Pique-Nique I – Chicken Rillettes with Preserved Lemon and Summer Savory

 

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Fat.  Let’s not beat around the bush, shall we?  Fat’s probably the best place to begin a discussion of Chicken Rillettes with Preserved Lemon and Summer Savory.  Au debut, as the French say, in the beginning, rillettes meant one thing – pork.  Or rather, pork and fat.  Rillettes was pork that had been salted, cooked slowly in pork fat, shredded, then preserved in the same fat, and served at room temperature, usually spread on toast.  Rillettes* are now found all over France, and while pork is still popular, in the Southwest, the Midi-Pyrenees, extending down to the Spanish border, the technique is more often seen with duck or rabbit.  Today rillettes of salmon, tuna or other fatty fish, or even mushrooms are not uncommon on pricey menus.  It’s hard to argue with that–what doesn’t taste good when cooked slowly in fat and salt?

I don’t think a day of our trip to France passed without yet another version of rillettes or fois gras being put in front of us, often atop a salad, which seemed to be the customary way of serving them in the Quercy region where we were staying.  Sarriette, summer savory, a traditional herb for braising, was a common flavoring, also often planted next to beans, an ingredient in another of Quercy’s regional specialities, cassoulet, where it is thought (don’t ask me how) to protect the beans from beetles.  Sharp or sour condiments contrast nicely with the rich saltiness of rillettes, so pickles and mustard frequently materialized from culinary stage left as soon as we were served.

Rillettes also take well to preserved lemon, a non-traditional idea we found at the Auberge Flora, in Paris, where Chef Flora Mikula, famous for her contemporary spin on southern (French) country food, served us rabbit rillettes with preserved lemon.  After – briefly, very briefly - wondering whether we could ask readers to braise a couple of rabbits, Jody decided to apply the same technique to chicken thighs, the tastiest and easiest part of the bird to bone.

A slow cooker is custom made for rillettes, although you can also use a Dutch oven over very low heat.

This recipe fills six 6.5-ounce bail-lid jars with rillettes.  An open jar of rillettes can be as difficult to close – just one more bite – as a pint of good of ice cream.  Etymological reflection helps.  “Rillettes” is the plural diminutive of the old French word “rille,” a piece of pork.  Pig, piglet.  Rille, rillettes.   Rille probably evolved out of an even earlier term for “board” or “straight edge,” from the Latin “regula,” meaning a straight edge.  Presumably all those early cooks of rillettes were shredding their pork atop boards of one kind or another.  Regula, of course, has given us all manner of English words about rules and limits, including self-regulation.  A single jar of rillettes was enough for Jody and me for a last-minute late-night dinner, with pickles, mustard, bread and salad, and a bottle of inky wine from Cahors.  Unless you’re riding in the Tour de France, you may want to draw your own straight edge at the one-jar limit.  We’re keeping two jars in our fridge for emergencies, and we’ve prudently frozen the remainder, to be restored as a first course for a dinner party, or as needed for sharing out at a picnic.  There is such a thing as having too much of a good thing available.  Enjoy.  Ken

*Rillettes is one of those rare words whose verb agreement in English may be either singular or plural.  Rillettes is… and rillettes are… both appear, depending on the context.  In French rillettes are treated as plural.

 

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  • Servings: Fills six 6.5-ounce jars
  • Print

 

 

 

Chicken Rillettes with Preserved Lemon and Summer Savory

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces pancetta, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (you may not use all of it)
  • 1 cup onion cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 cup dry rose or white wine
  • 2 star anise
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1 preserved lemon, cut into-¼ inch dice (our recipe, if you need it)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped summer savory, plus sprigs for garnish

 

Directions:

