Category: Mousse•Pate•Terrine

Cretons

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Being more retired than not affords me the time to concentrate on what I enjoy most, food and wine! Today was no exception, having spent a few hours in the kitchen preparing a dish that has a long traditional culinary history, passed down from grandmothers to the next generation, who will undoubtedly pass it down again to people like me interested in keeping the culinary history alive, whether it’s traditional or modern with nuanced variations.

The dish I am speaking of is Cretons, know also as gorton or corton. It is the quintessential Québécois delicacy served throughout the province as well as in some of the neighboring states, such as Maine. It is central to French-Canadian cuisine, has been compared to scrapple, but is comprised of better cuts of pork than the traditional scrapple preparations, and has been likened to the French pork rillettes, with a more crumbly texture.

What piqued my interest was feedback I received from my friend Marc after he read the piece I wrote about rillettes. As it turns out, Marc is one of those enthusiasts who keeps the traditions alive by preparing a creton recipe he learned from his grandmother many years ago. It has become a pantry staple for him and he enjoys eating it on toasted bread for breakfast—which, I discovered when researching the subject, is not an unusual practice.

In researching cretons, I started with my personal culinary library but did not come up with any references. Navigating around the Internet I found, not surprisingly, that there are almost as many approaches to the dish as there are French-Canadian families or chefs who prepare it. I finally settled on a recipe adapted by Chef de Cuisine Nate Nadeau of the restaurant Fore Street in Portland Maine, and a recipe shared by Michel Careau of the Canadian restaurant Le Ferme Enchantée, which was an adaptation of one passed down from his aunt Marie, published in the December 2000 issue of Saveur magazine.

Adapting each of the recipes I chose and keeping within the common threads found in all the recipes I read, here is my take on this rustic potted pork pate.

Ingredients
1-3/4 lb pork shoulder, pork butt, or Boston butt, coarsely ground
1/2 lb veal shoulder, coarsely ground
1/2 lb salt pork, skin removed, finely chopped (salt pork is salt-cured pork belly)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 large bay leaves (optional)
1 cup whole milk (or Half & Half)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, clove, allspice (or more to taste)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (optional)
Black pepper to taste

Note: In this recipe I did not use the bay leaves, and did use Half & Half and the bread crumbs.

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Method
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, render the salt pork, stirring periodically until it is cooked down and browning, approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Keep warm.

In a large stockpot with a heavy bottom, or a Dutch oven, add the ground meat over medium heat, and mix with a wooden spoon, breaking it up to allow for the fat to begin to render and the meat to begin to brown.  Stir and turn over occasionally, and after about 30 minutes add the onions and the liquids mixing to combine. Raise the heat, allowing the mixture to gently boil, and stir to keep the bottom from sticking.

Once the liquid appears to be reduced by half, add the garlic, the spices, the bread crumbs, and sprinkle with the black pepper, again mixing and turning over to combine. Next, add the rendered fat from the salt pork. Note: In this step I ran the remaining solids from the rendered salt pork in the food processor to make them smaller and more pastelike before I added them to the pot. Once again, stir to combine.

If you use the bay leaves, remove them from the pot and then let the cooked mixture cool before transferring it to containers for storage and later serving. Any liquid remaining in the pot should be spooned over the top of each container.

The flavor improves over a couple of days and it is best to serve at room temperature. It will keep for two weeks refrigerated and indefinitely if frozen.

Besides enjoyed as an accompaniment to breakfast, like rillettes, cretons pair well with sweet and savory accompaniments, various pickled vegetables, or simply Dijon mustard as part of an overall charcuterie offering.

Keep the tradition going and make a batch of this rustic pork pate. As an option, instead of placing the finished cretons in ramekins or small crocks, transfer the mixture to a small loaf pan lined with clear plastic wrap. Top the cretons with the remaining pan liquid and place another piece of clear plastic wrap directly on top. Refrigerate overnight, allow to return to room temperature before serving, remove the clear wrap cover, turn out the now formed loaf onto a platter or board and slice into individual serving portions.

