Years ago, I was invited to a party at someone's house that I didn't know. Not wanting to show up empty handed, I stopped at Whole Foods for some snacks, figuring I'd pick up something tasty from their enormous cheese counter. After chatting with the cheese lady and trying a few samples, I came across these intruiging sweet, sour, spiced, and pickled cherries. The gal had me try them with a creamy, mild blue cheese, and I was hooked. The combination was outrageous - creamy and crisp, salty and sweet, spicy and savory, all contrasting flavors and textures that harmonized beautifully. I picked up a small tub of the cherries, some cheese, and some bread and crackers, and headed off to the party, where they were devoured by the end of the night.
The other weekend, staring at the 3 pounds of sweet and juicy Lapin cherries I'd picked up from the farmer's market, I decided to see if I could create something similar to those spicy-sour-sweet cherries. I'd also been kicking around the idea of making pork rillettes, thinking that those tart-sweet cherries would compliment the creamy, rich pork nicely. I imagined sitting on a large blanket, under the dappled light of a tree, sipping on champagne, listening to birds, spreading pieces of crusty baguette with luscious pork pâté and topping with ruby red pieces of puckery-sweet and spicy cherries. I'd created quiet the afternoon in my mind, so I had to get crackin'.
I'd never made rillettes before, so I went poking around for recipes online. They all called for slow and low cooking, but on the stovetop or in the oven. I didn't want to turn on the oven or otherwise heat the kitchen for 3 -4 hours. Then it hit me - why not use the crock pot? It turned out perfectly, with minimal kitchen heating. And the pork and cherries? A match made in heaven. (Unfortunately, the weather was not heavenly - it was in the 60s and rained all weekend, in August! - so my picnic was indoors. At least the food was good.)
Pork Rillette with Pickled Cherries
1/2 lb red cherries, pittedCut cherries into quarters and set aside.
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1 cinnamon stick, broken
1 Balinese long pepper, broken
1 cup fruity red wine (I used a fruity Malbec)
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 TB sugar
In a medium saucepan, combine lemon, spices, red wine, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Let cool, strain, and pour over cherries. Cover, and refrigerate overnight. Cherries will keep for several days in the fridge.
1 lb pork butt or boneless country ribsCut pork into 1" cubes, and belly or fat into 1/2" cubes. Grind the star anise and long pepper into a powder (a spice grinder would be good, otherwise pound away with a mortar and pestle). Rub the spices and salt all over the pork. Refrigerate overnight.
1/2 lb pork belly or pork fat
1/2 star anise
1 Balinese long pepper
4 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves
1 cup water
2 TB dry sherry
Place into a slower cooker with the garlic, water and sherry, and cook for 3-4 hours on high, or until most of the fat is rendered and the meat is very tender. Let cool for 30 minutes, or until pork is no longer hot, but still a little warm.
Drain pork and reserve liquid. In a large bowl, with two forks, shred the pork until it begins to smooth out. Taste and adjust for seasoning; pork should be on the salty side. Using a ladle, add a couple tablespoons of the fat and broth, and beat into the pork with your fork or a wooden spoon, until pork is lightened a bit and gets creamy. Make sure to reserve some fat for the top of the rillette.
Spoon pork into vessels, leaving at least a 1/4" gap at the top: I used 2 8oz sized ramekins; you could use multiple smaller ramekins, or a loaf pan. Compress the rillettes for 15 minutes: I grabbed another ramekin of the same size, put a couple large cans inside of it, and set it on top of the rillette. Once compressed, skim some fat off the top of the liquid, and pour the fat on top of the pork, until you have a layer about 1/8" thick. Refrigerate until ready to use, at least overnight but up to several days.
When ready to eat, remove what you want and let come to room temp for an hour or two before serving. Serve on baguette slices with spiced pickled cherries. Makes a little over 2 cups.