Charcutepalooza: “Rillettes de Bambi et Thumper”

It’s been a while, folks. And this post is coming from a new kitchen. Yes, I moved, and I am finally in my very own apartment – hopefully for a while. My first real venture in this kitchen was, fittingly, a Charcutepalooza challenge. Specifically, the October “stretching” challenge. I’m still getting used to my new cooking space (and I don’t have a real table yet), so I tried a personal take on rillettes, rather than going for a gallantine or some such. I also managed to leave my copy of the Charcutepalooza Bible at my dad’s house; thus, this recipe is cobbled together from sheer know-how. And the internet. I call the final product – a venison-hare potted meat – “Rillettes de Bambi et Thumper.” Yep. What can I say, I’m a sick puppy; doesn’t change the fact this is awesomely gamey and delicious.

As I mentioned above, this perversion of Disney took place in my new kitchen. Yep. My very own new kitchen. This kitchen is in a fourth floor walkup in Brooklyn – I’ve had good roommates in the past, but I’ve gotta say – not even four flights of steps can lessen the pleasure of making weird meats without getting weird looks. Here’s my new laboratory – by New York standards, it’s pretty palatial. It’s got a ton of room at the end where I stood to take this picture; I ordered a breakfast nook set so people can hang out with me while I’m cooking.

Because I was working without Ruhlman, I had to find another recipe to use as a springing-off point. I chose this one from English paper The Independent. This recipe provided the backbone for mine – most of the technique and spices. I also took some tips, however, from Emeril and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. In the end, though, I started with a rabbit.

Remind me, next time I use one of these suckers, to just roast it; de-boning rabbits gets pretty nutty, because they have a lot of sinew and tiny bones. It was much easier to tackle the next recipe step: rendering bacon. And dumping that fat, along with duck fat, into a pot with meat and spices.

This got cooked up over very low heat for many hours. It turned into falling-apart meat in fat soup. So, so awesome.

I prepared jars…and took gratuitous photographs because my new kitchen is south-facing and has awesome light.

The meat got pulsed a few times in a food processor to shred it (great trick, Emeril).

In the meantime, I set the cooking liquid aside to let the fat float to the top.

Because I didn’t particularly want to binge on rillettes at that moment, I packed my meat into the sterilized jars, pushing out air bubbles.

To seal the meat from the air, I poured a layer of the reserved fat over it. Refrigeration causes the fat to congeal and form a nice, airtight cover. It also mixes in nicely to make the rillettes more spreadable when served. I opened a container this morning to photograph and test things out.

Mmmm, fat. I cannot wait to serve these next week at my housewarming. A chef friend is supposedly bringing the wood-fired sourdough he’s been working on all summer; I think it will pair well with country-style charcuterie.

Rabbit-Venison Rillettes (Makes 5 half-pint jars)

1 2-lb. rabbit
1 lb. chopped venison
6 oz. bacon, chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1/2 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. sea salt
2 bay leaves
1/2 tbsp. whole fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. chopped dried rosemary leaves
7 oz. duck fat

1. Remove the rabbit meat from the bone, chopping it into pieces about 1-inch across. Place it with the venison pieces in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
2. Place the bacon in a pan over medium-low heat and cook it, avoiding sizzling, until several tablespoons of fat have been rendered. Add this fat to the rabbit and venison, and discard the leftover bacon (or do awesome things with it).
3. Add the remaining ingredients, plus 1/2 cup water, to the cooking vessel.
4. If using a Dutch oven, heat the oven to 300 degrees F, cover the casserole pan, and set it to cook. If using a stovetop pan, bring the cooking liquid to a simmer between 190 and 200 degrees F. Cover the pot, lower the heat slightly, and re-measure and readjust the temperature after about 5 minutes before continuing to the next step.
5. Cook the meat for 3 to 3 1/2 hours, until it falls apart when prodded with a metal fork. Remove the bay leaves and discard them. Fish the remaining bits (meat and garlic) out of the melted fat with a slotted spoon, and place them in a food processor. Pour the leftover fat and cooking liquid into a large, heat-proof measuring cup with a pouring spout and set it aside.
6. Pulse the meat in the food processor about 5 times, just until shredded. It should come apart very easily, and should shred without reaching a pureed state.
7. Spoon the shredded meat into sterilized half-pint jars, and use the back of your spoon to press out any air bubbles.
8. At this point, most of the fat should have risen to the top of the measuring cup of cooking liquid. Pour enough of this fat over the potted rillettes to cover the meat – about 1/4 inch. Cover and refrigerate for storage. Serve at room temperature with crust bread for maximum deliciousness.