Behold. In this pot, you see magic about to happen. Cubes of pork belly, seasoned with salt, black peppercorns, celery seed, quatre épices, thyme, and crushed garlic. Cover with water, put the pot in a 275 degree Fahrenheit oven, and wait six hours.
Rillettes (translated as "plank", thought to refer to how it looks like a weathered wooden plank when spread on a slice of toast) are slow-cooked, essentially poached meats shredded and preserved in their own fat. Think of a pulled pork barbecue sandwich. Now take away all the sickly sweet barbecue sauce, swap herbs for spices, and you’ve got something pretty close to rillettes. The flavor is clean, honest; sweet piggy goodness.
Once the pork slow cooks, and the pork fat melts off, the meat cools slightly and is shredded by hand. Add back in a bit of the liquid pork fat until it’s moist and almost fluffy, pack into jars, and cover with about an inch of pork fat to preserve. This is the hardest part: Let it sit for a day or three for the flavors to develop. It’ll keep for at least ten days, longer with the fat layer to protect it. Serve cold or room temperature, on toast, with a bit of mustard or a cornichon.
The only picture I have of this is the pork belly before it goes into the oven. The shredding part is like magic, handfuls of warm, glistening pork falling apart into pure goodness. (It also makes holding a phone camera impossible.) Go ahead. Sneak a bite. Nobody’s looking. It whispers to you, calling you, seducing you with its rich goodness. This isn’t diet food. This is ancient food, simple food, something pure.
I can’t do this more justice in words. Instead, I was reminded of this passage from Moby Dick, so I’ll let Herman Melville say it better than I can:
As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, wove almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as. I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma,- literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger; while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or malice, of any sort whatsoever.
Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,- Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter 94
Okay, so he’s talking about whale sperm, not pork belly, but it still applies.