Making charcuterie is all the rage among restaurant chefs, but with the exception of a few hardy adventurers, the urge to cure hams and sausages hasn't yet quite caught on with home cooks.
That's understandable. It's not something you can just up and decide you want to try. There's what an economist would call a high barrier to entry — you need to have a temperature- and humidity-controlled space to hang the meat, special equipment and ingredients, and the patience to wait weeks and even months before you can taste it.
But the curious cook does have alternatives. Terrines and rillettes can be made in a few hours with what you already have on hand or can find at your corner grocery. And though they do improve after a day or two of sitting, they really only need an overnight rest before they're ready to eat.
With seemingly endless rounds of holiday entertaining coming up, wouldn't it be reassuring to have a big slab of something wonderful you could slice off as the situation arises?
Probably the simplest of these to make is basic pork rillettes, a kind of potted meat preserved in its own fat. It's hard to improve on the recipe Elizabeth David published more than 50 years ago: Cube a couple of pounds of pork belly and cook it with garlic and spices low and slow until the meat is so tender you can smash it between your fingers. Strain the meat from the fat, keeping the fat. Shred the meat into fine bits, pack it into earthenware pots and pour the fat over top. That's it.
There are all kinds of twists you can play on this basic technique, varying the flavorings. Paging through "In the Charcuterie," the gorgeous new butchering book by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller of San Francisco's Fatted Calf, I spied a recipe for ciccioli, a kind of spicy rillettes, flavored with lots of garlic and dried chile flakes.
Unfortunately, it had its own barrier to entry: 12 cups of good-quality lard, a bit of a trick to find unless you happen to work at Fatted Calf.
But I remembered a recipe from "Cooking by Hand," the lyrical cookbook by Paul Bertolli, the former Chez Panisse and Olivetto chef and current owner of Fra'Mani charcuterie. He made a very subtle ciccioli — no chile, lots of herbs — and instead of binding it with fat, he used a jellied pork stock.
Combining the two ideas made what I guess you could call a spiced terrine. It's actually not unlike a headcheese, except it's made from pork butt, which poses obvious difficulties in adapting that name.
Never mind what you call it, it's delicious. With the pork stock, the flavors come through much more clearly, and I didn't even miss that added richness you would get from all of that good pork fat (I know, I can't believe I just typed those words either, but it's the truth).
What's more, it took just an afternoon to make a big batch. Simmer trimmings and a pig's foot for a couple of hours, then use that strained stock to simmer the pork and spices.
Cool and shred the meat, beat in the cooled stock a bit at a time. The meat will gradually absorb the liquid. When you've got a moist, shaggy mass, pour it into a loaf pan, weight it and refrigerate overnight. The next day you can unmold it and serve it in nice clean slices. (You can also simply pack it into crocks.)
Even without the fat, it's still pretty luxurious stuff, delicious spread on grilled bread or even served with just a tart green salad as a light dinner. In fact, it likes tart flavors of all kinds: Cornichons, pickled red onions or shallots would also be great accompaniments.
Just be sure to make enough, so you'll always have something you can pull out of the fridge when last-minute guests drop by.