We prepare a lot of hors d’oeuvres in our kitchen, thousands of individuals and hundreds of varieties. This is one of my favorite…it’s not particularly refined, but it has flavor for days. If you begin a meal like this then you’d better have something awesome coming behind it.
The main component of this hors d’oeuvre is the duck rillette. Rillette, like the name sounds, is a traditional French preparation. It is kind of a poor man’s pate. The term “rillette” means that a meat has been cured, then cooked slowly in fat until tender, then pureed to a paste and served at room temperature. Like so much of charcuterie, the process of making rillette began as a way to preserve meats when folks didn’t have the luxury of refrigeration. A rillette of pork, duck, rabbit, or just about any other meat can be jarred and covered in the oil it was cooked in, preserving it for long amounts of time as long as no bacteria is introduced into the fat.
The process for this duck rillette begins by curing the duck legs. I use salt, brown sugar, sweet spices (cardamom, ginger, allspice and more) and TCM, or Tinted Curing Mix. TCM is a curing salt that combines 94 % salt and 6 % sodium nitrite. It is tinted bright pink so one can tell it apart from other salts and it prevents botulism in sausages that are smoked at low temperatures. An interested fact is that botulism used to be known as “Sausage Sickness”, and “botulus” is Latin for sausage. Botulism was very prevalent in low acid, low temp preparations until the advent of this preservative.
TCM is also used to add the pink color to sausages, pates and other items. If you ever wondered why Jesse James hot dogs are neon pink then case closed.
Tinted Curing Mix should always be handled with care and measured carefully. The rule of thumb is one ounce per twenty five pounds of meat, or one teaspoon per five pounds for smaller batches. Tinted Curing Mix is a known carcinogen, and is toxic if overused so make sure to exercise caution.
Once the duck legs have cured for twenty four hours rinse them and pat them dry, then cover them with fat. Duck fat is optimal, but olive oil will suffice if necessary. Line the duck legs up with the knuckle facing upwards, and add just enough fat to cover the leg and thigh but let the knuckle remain exposed. This way you can remove the duck legs without touching the oil and introducing bacteria. Cook at 350 degrees for about five hours or until the meat is tender enough to fall away from the bone.
When the duck legs are cool enough to handle, pull the meat away from the bone. Puree the meat with softened butter and freshly minced shallot. You won’t need to season the puree since it has been cured with salt.
One of many excellent variations of rillette is using barbecued pulled pork. Pair it with onion chutney and a corn cake and things start getting a little ridiculous.
To find out more about the tragically under used art of charcuterie, give this book a read.