The original rillettes (potted pork spread) is made from pork meat cooked in fat (confit) for a long period of time before being shredded by hand or machine. The Touraine region of France started this practice in the 15th century, as a way to preserve meat. To this day, it is the only region that benefits from the official protected appellation rillettes de Tours. At the end of the 19th century, the town of Le Mans created its own version, which quickly became extremely popular and set the trend for the dish to become a household staple. As kids growing up in France, rillettes were a picnic and aperitif favourite, we just could not get enough of them.
From the original technique, a great range of interpretations emerged; these days you can find a “rillettes” version of virtually anything: pork, poultry, game, vegetarian rillettes vegetales and fish. Also known as the fishermen’s lunch, mackerel rillettes are very popular in Brittany. I am a huge fan of fish rillettes: tuna, sardine, trout, salmon, herring or cod are all delicious—but mackerel probably wins my heart. When I was a (poor) student in Paris, many years ago, my grocery budget consisted of 50 francs (about $11) a week. Fortunately you could get a lot more with 50 francs back then compared with today’s Euro equivalent. It was actually fairly easy to fit in five dinners within this monetary restriction providing I didn’t deviate too much from my menu planning—which I did not. I ate the same meals, week in and week out, for two years. Tuesday evening was mackerel in mustard sauce with mashed potato. A tin of fish cost about three francs and a packet of dried potato flakes (puree Mousline … every French kid grew up on it) about two francs. Add 50 cents’ worth of milk and 1.5 francs for a chocolate cream, and I was well within budget. It may sound unexpected, but even after consuming around 100 tins of mackerel in mustard sauce in nearly as many weeks, I am still a fan.
Fresh mackerel is rather different; it has a much milder and delicate flavour and texture. Mackerel is a saltwater fish that belongs to the tuna family. It has amazing nutritional value containing high levels of omega 3 and Vitamins D and B, and is a great source of minerals such as selenium, iron and iodine. Needless to say, we really should eat more of it.
This rillettes recipe is fairly atypical compared to most, as it does not include any butter (I know! Shock. Horror.), but uses cream cheese as an alternative. The addition of chorizo sausage is a marriage made in heaven and gives it a Spanish/Mediterranean feel.
Steaming the fish in the Varoma keeps it juicy and flavoursome, and shredding it gently on reverse allows it to retain those nice chunks of flesh that are so important to the finished dish. Eat without moderation; this is a guilt-free treat.