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I would enjoy hearing how your interpretation of this dish turns out and what accompaniments you served with it. Don’t forget a glass or two of pinot noir!

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Pork Rillettes

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If you are like me and enjoy exploring the many variations available today with charcuterie boards, salumi, pates, and terrines, along with all the accompaniments, then I believe you will enjoy a well-made pork rillette. The mark of a good rillette is a coarse-textured, but soft and smooth spread.

Rillettes are a coarse, spreadable version of a pate, commonly prepared from pork, but other meats (chicken, duck, game birds, rabbit) and some seafood such as salmon have been transformed into delicious rillettes.

Traditionally, the French prepared rillettes using pork belly or pork shoulder. In the United States, the pork shoulder is known as pork butt, or Boston butt, and is cut from the blade shoulder section behind the pig’s head. The Boston butt is the common cut used to prepare pulled pork, the Southern barbecue staple. So it could be argued that rillettes are the French take on pulled pork without all the sauce.

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Essentially, the meat is cubed, salted/spiced, braised slowly in pork fat over a low heat until meltingly tender, shredded using two forks, and blended with the braising fat to form the rustic paste.

Here is a variation of pork rillettes you might want to try.

Ingredients
1 lb pork lard
3 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, cut in thirds
6 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 4 to 5 lb boneless pork shoulder (sometimes called Boston butt)
Salt and pepper
Bay-fennel seed-rosemary powder
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 to 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 to 4 bay leaves
6 to 8 parsley stems
1 cup dry white wine or white vermouth
1 quart stock (chicken, vegetable, parmesan, or water)
Grated nutmeg to finish

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A Quick Word about Lard
It was Grandma’s go-to shortening and was out of favor for various reasons, but it’s making a comeback. There has been a lot written recently about lard’s resurgence in the culinary community, so if you are interested in learning more, take a minute to read Peter Well’s piece “Lard: The New Health Food?” published in Food&Wine, which, although slightly dated, is an extensive look at the ingredient. http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/lard-the-new-health-food

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Method
Lightly crush the mustard and coriander seeds using a mortar and pestle.

Assemble a large bouquet garni by tying together the fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs, parsley stems, bay leaves, and crushed seeds and wrapping them in a large dark green leek top leaf, and then cheesecloth to keep the seeds in place. Set aside.

Cut the pork into large cubes and place in a work bowl. Liberally season with the salt and pepper plus the bay-fennel seed-rosemary powder, turning the pork pieces to coat evenly, then set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, melt the lard over medium heat.

Add the onions, celery, garlic, and bouquet garni, cooking and stirring until the onions begin to soften and turn translucent.

Add the pork to the pot, mixing to evenly distribute and cover with the oil and vegetable mix. Pour the wine and stock over, raise the heat, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and slowly cook for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Test the meat after 2-1/2 hours of slow cooking, it should be meltingly soft. Remove the lid and continue cooking for another 30 minutes.

Remove the bouquet garni and celery pieces. Carefully remove the cooked pork and place in a large work bowl to cool. It is okay if some of the onion mixture is included as well.

Raise the cooking temperature and cook down the remaining liquid by half. The objective is to get as much of the wine/stock mix boiled off, leaving behind the melted lard and onion mix. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Using two forks, break apart the braised pork so that it resembles a richer, smoother take on pulled pork. Taste to check for seasoning, add the nutmeg, and correct the seasoning as necessary. Since this will be served at room temperature, you want the seasoning to be pronounced. Add several tablespoons of the cooled braising liquid and continue to mix to combine.

The rillettes are now ready to store in jars or crocks topped by some of the braising liquid to seal. Sealed in this way they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months or in the freezer indefinitely.

When serving, bring back to room temperature. Spread on toasted bread and pair with various pickled vegetables, a savory fruit marmalade, a spicy mostarda, or simply Dijon mustard. Matching the rillette with complementary accompaniments is the fun part, so I will leave that to your palates. I would enjoy learning what combination(s) you finally chose. Enjoy!

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