  1. Toss the chicken thighs with the salt and sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
  2. Pat dry.
  3. Put the diced pancetta into a large heavy-bottomed sauté pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and render over medium heat.  Transfer the pancetta to the slow cooker.  Increase the heat to medium-high, add the thighs, skin-side down, and brown lightly.  Turn the thighs and and cook on the other side for 30 seconds, just long enough to create a light sear.  Transfer the chicken to a slow cooker, placing the thighs skin-side up.  Add the onion, garlic and ginger to the sauté pan and cook 5 minutes.  Add the wine, the star anise, the cloves and ½ cup water.  Bring to a boil for 30 seconds, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  Turn off the heat.
  4. Pour the contents of the pan over the chicken thighs.  Cover and cook on the low setting for 4 hours.  The meat should easily come off the bone.  Remove the cover, allow the chicken to cool in the liquid.
  5. Remove the chicken from the pot.  Strain the juices into a clear measuring cup – reserve the strainer with the bits of onion and pancetta.  Siphon the fat off the juices.  Put the juices in a pot over medium heat and reduce to a glaze.  Reserve.
  6. Pick through the things in the strainer and discard the star anise, cloves and any cartilage, or skin.  Onions, pancetta and perhaps a smashed garlic clove or two should remain.
  7. Separate the skin, bones and cartilage from the chicken meat.  Put the meat into a large bowl and shred with a couple of forks or your fingers.
  8. Add the onions, pancetta, etc. from the strainer to the shredded chicken, along with the reduced juices.  Add the preserved lemon and summer savory and toss gently.  Put into terrines and pack down.  I use a glass covered with plastic wrap to help with packing.  Pour several spoonfuls of olive oil over each terrine.  Cool.
  9. Top each terrine with a sprig of summer savory.  Cover and refrigerate.
  10. Before serving, if the top looks dry, drizzle the rillettes with a little more oil.  Accompany with pickles, Dijon mustard, or chutney.

 

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Jody Notes

People always want to know where I get my recipe ideas.  For the most part, I make them up, drawing from readings, travel and whatever is in season.  But the secret’s out with this one… sometimes I downright steal them.  After our cycling week in Provence last year I accompanied my friend Amy back to Paris on the train, and during the trip she raved about the rabbit rillettes with preserved lemon in her neighborhood restaurant, Auberge Flora.  Of course I had to try them – and Amy was right.   

After tasting them again this past month, I decided I wanted to reproduce them.  With Ken reminding me that using rabbits would set the bar beyond where most of our readers would be inclined to reach, I settled on chicken thighs.  The only ingredients I know for sure that my recipe shares with Floras’s are the preserved lemon and olive oil.  The summer savory and other seasonings are my own.

I’ve loved having the rillettes around this week.  Ken and I made dinner with them one night.  On another, after staggering through the door after a hot and muggy night in the kitchen that seemed to go on forever, I wasn’t very hungry, but I wanted a little something.  A dollop of rillettes on a piece of toast with a chilled glass of rose was just the thing.  

 

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46 thoughts

  1. Looking at this recipe, I really must tell you how much I enjoy getting your Friday recipes. So creative, so thoughtful, so original … hard to do these days. I love what you and Jody share. However, looking at this particular recipe, which I would definitely like to make, could you please suggest a recipe for Preserved Lemons? I have purchased them in the past, and found them dreadful, so would rather make my own. Thanks so much. Elaine Baird

  2. This looks absolutely do-able. I LOVE rilettes, and the idea of making them with chicken sounds interesting. Or with rabbit, for that matter. A little on toast with a glass of rose would really hit the spot.

  3. Oh, to have one more day before camping trip… time too ‘short and full’ to ‘fit in’ making these!! So will place in special ‘make soon’ file on desktop! Sound yummy- and love the ‘light dinner’…good company, bottle of wine, and ready to enjoy!! Thanks!!

    • “What is life without Plumtree’s Potted Meat? Incomplete!” Once you’ve got a supply… it does make life easier. Enjoy camping. Now you have something to look forward to when you get back. Ken

  4. OH how I’ve missed you guys! This post is so informative. I’d love to do this with rabbit, but I don’t know where to find one. Thank you for finally explaining to me what rilletes is/are (j/k – love the English lesson. I’m a total language snob). I’m so glad you put this up because right now I’m a) obsessed with french food b) received a slow cooker for my bday almost a year ago and have never used it and c) was just about to open my preserved lemons. I love the step by step photos and the way you served it. Silly question: Do you ever reheat it or do you always eat it cold? Oh how I’d love to be on the Tour de France right now. I’m about to embark on the Tour de upstate NY. Welcome home.

