Rillettes is a preparation of meat similar to pâté. Originally made with pork, the meat is cubed or chopped, salted heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded, and then cooled with enough of the fat to form a paste. They are normally used as spread on bread or toast and served cold.
The term rillette, perhaps refers to the final product and its appearance when spread on sliced bread. Rillettes were traditionally made with fatty pork belly or pork shoulder. The meat was cubed, heavily salted, and cured for twelve hours. The meat was then cooked slowly over low flames until very tender. That being done, the flesh was raked into small shreds and blended with the warm cooking fat to form a rustic paste. Rillettes could be stored in crocks for several days. In Anjou, rillaud was a specialty, plated in the shape of a pyramid and topped with the pig's tail; the rillettes were proudly displayed to the guest of honor. In time the rillette cooking style was applied to game birds, wild rabbit, and fish. Eventually several preparations for seafood rillettes were developed including an anchovy, tuna, and salmon version. Though the fish is not actually cooked in the fat, it is blended with fat to form the characteristic paste-spread. The soft, smooth texture is a deciding factor in determining a good rillette dish. Like cassoulet or fondue, this French dish has its many regional definitions. In general most rillettes are served cold, as a spread with toast points, much like a paté. Pork rillettes from the Northwestern regions of Tours and Anjou are famous for their rich texture and bronze color achieved during the cooking process. These rillettes have lovingly been referred to as "brown jam." Rillettes from the adjacent département of La Sarthe are distinguished by a more rustic texture, complete with larger pieces of pork and less color. Health-conscious diners may fail to appreciate the culinary merits of rillettes but some chefs are capable of realizing the potential of this age old technique.
In Quebec, cretons are similar to rillettes.