They are served in restaurants and homes all over France — even in Paris! They are made of lean pork that is cooked in fat and then shredded, so that with some of the fat mixed in the result is a delicious cold meat spread.
Rillons are not a spread but chunks. They can be eaten cold with mustard or sour gherkins (cornichons), or warm from the oven with mustard or other sauces. The rillon chunks can be cooked with beans or greens or other vegetables to make a main course. After all, they are just tender, succulent pieces of meat. Rillons are rustic — peasant food. Not fancy, but tender and tasty.
So what was the coincidence that had me making rillons this week? First, the Intermarché grocery store over on the other side of the river had a big sale on fresh pork this week. One of the items on sale was whole fresh pork breast for €2.45 a kilogram. That's less than $2.00 a pound in American terms. Irresistible.
Then I got a package in the mail. It was a padded envelope containing three books sent to me by BettyAnn, who often comments on this blog. I first met her in May, when she came for a short stay in the Loire Valley with a friend. She is a very kind person, obviously. One of the books she sent is a cookbook called Cuisinière du Val de Loire — the Loire Valley Cook.
I opened the book and immediately found several pork recipes I want to make this fall. One is pork loin roast cooked with apples. Another is pork shoulder roast cooked in milk. And the other recipe that caught my eye was Rillons de Touraine. Bingo!
To read more abut how to make Rillons de Touraine, click here.