    • Never opened your slow cooker??!! Oh, please get to it. I’ll tell you something you can definitely do with it – make duck confit! (More or less the same method as the rillettes, but more fat.) Regarding the other rabbit, et al… I bet you could find one from somebody at one of the farmers’ markets near you. Any farmer bringing in his own chickens, lamb or pork will often also have rabbits, as will, I’m sure, upscale (but pricey) butchers in Manhattan. Better to go the farmer route. Unlike confit, rillettes are almost never reheated–that’s one of the reasons the meat is shredded, to make it spreadable. I am however, looking forward to trying a couple of generous dollops added to a stir fry of bitter greens and wild mushrooms (goose fat works really well for this too). Thanks for the kind words of appreciation–they mean a lot. Good luck on the TUNY. Ken

  5. Oh man. I just back from a trip to Switzerland and France with my husband, and we fell hard for rillettes. I recall my husband saying at some point a few days into the trip, “they sure like their spreadable meats here, huh?” Well, now we’re hooked, and since you posted this super tasty-looking recipe, I don’t have an excuse not to make my own rillettes.

    • You know, in the Languedoc, I saw a lot of lean people wandering around. In Burgunday I saw a lot of guys who–how shall I put this?–were a bit closer to my body shape. I think the key is to be eating fat where you can climb hills and poke around prehistoric caves, rather than stroll down the street to the next luxury experience. Ken

  6. This sounds very untraditional to me, but boy does it look and sound delicious. I used to hate rillettes, but living next door to one of the best butchers ever has made me change my mind about them; his pork rillettes are out of this world. I think I even like rillettes more than pâtés, terrines, and gallantines. I love your addition of preserved lemon here.

    • I love pâtés, terrines and gallantines (when we see them, sigh…) too, but rillettes are right up there. I have yet to meet a rillette I didn’t like. I tried talking Jody into using the kumquats instead of the preserved lemon, but we were afraid no one would ever make it then. But if I find a rabbit… :-) Ken

  7. I’m having one of those summers in which the work-fun balance is skewed in the wrong direction. I had grand plans to make a very interesting dish with mussels, Israeli couscous and bacon, but a work thing has come up that may interfere with the execution and enjoyment of said dinner. If only I had rillettes waiting for me in the fridge. I think I would feel like a perfume commercial. Home from a press conference, I could kick off my shiny blue sandals, put on my comfortables, sip an achingly dry white wine with my hubby and nibble on rillettes before writing a Pulitzer-worthy story. That’s what I like about the Garum Factory. You remind us that life is rife with possibilities and food is an excellent way to realize them. When things calm down, I’m making rillettes. They’ll be waiting for me, alongside the jar of preserved lemons I was smart enough to make, the last time things were calm. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • I’m sorry I can’t send you a picnic basket along with the rosé. I try not to think too much when my nose is buried in work, just remember to come up when I don’t have to be buried. Hope you get a bigger slice of your own time soon. Ken

    • Well, rabbit and duck rillettes are very popular in France, so I’d consider them part of the tradition now. Given how often French wines appear in your food photos I’m not surprised to discover that another icon of French cuisine is popular in Japan. Today rillettes, tomorrow brandade. :-) Ken

    • They ARE a little lighter than pork or duck, but to be honest, given the meat you guys can access–and what you already eat–I’d be scouting some rabbits, or heritage pork. By the way, your dried eggplant lasagna is nearing the top of my to-cook list. Ken

      • I almost bought a rabbit this morning at a farmers’ market. But I need to preserve some lemons first. (I know, I know … I need to get on that!)

