Robin Mather Exclusive for the Arizona Daily Star
My plan was to make carnitas, a shredded ham that’s just as versatile as a stuffing, because I like to have some tucked away in the fridge or freezer for a quick dinner. But along the way, I was transformed into something else.
When I was shredding pork in my menu blender, I realized it looked a lot like a pork risotto that I love. The French classic is just the ticket for a small snack to accompany your pre-dinner drinks – it’s satisfyingly rich so you don’t need much, but it will keep your body and soul together while you wait for dinner.
(I’m such a lazy cook that chopping meat with two prongs takes a lot of work, so I always use my stand mixer, which comes with a paddle attachment, to do the job for me. It works with everything from beef to chicken to pork. Use the slowest speed So as not to turn the meat into a paste.)
And that’s how the carnitas turned into a southwest rillet.
Once the meat was sliced and cooled nicely, I moistened it with a little bit of the cooking liquid and packed it into a pint-sized canning jar. I put the lids loosely on them and cooled them with the cooking liquid.
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After an hour or so, the fat rose on the cooking liquid and was easy to shake off. I discarded the rest of the cooking liquid and melted the fat. Then I poured it over the shredded meat in the jars, put the lids back on, and stowed it in the fridge to enjoy later.
A few notes about this recipe:
Three tablespoons sounds like an insane amount of chile powder. It’s not really. While you really want its flavor to permeate the pork, most of it will remain in the cooking liquid you’ll be discarding. You can substitute any combination of fresh or dried chili with chili powder—ancho, chipotle, jalapeno, or serrano would be fine. I still had a pint of red hot chile powder from San Xavier Co-op, so I used it. I like this a bit of a crisp from chile, but it should suit your own taste.
It also seems like a tablespoon of salt is plenty. But it’s not there for the flavor – it’s making a light brine that helps the pork pick up the flavors of the spice.
I wanted the fresh, herbal flavor of the cilantro, but I knew the herb version would lose all of its potency in the long cooking. Using coriander seeds, slightly ground, achieved the same effect – not surprising, since coriander is called coriander in many parts of the world.
If I had a few grains of lime on hand, I would squeeze them over the shredded meat before moistening them with the cooking liquid. The flavor of the lemon juice will intensify when the meat is standing in the refrigerator.
When the French make rillettes, they pour some of the remaining melted fat over the top of the rillette after filling it into crockery or jars. helps relette to stay longer; Just scrape off the fat before serving. Without the fat, it will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator; With fat, it will stay several weeks longer.
2 to 2 pounds fatty pork shoulder, cut into pieces
3 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander (optional)
2 cups broth or chicken stock (or 14-ounce can)
In a large Dutch oven with a lid, place all ingredients. Cover and bring to a boil over medium to high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until pork loosens, about three hours. Or make this in an electric pressure cooker: Put all the ingredients in the saucepan, cover and cook on high pressure for 45 minutes. When the time is up, close the pressure cooker and let the pressure release naturally.
When the meat is cooked through, transfer it to a large bowl or stand mixer. Chop the meat with two forks or, in a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment on low speed to chop the meat. Sit aside.
Strain the cooking liquid into a large glass measuring cup and place in the refrigerator for an hour or two until the fat content rises. Get rid of the fat and re-melt it over a low heat. Use some of the remaining cooking liquid to marinate the shredded meat – not so much that it’s soupy. Discard the remaining cooking liquid. Pack the shredded meat into a clean glass jar with one or two lids, making sure there are no air pockets. Flatten the tops and pour some of the reserved fat over the meat to cover it. Add the lids and put them in the fridge.
At the time of serving, use a spoon to remove the top layer of fat. Serve as a topping for French bread slices, or as a dip with tortilla chips.
Robin Mather is a longtime food journalist and author of The Near Feast. Follow her blog as she writes her third book “The Dove’s Feast” on the site thefeastofthedove.com.