31 August 2008

Rillons — la méthode

Here's the recipe I started with. In fact, this time I followed the recipe pretty closely. I had more meat (7½ lbs.) and I used lard for one batch of rillons and duck fat for another.
Rillons de Touraine
  • 2 kg de poitrine de porc frais
    4½ lbs. fresh pork breast
  • 1 kg de panne2¼ lbs. pork fat
  • sel, poivre du moulinsalt, pepper
  • un peu de thym en poudrea little ground thyme
Découper la poitrine en rectangles de 10 x 6 cm. Cut the pork into rectangles 4" x 2½".

Saler, poivrer et saupoudrer légèrement de thym en poudre. Salt, pepper, and sprinkle some ground thyme over the meat.

Disposer dans une terrine et laisser macérer quelques heures. Put in all in a dish and let it macerate for several hours.

Détailler la panne en petits dés. La faire fondre dans une grande casserole. Ajouter la viande (elle doit être entièrement recouverte par la graisse fondue) et laisser mijoter à feu doux au moins 3 heures. Cut the pork fat into small dice. Melt it in a big pot. Add the meat (it should be completely covered by the melted fat) and let it simmer on low heat for at least three hours.

Sortir les rillons avec une écumoire, les placer dans des bocaux et les recouvrir avec la graisse passée à travers un tamis. Take the rillons out with a slotted spoon, place them in jars and cover them with the fat, filtered through a fine sieve.

Pour consommer : réchauffer les rillons dans leur graisse. To serve: reheat the pork chunks in their fat.
What the recipe doesn't specify is that you need to take the rillons out of their fat once they are heated up for serving and drain them on paper towels or on a rack. You can even put them on a rack in a slow oven for a few minutes to let more fat drip off and let the pork brown slightly.

The first step is to cut the pork into strips. I decided to make smaller chunks than the ones the recipe specified.

The pork breast came with its rind still on. The rind in French is called la couenne, [lah kwahn]. Don't throw it away. I rolled up each strip of rind and put the strips in the freezer. They will be a great addition to any beans, greens, or other green vegetables we cook this winter — including all these green beans from the garden that we are blanching and freezing right now.

Pork rinds rolled up and packaged for the freezer

Along with flavor, the pork rind gives a gelatinous character to the cooking liquid that enriches cookied beans or vegetables. You don't necessarily eat the rind itself after it is cooked. In our house, Callie will probably get it mixed into her home-made food.

The chunks of pork simmer slowly in fat, with bay leaves for extra
You can't imagine how tender and plump each rillon is.

I removed the pork morsels from the fat with a slotted spoon.
Then I transferred them to canning jars...

...and poured the fat over them through a very fine strainer.

After a few hours in the refrigerator, the jar looked like the one you see above. Exactly like that, actually.

The fat is not wasted. It will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator in sealed jars. It is still perfectly usable after the rillons are taken out, for frying potatoes or meats, or for flavoring cooked vegetables. The rillons themselves will be good added to a pot of beans or greens too, with a little of their fat.

It is certainly not good to go overboard eating this kind of food, but in reasonable quantities it is healthy. And it sure is good. French country-style cooking reminds me very much of good Southern U.S. cooking.

I looked up the derivation of the word rillons and it seems to come from an old Frankish word that means a small piece of pork. Voilà.

Here's a quote from the 19th-century French novelist Balzac about rillettes and rillons:
Les célèbres rillettes et rillons de Tours formaient l'élément principal du repas que nous faisions au milieu de la journée (...) Cette préparation, si prisée par quelques gourmands, paraît rarement à Tours sur les tables aristocratiques (...)
BALZAC, Le Lys dans la vallée, Pl., t. VIII, p. 774.
It says: "The famous rillettes and rillons of the city of Tours were the main component of our mid-day meals... This kind of cooking, so prized by certain food-lovers, appears only rarely on the dinner tables of the upper classes in Tours..."


  1. What an undertaking! Bravo!

    I remember reading "Le Lys dans la Vallée" when I was living up there. It was really interesting for the setting -- I don't remember much else, though.

  2. Betty, you must have eaten Touraine rillettes and rillons when you lived in Montbazon. I used to make rillettes when I lived in California, but never rillons until now.

  3. Oh yes, of course I ate rillons and rillettes in the Tours area! When I said "I don't remember much else" I was just talking about the book.

  4. Your rillons look delicious and I can imagine the smell in your kitchen.

    You mean there was something about food in Le Lys dans la Vallee? How did I miss that? I just remember unrequited love, abnegation, and unfulfilled passion. A little food would have livened it up, or at least comforted the lovesick hero.

  5. Louou, you seem to have a great memory for books! I just remember the descriptions of the area I used to live in...


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