  8. I am going to downright steal your idea too! Yep,I still haven’t reached the “cooking rabbit” part and I don’t think I will any time soon either.This recipe of yours does have a lot of fat but your amazing HD photos throws those thoughts out of the window(I can cheat for a few days ;) ).I always look forward to your recipes and so does my daughter who literally drools at your photos :D

    • Well, instead of flogging yourself over the fat, you might remind yourself that it’s mostly good fat (olive oil) and as I said, one jar will serve for two. Thank you for the kind words about the recipes and the photos. It’s particularly nice when you hear you reached someone on the other side of the planet. Ken

      • Thank YOU for uploading such amazing recipes :) and yes I forgot to write about that in my comment that the olive oil and condiments are healthy and saves me from the flogging part:)

  9. Such a great post! Not only did I learn a great deal but you supplied such detail that I’m convinced that I could prepare it, too. I can see, though, that I’d have to store it in the freezer in my basement. Any closer and I’d never stop snacking on it. By the way, feel free to post the rabbit version anytime. You certainly won’t hear a complaint from the Bartolini faction of your fan club. :)

    • Hi, John–You’re a wise man. Always best to store the most dangerous temptations where we have to make the most effort to find them. We’re saving a rabbit recipe for later in the fall. :-) Ken

  10. Dear Ken and Jody, Thanks so much for posting this recipe. I made it yesterday and it turned out so well! The addition of the preserved lemons, which I finally opened after making them months ago using your recipe was brilliant. Although it’s kind of a process, I feel like a better cook for having done this and taking the time to do it right! I followed your instructions step by step in terms of timing and content (with only 2 substitutions). You inaugurated my slow cooker, which seems to do amazing things. The meat fell right off the bone and the spices were perfectly incorporated. The sauce reduction was perfect and delicious and the oil content was just right (I actually cooked the chicken in more of the oil and added the rest at the end). I cannot wait to spread this over a good French bread and eat with olives, mustard, cheese and lots of wine. I’m trying to resist just taking the spoon to the jar and eating it like that. The taste really transports me. The flavors are so different. Thank you! You guys are a talented team and I really appreciate your guidance. -A

    • Wow! Thanks, Amanda. I’m glad it worked out for you. Rillettes really are special – and now you’re ready to jump into pork, rabbit or duck versions. Congratulations. Ken

  11. Another use for preserved lemon! And quite different from the middle eastern recipes I’ve been using. I find it hard to stop eating rillettes, and this one looks too good not to eat… Maybe I will attempt this recipe when there is a picnic with extra rillettes eaters.

    • Haha… that’s the problem, isn’t it. We’re down to one jar, which someone foolishly opened. Whenever I open the refrigerator door I hear the strains of Bali Hi beckoning me toward the rillettes. It does freeze well, always good to know. Ken

    • Disregard my previous answer (if you received it before I deleted it). Your question intrigued me so I decided to do some research. You see all manner of rillettes, confits and foie gras preserved in jars in France, so it would seem natural to assume that the kind of canning in which jars of fruit or vegetables are immersed in a hot water bath would also work for meat products. I’m afraid not. As Mother Earth News observes in an article on canning meat:

      “Bacterial growth is hindered by the acid in food, and meat is very low in acid. Worse yet, certain harmful bacteria thrive where natural acidity is low, and these cannot readily be destroyed at the boiling point of 212°F. To can meat, therefore, you must superheat it to 240°F, which means it must always be processed by pressure canning, not with boiling water baths, which are fine for preserving such high-acid foods as sauerkraut.”

      Read the full text here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/canning-meat-the-right-way-zmaz83sozshe.aspx#ixzz3ADEeLo00

      So, if you’re prepared to pressure can your rillettes, go ahead. If not, best not to think about it. Ken

      • Very interesting. My mother has canned her year old hens in the autumn for years….as well as trout. I must ask her if she does anything special but just by thinking about it I don’t ever remember seeing a pressure canner.

      • Google “Canning meat.” Opinion about the necessity of pressure canning meat for safety seems universal, as far as I can tell. Your dilemma–”My mother/grandmother did it THIS way, not YOUR way.”–also seems pretty common. Ken

  12. Pingback: Chicken Rillettes w/ Preserved Lemon and Chorizo | What's Cooking

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