I’ve just been away to France, to my favourite region, the Aveyron,
nosing around properties. We’re looking to get ourselves a little bolt-hole there once more.
Regular readers will know the passion I have for this part of the country – it’s a spectacularly beautiful region, unspoilt and quiet, and the people are utterly charming.
The food is quite wonderful too, from the cured hams to the famous Aubrac beef and veal, and encompassing at least a dozen of France’s most celebrated cheeses (Laguiole, Roquefort, Fourme d’Ambert and Saint Nectaire, to mention a few).
The rich soil provides the Aveyronnais with wonderful conditions for vegetable-growing, and they’re almost unique within France in their love for all things green and crunchy.
The historical French snubbing of vegetables as being somehow peasant-y or, shamefully, only suitable for animal feed, is, thankfully, ignored in the central regions of Cantal and Auvergne.
Here, they worship the variety and flavour of all things vegetal. On every market stall, huge stems of chard tower above a vast range of squash and melons.
Bouquets of herbs sprout from between boxes of leeks and salsify. Carrots, deeply happy in the rich, sandy soil, grow thick and sweet, and courgettes are firm and sweetly crunchy.
Even last week, we saw tomatoes just starting to ripen as they grew out in the open air. And, visiting the greengrocers in Laguiole, our nearest market town, I happened upon a big basket of beautiful-looking tiger-striped green tomatoes.
A light squeeze told me they were as ripe as can be, and they smelled incredible. Well, you don’t get this opportunity that often, so I bought a big bag and headed for the local hardware store. I picked up a couple of preserving jars and headed back to our little holiday gîte kitchen and got to work making green tomato jam.
It’s a terrific preserve to have around if you’re blessed with a surfeit of soft green tomatoes, and I thought it would be great with another of my French essentials, rillettes. Usually made with slow-cooked goose or pork, rillettes is a shredded meat paste, a bit like our own potted meat, often bound with duck or goose fat and seasoned.
It’s great on toast or crackers, melting in the mouth and hugely meaty. One of my supermarket must-haves is the roast chicken version, which adds even more flavour by double-cooking the meat.
I knew I had to make my own version for you, so we can enjoy it with that sharp tomato jam. And there’s this week’s recipe; just add a little salad, or some crunchy fat radishes, and you have a wonderful French country lunch, perfect for enjoying as the temperatures soar and there’s the ever-so-tentative prospect of…wait for it…alfresco dining.
Fingers crossed. This is a great way of using up leftover roast chicken, though you can roast a few chicken legs if you want to make the dish from scratch.
For the rillettes:
400g roast chicken leftovers (breast and leg)
1 large banana shallot or small onion
3 stems tarragon
A splash of Noilly Prat (or white wine)
250ml strong chicken stock
Maldon salt & freshly-ground black pepper
200g duck fat
For the green tomato jam:
450g green tomatoes
220g granulated sugar
2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp Maldon salt
The grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
A suitable jar for the jam
First, make the jam; remove the hard upper core from the green tomatoes and cut the flesh into dice. Mix with the sugar in a non-reactive bowl and refrigerate overnight to draw out the juice. The next day, combine the tomato mixture and the remaining ingredients in a large stainless saucepan. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently over low heat for about an hour, stirring frequently, until the mixture is translucent and nicely thickened. Decant into the sterilised jar, seal and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before using.
To make the rillettes, shred the chicken flesh in a large bowl, using two forks, until it’s all in very fine filaments. Chop the tarragon roughly. In a small saucepan, gently heat the Noilly Prat with the tarragon, then remove from the heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes before straining into a small jug.
Peel the shallot and chop into very small dice. Melt the duck fat in a pan and sweat the shallot very gently until soft and translucent.
Add to the shredded chicken and tip in the strained vermouth. Using the forks, work the fat and liquid into the chicken flesh until the mixture is smooth. Add a little stock and keep working the mixture. Adding more stock if necessary, keep working the mixture until it takes on a smooth but quite sloppy consistency – a bit like cold rice pudding. It’s ready. Season well and decant into a suitable tub, or sterilised Kilner jar if you’re saving it for later. It tastes better when brought back to room temperature.
To serve, slice a good sourdough loaf and unwrap some good unsalted butter. Spread the rillettes thickly on buttered bread or toast and add a dollop of the tomato jam.
A little salad and a nice bottle of light red wine is all you need to make a lovely light supper or lunch dish.