I love living in Spain, the sun, the people and of course the fantastic food. In fact in my book, it is one of the best countries in the world for food. I live in the north of Spain, not that far from the French border. If there is one country in the world that could possibly push Spain into second place, it would be France. I am therefore ideally placed to sample the culinary skills of two of the finest exponents of the art. There is however one part of France that holds a special place in my heart, or should I say stomach, and that is the Périgord region.
I have visited Provence a couple of times, I have travelled through France a few times too, particularly up around Bordeaux and the western coast, I even worked in the centre of Paris for a couple of years. I am sure there are many culinary delights still waiting to be discovered, but so far Périgord is my preferred corner of France. I could possibly name half a dozen excellent restaurants in Paris, but many a lowly cafe, lost in some village somewhere, has also managed to delight my palate. French restaurateurs take the food they prepare very seriously, whether they run a famous Michelin star restaurant or own a small village café.
(And if further evidence were required about the importance of food to the French, then the very existence of the Michelin Guide is proof indeed. First published in France in 1900, it is the go-to guide to discover the best eateries and the gaining, or indeed losing, of one of their prestigious positive stars can make or break a restaurant)
As the Périgord region is in the south of France, it has the benefits of the warmer sun inherent in the more southernly regions, whilst still having enough rainfall to allow for beautiful rich, green fields, hills and woods. This rainfall not only ensures the beauty of the Périgord but also ensures good growing conditions for local crops. These delicious vegetables and fruit are transformed by the restaurants of the area into traditional seasonal dishes and meals. Indirectly of course they ensure a better feed to the local livestock that again provide the local chefs with fine cheese and meat products. A veritable heaven for those who love their food.
Dropping the topic of food, although only momentarily, the region also has some fine monuments. Some are hidden away amongst all the lovely greenery I mentioned earlier, some though stand, jutting out majestically from some highland or cliff. I have always preferred undulations in the terrain. Sorry, but large flat plains hold little interest for me. In this part of France there are plenty of hills interspersed with green pastures that can be found around the many rivers that wind their way through the region.
Although traditionally more of a northern French dish, I wanted to share with you today the rilette, a coarse pâté-like dish normally eaten with bread or toast. Unlike a true pâté it contains no liver and it can be made with many different meats or indeed fish. I have chosen the traditional way with belly pork. It is amazing to me how the French can they take something as simple as belly pork and turn it into a veritable delicacy, with just the addition of a few other basic ingredients.
Although some of the fats and a portion of the cooking liquids are poured back over the meat to moisten the finished product, much of the fat from the belly pork is in fact removed during the preparation of the rilette, so the finished dish contains less fat than many other ways of serving belly pork.
I enjoy cooking in winter on the wood fired stove we have. Apart from it heating the room nicely, I find it suits many of the dishes that I make at this time of year. The wood fired stove is perfect for the long cooking times that many of the stews or bean dishes I make require. These dishes do not normally require a high heat, but they do require quite some time in the oven or on the stove top, whilst the heat renders down the fat and tenderises the meat. As I have mentioned in the past, I collected local discard wood to fire the stove which means I also cook for free, even more important with long cooking times!
The rilette needs quite a long cooking time too, so whilst I have a stew on the top of the stove I have a rilette in the oven. This dish is very easy to prepare and is very low maintenance, just a quick stir every hour or so whilst it is slowly cooking away:
500g Belly pork (Skin removed)
50ml White wine vinegar
2 Bay leaves
2 Garlic cloves
½ tsp Salt
Chop the pork into 2 inch pieces. Put all ingredients into a deep oven dish. You should look for one that is not too large, one that just holds the ingredients.
Grate a good quantity of nutmeg on top then cover.
Bake for 4 hours at 120ºC.
Stir every hour or so to ensure even cooking. Add a little water as required, the meat should not be left to dry out.
Strain off the liquid and reserve.
Remove the fat from the meat. Shred the pork, discarding the fat.
Put the meat into a ramekin disk pressing down slightly.
Pour over enough reserved liquid to moisten and just cover.
So a nice easy recipe this week that is perfect when served on some good crusty bread or toast with a good, strong red wine to wash it down….. Enjoy!
The suggested links this week are both for French recipes. If you want to try a warming hearty soup, then have a look at my Garbure recipe, just click here:
And if you want to try something sweet to finish off a meal, or something to munch with a warming cup of tea, then try the traditional Palets Bretons. To see my recipe just click here:
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
1 inch – 25mm
2017 Lincoln W. Betteridge