16 January 2012

Dulcius ex asperis

After doing a lot of cooking at home, at parties, and on icy mountaintops for the past 20 years, I don't have any fear of failure in the kitchen. It doesn't mean that I don't screw up--my New Year's Eve fondue was a dud and I burned a frozen waffle the other day. But I tend to celebrate said disasters rather than get anxious or annoyed. Frankly at this point I enjoy learning something from a cooking failure, and then there are the occasions when the end result is sweeter out of difficulties.

I was planning on doing simple tacos for Saturday, with roasted chicken thighs and braised pork shoulder. With the latter I'll usually throw a few cans of tomatoes and chiles in the enameled Dutch oven along with the pork and let it slow cook until everything is nice and tender, just enough to be pulled easily with a fork. I got distracted with a few other projects and that shoulder ended up simmering for almost ten hours. Because I'd started on Friday, there was plenty of time to make something new for Saturday, but I decided to let it all cool and see what I had to work with in the morning.

Saturday I woke up and discovered that the pork was almost mushy. Flavorful, just barely still in muscular strings but soft and buried under a half inch layer of pork fat and gelatin. I poked around and thought that, it weren't for the tomatoes and chiles and assorted spices, I'd accidentally made rillettes de porc. For the tacos, I took a few spoonfuls and mixed in a bit of chipotles in adobo sauce. I had to be gentle, and just barely warmed it, but the rillettes worked wonderfully in a warm flour tortilla at lunch.

For dinner, I took the opportunity to try another application with my favorite sandwich, the medianoche from Cuba. Ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles, roast pork, all pressed in a loaf of bread split longways and brushed with butter before grilling. Most of the elements of this sandwich are pretty basic and don't change a lot, but the type and preparation of the pork does make a big difference. Sliced pork loin doesn't work that great. Smoked or roasted shoulder that's been pulled is the standard, but can often come out in chunks as you're eating.

But a rillettes-style preparation? Perfect. The flavor is great, but you also get something like a porky version of the tuna melt. Some of the fat renders back out into the bread and helps with crisping, while it slices neatly and makes for easy eating. If I were having to make a lot of these on a regular basis I'd be making Caribbean-spiced rillettes all the time.

I've packed away most of my rillettes de porc mexicaine in the freezer, knowing that in a month or so I'll want to mix some with chopped dates and almonds to serve on toast points.


Allen said...

No such thing as bad pork, just some better than others.

Benito said...


I've had a few burned pork chops and one Scout trip featured undercooked bargain basement sausage, but for the most part I agree with you.

This pork was incredible, just not what I'd originally planned.


fredric koeppel said...

have mercy, that sandwich sounds fabulous...

Benito said...


Already thinking about a similar version with duck rillettes, ciabatta, and prosciutto...