The holidays are approaching, and cheese and charcuterie boards are a great way to entertain. Look to France for inspiration and add duck rillettes to your charcuterie board.
Rillettes are potted jars and terrines of shredded meat confit, traditionally prepared with duck as well as goose, game and pork. Confit is the French term for a method of salt-curing and slow-cooking meat in its rendered fat. Duck is a popular meat to confit in France; it's considered a specialty, originating in the Gascogne region of the southwest. The method is rooted in history and was an important preservation technique when refrigeration was not an option, with the benefit of adding exquisitely rich flavor and unctuous texture to the meat.
To make duck confit, a bird is broken down into pieces, salt-cured for several days, and then slowly cooked in its fat until it's meltingly tender. The cooked meat is then stored in the fat (yes, there is a recurring fat theme here), which acts as a seal and preserves the meat, preventing harmful bacteria from growing. Once cooked, the duck can be stored in its fat for months in the refrigerator or freezer. When ready to use, the meat is removed from the fat and crisped, added to stews such as cassoulet or shredded to make rillettes.
Rillettes are simply shredded meat confit, mixed with spices and perhaps a splash of spirits, and then packed in jars. A thin layer of fat is placed on top to create a seal, which suspends the meat in animation (i.e., preserves it) in the refrigerator for up to one month. A little dab goes a long way, which is a wonderful way to stretch meat for use. Make a few jars of rillettes and chill, ready to pull out for easy entertaining.
To serve rillettes, simply spread a forkful on a baguette slice. A brush of Dijon mustard on the bread, or a cornichon perched on top, balances the richness of the meat. For a more festive garnish (holidays, we see you), top the rillettes with a dab of piquant fruit chutney or a dried fruit compote.
In addition to the rillette recipe, I've included a recipe below for duck leg confit for anyone who is feeling ambitious. Note that the confit method isn't complicated; it simply requires several days for the legs to cure in the fat. For a shortcut, the confit step can be skipped by purchasing prepared confit duck legs, which are often available in specialty shops, well-stocked supermarkets and online.
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, plus overnight chilling time
Yield: Makes about 2 cups
Bone the duck legs. Shred the meat and finely chop the skin, if using, and place in a bowl. Add the Calvados and stir in the fat, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the meat is moist without being too greasy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pack the meat into an 8-ounce terrine or 2 (4-ounce) ramekins, pressing down gently to compress, and leaving about 1/2 inch clear at the top for the seal. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 1 hour. Remove and pour a layer of melted fat, about 1/4-inch thick, over the meat to completely seal the terrines.
Cover and refrigerate the rillettes for at least one day to allow the flavors to develop or up to one month. Serve the rillettes at room temperature, spread on bread, with Dijon mustard and cornichons.
Duck Leg Confit
Active time: 30 to 60 minutes
Total time: up to 2 days
Yield: Makes 6
Toast the peppercorns and coriander seeds in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a mortar with pestle (or spice grinder) and coarsely grind. Transfer to a small bowl and add the salt, bay leaves, thyme and sugar. Rub the mixture all over the duck legs, pressing it into the skin to adhere. Place the duck in a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 24 to 48 hours.
Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Melt the duck fat in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
Remove the duck from the refrigerator, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange in a snug baking dish just large enough to hold the legs in one layer. Pour the melted fat over the duck. The legs should be completely covered; if necessary, melt more fat or top off with olive oil. Transfer the dish to the oven and cook until the duck is very tender and the meat is easily pulled from the bone, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
Remove from the oven and let stand for 30 minutes. Remove the duck from the fat and strain the fat into a bowl or container through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth.
To serve duck legs confit, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon duck fat in the skillet, then add the duck legs, skin side down, and brown the skin, about 4 minutes. Flip the legs and transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the duck is golden, crisp and heated through, about 20 minutes.
If not using immediately, place the duck in a clean container and cover with the strained fat. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator and store for up to 1 month. When ready to use, remove the duck from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature to soften the fat, about 1 hour, before pan-frying. (The duck fat may be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 6 months, or in the freezer for up to 1 year.)
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