As we all know, if we’ve been paying attention in science class, it was Louis Pasteur who proved that food spoils due to bacteria from outside (rather than spontaneously sprouting bacteria). And he proved it so elegantly – a sterilised flask of broth, isolated from the outside by a swan-necked tube. Bacteria can’t get in – therefore the broth stays fresh.
It’s a very fitting experiment for a Frenchman, too, because French cuisine has been utilising this technique of preservation for centuries. Their tradition of meat-based wizardry, as practiced in the charcuterie, relies on this method for some of France’s most famous dishes, submerging meat in fat that then forms a solid seal against bacteria. Confit de canard is one such dish, and so are rillettes.
They’re basically the French cousins of pulled pork – the same dry-heat low-and-slow process, teasing pork into flavourful fibres, but with an added dose of smoothness in the use of lard. And it’s easy to make too.
To make this recipe I’ve used an oven, but you can probably do it over low heat on a stove as well – experiment and tell me how it goes!
Pork shoulder 1kg
Pork fat (solid) 500g
Parsley 3 full stalks (with roots)
Spring Onions 3 full stalks
Chilli Padi 2
Garlic 4 cloves
White wine 250ml
Seasonings (to taste)
Take a big pot (cast iron is probably best; just make sure it’s oven-safe). Cut pork fat into slices and pork shoulder into roughly 2cm cubes, and put in the pork, laying out evenly.
Add all the seasonings (use fresh thyme and rosemary if possible, but dried works too), then add the parsley, spring onions, garlic and chilli padi. If you want a bit more heat, slice the chillies open lengthwise. The pour the white wine in.
Once the assembly is complete, cover the pot and place into the oven at 160 C for three hours.
Once done, take out the pot. There should be quite a bit of rendered lard at the bottom – this is important.
Take out the pork shoulder chunks and put into a bowl, then mash it up with two forks, your hands if you’re a barbarian, or a mixer with a paddle if you’re atas. Add a little of the fat – the final meat mixture should glisten and feel moist.
Now take a clean jar (sterilise it first!) and pack the meat tightly into it. Try not to have too much air inside. Then pour the melted lard onto the meat until it forms a layer on top. Make sure you get that layer – the whole point is for the lard to seal the meat and protect it.
Once the mixture is cooled, store it in the fridge; it should keep for up to two weeks. When serving, let it sit for half an hour to warm and soften a little, then serve with toasted baguette slices, butter, a little mustard and pickles. (Cornichons are customary.)
Note: if you run out of fat to seal the meat with, just eat the leftover pork any way you choose. We used it as a topping for rice – sure, the French might be horrified, but it’s good. And that’s what matters.