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Rustic simplicity

Spooned from pots, spread on bread, shared around the table -- rillettes are a dining trend to savor at home too.

August 13, 2008|Amy Scattergood | Times Staff Writer

SERVED IN pretty, hinged Mason jars, squat glass pots or ceramic ramekins, rillettes -- savory, toothsome meats or fish that have been braised or prepared as confit-- are multiplying on restaurant menus, a second wave in L.A.'s charcuterie renaissance.

"I love the shredded texture and the rich, creamy quality," says Suzanne Goin, chef-owner of the Los Angeles wine bar A.O.C., who presents her luscious pork rillettes on a rustic wooden board. Sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper, served with a stack of warm, grilled bread, pickled red onions, cornichons and a bit of frisee, the popular dish is at once a soul-satisfying appetizer and a painterly still life.

The dish that 19th century French novelist Honore de Balzac lovingly called "brown jam" is rustic fare, casually spread onto bread, spooned from small pots and shared with friends. Born of traditional peasant techniques, rillettes can be made of pork, game, poultry, fish or even vegetables that are braised with fat until tender and deeply flavored -- even caramelized -- then seasoned or spiced and packed into jars.

Don't look for a genteel layer of aspic or the beautiful mosaic of many terrines -- rillettes is simply a pot filled with flavor, meat condensed to its essence.

"There's been a change in the last 10 years," says David Myers, chef-owner of the West Hollywood brasserie Comme Ca. "Young people have traveled, they've been to small, nameless bistros somewhere in France." After they come home, "they want those experiences."

Myers serves smooth-as-butter pork rillettes pressed into a little ceramic bowl as part of his charcuterie plate, served on black slate with pickles, whole grain mustard, toasted baguette and a slice of house-made pork and duck terrine.

There are always three rillettes on the menu at Palate Food + Wine in Glendale, and even chefs who don't make their own are offering rillettes made by local specialty chefs including Bruno Herve-Commereuc, former chef at Angelique Cafe in downtown L.A. Rillettes are best in small quantities, great nosh food when matched with contrasting bites of warm bread ("I love how when you spread the rillettes on the warm, grilled toast it half melts into the bread," Goin says), a tart bite of pickle, the acidic punch of mustard. Spread some on toasted bread, pair it with a glass of wine, maybe a handful of cornichons and a bit of salad, and you have a perfect appetizer -- or a light, casual supper.

To make rillettes, meats are first marinated or given a brief salt cure, then braised or confited (poached in their own fat) until very tender. The tender meat is then mixed with a bit of the reserved poaching liquid and fat, maybe a few herbs. That's it.

Packed into jars or terrines, loaf pans or ramekins, sometimes sealed with a layer of fat, they're stored in the fridge, where they can last for up to a week -- longer if sealed with a layer of duck fat or butter.

"It's becoming trendy here [in the U.S.]; in France, it's a part of everyday life," says chef Florent Marneau of Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa. Marneau often includes duck rillettes on the charcuterie plate, with pickled cauliflower and cornichons, slices of bread and pots of mustard.

Marneau, whose duck rillettes are made with duck confit shot with notes of cardamom and star anise and mixed with a bit of pork confit, also makes pork, rabbit, even quail and wild boar rillettes.

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Among the charcuterie

At FRAICHE in Culver City, chef-owner Jason Travi serves a selection of charcuterie and salumi, including luscious duck rillettes made by Herve-Commereuc. (Travi says he gets all his charcuterie from Herve-Commereuc, who plans to open a restaurant and retail shop in Culver City.)

At the Sunset Junction bistro Cafe Stella, there were two rillettes among the appetizers on a recent menu. Chef Missy Kim makes house-made salmon rillettes studded with capers and fresh dill; savory pork rillettes, which Kim gets from Herve-Commereuc, are part of the charcuterie plate.

In West Hollywood, chef T. Nicolas Peter lines the walls of the Little Next Door with Mason jars of pickles and jams and fills refrigerated cases with jars of pates and preserves -- and rillettes. Recently, Peter's rabbit and pork rillettes were on offer. The Belgian-born chef says that though Americans have traditionally viewed pates and rillettes as "luxe, white-tablecloth," in France, "this is peasant food."

Ben Ford, chef-owner of Ford's Filling Station in Culver City, says rillettes are showing up on menus because "chefs are cooking what they like to eat more." He often makes rillettes and terrines with rabbit, but his rotating menu might also include rillettes made with smoked trout and bound with creme fraiche, or made with a confit of goose or duck.

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