Repurpose Leftover Meat Like a Chef

This cooking technique turn roasts and braises into savory, delicious rillettes for snacking.

Turn Leftover Roast or Braises into Rillettes

Anna Pekunova / Getty Images

We’ve all been there: You spent hours meticulously browning and roasting a piece of meat, and have a container of leftovers ready for the fridge. Now you have to figure out what to do with the leftovers. Reheating meat can be tricky — it’s easy to overcook the meat and make it tough the second time around, and eating it cold isn’t always the best experience. When faced with what to do with leftover roasts and braises, we turn to this editor and chef-approved trick: Turn leftover meat into rillettes. 

What are rillettes? 

Rillettes are a creamy, savory, and delicious spread made of small pieces of meat that have been cooked in fat until soft and tender and packed under a layer of fat. Often served cold or at room temperature, the shreds of tender meat cook down to become spreadable, and are served on a cracker or toast. A classic brasserie appetizer and a wine bar favorite, rillettes are a great start to a meal or an excellent snack-for-dinner dining experience. Traditionally, rillettes are made of pork but duck, beef, salmon, and even tuna can make excellent variations. 

How are rillettes made? 

Rillettes get their silky texture from confit, a cooking technique in which meat or seafood is cooked slowly in fat. Low and slow is the name of the game, so temperature regulation is key to the confit. The oil is heated gently, to around 200°F, so it is warm enough to break down tough protein chains in the meat, but cool enough to keep it from frying and drying out. Confit can be made with added fat, like a duck confit which uses additional duck fat for simmering, or cooked in existing fat within the meat, like carnitas. This cooking method helps preserve the ingredient, but salt is also key to safe preservation. Salt helps prevent bacteria growth by pulling out moisture from the meat, which evaporates during cooking and creating an inhospitable environment for bacteria. Rillettes are made by confiting cubes of meat like pork or duck alongside herbs, aromatics, and any preferred seasoning. The meat becomes tender and soft, and once it cools slightly, is packed into small containers and covered with a thin layer of melted fat, which helps preserve the rillettes for storage in the refrigerator. 

How to make rillettes from leftover roast meat

The ends of a roast or braise can be touch or chewy, but with a few hours of confit cooking, they transform into soft and delicious rillettes. Slice up your leftover cooked meat, add it to a pot of melted fat or olive oil, and cook it slowly over low heat for two to three hours, until it is tender and near falling apart. Once the meat is fork-tender, shred it by hand, or in a stand mixer with the paddle on low. Store rillettes in an airtight container in the refrigerator topped with a thin layer of the melted fat. We love this technique as an excellent way to repurpose leftovers that might otherwise go to waste. And since the leftover meat has already been browned and seasoned, it adds another layer of savory flavor to traditional rillettes. 

How long do rillettes last?

Because rillettes were invented as a meat preservation system — before the time of refrigeration, that is — they are built to last. The high volume of fat makes it an unwelcome environment for bacteria and adding enough salt helps preserve the meat as well. If you’re hoping to serve rillettes right after cooking the meat, make sure to budget at least two hours for the rillettes to set in the fridge before serving. Rillettes will last in the fridge for up to a month, or pop them in the freezer to store them for up to six months (defrost them in the refrigerator overnight). Just take them out a few hours in advance of eating and you have a savory snack ready to go.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles