Monday, August 15, 2011

A little bite of Paris

Among the many foods I fell in love with in Paris was one rather simple dish that seemed omnipresent on every menu: rillettes. Sometimes it was salmon rillettes, sometimes tuna. I'm sure there are infinite varieties. All I know is, I ordered them as my first course at least twice (salmon here) and tuna here) and loved them in both places.

Rillettes are a creamy spread...made with meat. (This may either delight or appall you--you know which camp I'm in.) Historically, rillettes were made with goose or duck. Now, fish rillettes seem popular on Paris menus, at least in my extremely limited experience. Basically, you mix up the fish with some herbs and something to make it creamy, pack it into a bowl, chill it, then serve it with bread or crackers, or wrapped in impossibly thin cucumber slices, if you happen to be eating at Le Petit Bofinger. 

I forgot about rillettes until the other day when my copy of Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table arrived in the mail. This book has quickly catapulted to the top, or at least near the top, of my list of favorite cookbooks. For one thing, I want to make every single recipe. For another, the pictures are stunning. And third--well, this maybe should be number one--it's extremely well written. Dorie has a great voice, but more than that, she writes in a way that makes you want to read each word.  She also has all sorts of nice touches--how you might want to serve a dish, or little twists in a section she calls Bonne Idee ("good idea").

The first thing I decided to make from this tome was sardine rillettes. Yeah, sardines. If you don't like them, what can I say? If you do, jump in and give this a try. It took about 10 minutes to throw together (less if you didn't fillet the little guys, which I did myself) two hours to chill, and before I knew it, the husband and I were diving in. It was fantastic.

What to serve it with? Dorie says bread or crackers are fine, or, if you dare--Pringles! (How can you not love this woman?) I chose Triscuits, which I have to say, made the perfect crunchy vehicle for this mouthful of fishy, French goodness.

Sardine Rillettes

Two 3-3/4 oz. cans sardines packed in olive oil, drained
2 1/2 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
2 shallots or 1 small onion, minced, rinsed, and patted dry
1-2 scallions, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon or to taste
2-3 T. minced fresh herbs, such as chives, cilantro, parsley, and/or dill
Pinch of piment d'Espelette or cayenne
Salt and pepper

If you've chosen sardines that have not been boned, use a paring knife to cut them open down the belly and back and separate the fish into two fillets. Lift away the bones and, if there is a little bit of tail still attached to the fish, cut it off.

Put the cream cheese in a medium bowl, and, using a rubber spatula, work it until it is smooth. Add everything else except the sardines--holding back some of the lime or lemon juice until the rillettes are blended--and mix with the spatula. Add the sardines to the bowl, switch to a fork, and mash and stir the sardines into the mixture. Taste for seasoning, add more juice, salt, and pepper if you'd like.

Scrape the rillettes into a bowl and cover, pressing a piece of plastic wrap against the surface. Chill for at least 2 hours, or for as long as overnight.


  1. I've mostly seen rillettes on menus here as duck or chicken bones or something that typically made me think it's just pate. I never knew they could be done with fish. I love sardines because they're healthy for you and cheap, so I'm going to give this a try!

  2. I made this exact same Dorie recipe twice over the winter for two holiday parties. It was a big hit at each one, too. ;)

  3. This is definitely a different interpretation of rillettes from what I've seen, i.e., braised meat chilled with grease in a small jar (and then heated).
    Not that there's anything wrong with that! Sounds good.

  4. Ben: I know, I love that sardines are both delicious and healthy--what little treasures!

    CJ: It would be great for a party!

    cookie: That version sounds good too.

  5. I love the picture of you looking Parisian with your pretty scarf. Not sure I'll be making rillettes, because creamy meats/fish make me uneasy, but if they were made for me... who knows!

  6. i think the only thing that ever comes to mind for me when someone mentions sardines is the movie 'the 'burbs' with tom hanks. he and his buddies literally choke them down. good times. :)

  7. Nice! The chef did a little side recipe of rillette with leftover salmon the other day. He just mixed salmon trimmings with butter and herbs and then rolled it into a log. Quite simple!

  8. ash: aw, thanks! Pretty much wore that outfit every other day of the trip... :)

    grace: Sardines do get a bad rap, but I find them delicious.

    Jessica: Sounds simple and perfect!

  9. We had a great salmon rillette up in Napa. So yum with a sparkling wine. I'm coming around to sardines. Finally joining the party.

  10. The first rilletes I ever tasted were rabbit. So, so good. Never tried a fish version though, will definitely give it a go. Do you know I looked at that pic of you and the hubby for ages before I worked out he was holding a camera? I thought he was tracing the image with his finger and couldn't understand why!

  11. ALY: Sounds like a perfect combination (what doesn't go with sparkling wine?)

    shaz: Wow, rabbit. I'm sure I'd like that quite a bit. That's funny about the picture!

  12. You know, I'm not a huge sardine fan, but I bet I'd like them in this preparation. Dorie's book has been on my wishlist for a long time now - still waiting for her to do a booksigning in Paris! But thanks for the recipe. We have a couple of tins of mackerel in the pantry that we inherited from a neighbor who was moving away. (He also gave us a deep-fryer, so I can't really complain.) Now I know what to do with them!

  13. I have Dorie's cookbook too. What I like, is that she explains everything and assumes nothing. My kind of chef for the masses.

    I am loving the idea of a rillette. I think the duck or goose would do it for me. I have no doubt that this was delicious.


  14. velva: you are right--that is exactly how Dorie is! And I would love duck or goose rillettes--maybe that's next...