The Sis Boom dictionary defines "rillettes" as lovely bits of pork chopped and slowly cooked in its fat for up to several hours. Mmm. Pork Fat. Duck fat is good too so duck rilletes are too. The bits are then shredded and suspended in that very fat before being cooled and spread (like pate) on a cracker or a piece of bread. Or, like I have been known to do, eaten with a spoon. Did I say pork fat? Or was that duck fat?
I had to expand my definition a bit when Salmon Rillettes were first revealed to me over at David's blog. I had never heard of them before but since he made them sound so good I had to try them immediately. Yes, the salmon is cooked for 10 minutes as opposed to the hours its beloved pork cousin can require. And yes, the salmon is 'preserved' in butter as opposed to fish fat. (Thank god!) But, if David calls the dish rillettes because the bits are surrounded by a fat then that is what they are going to be called -- I will just have to adjust my personal definitions in order to accommodate.
I'm sure the salmon variation wasn't his idea anyway, right? Perhaps David just goes with the flow too?
I love salmon so not surprisingly, I loved salmon rillettes! I have made the dish many times since featuring them here, and each time I serve them to appreciative guests I never fail to refer to them as "rillettes" when they invariably ask me what they are eating. I do enjoy observing their puzzled faces while they try to figure out what I had just said. So there is that collateral benefit of momentarily sounding superior to everyone else in the room. I have very smart friends so I have to take these moments when the come.
I can't hear them saying it out loud, but in their heads I know they are asking, "why didn't he just call it salmon spread? Isn't this salmon spread? What's a "ree yette" anyway?
I would have called "spred" but I don't make up the rules for this stuff. The people of France have this one and since they went to the trouble of making up these fancy sounding names for spreads the very least we can do is indulge them. N'est-ce pas?
So just as I am finally getting used to the idea of salmon rillettes I'm being asked to ponder "sardine rillettes". All I can think to say about them is, "meh".
Do you think that perhaps we (meaning The French) are taking this 'rillette' business too far? Is putting something in lots of fat so you can smear it on bread worthy of such a fancy sounding French tag? After all, if you mix Lipton Onion Soup mix with sour cream have you just made Onion Soup Rillettes? I think not. Or maybe you have? Lets ask a Frenchman about that since its their game.
Oh, and I should tell you something lest you think I'm letting any bias into this discussion. I don't question the appropriateness of sardine rillettes because I don't like sardines! The truth is, I love them. L.O.V.E. them.
I will make them into sandwiches. I enjoy them with olive oil or when they are packed in tomato sauce or mustard. In fact, I will eat them right out of the can with my fingers. I even buy them in foreign food shops as souveniers when I am lucky enough to travel to countries where sardines are appreciated.
I would eat them in a boat.
And I would eat them with a goat.
I will eat them in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good, so good, you see!
I will eat them here or there.
I will eat them everywhere.
You get the idea.
So unlike many out there, I am not squeamish about sardines at all. Confession time: I even keep a stash of them in my desk drawer at work for when I need a high protein, high omega 3 fatty acid snack.
Perhaps its my love of "pure" sardines that has left me feeling a bit indifferent about sardine rillettes treatment featured in Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table"? I know scores of Doristas approached this particular French Fridays with Dorie project with some trepidation. Sardinophobia. Lets face it, sardines suffer from lack of a good PR campaign. They carry a lot of reputational baggage and most of it unearned if you ask me. Is it becomes sometimes you can see their faces. "Oh, they remind me of bait!" And this from people I know for a fact have never even fished a day in their lives.
I think many doristas had hoped that by drenching the feared sardine in cream cheese, shallots, and herbs you could make it at least palatable, if not fully enjoyable. I, on the other hand, worried that by the time the flavorful creatures were doused with cream cheese, onions, and herbs the net effect would be a dumbing down of these Mediterranean jewels into a glorified tuna salad.
Sadly, this is just what happens. I won't call it a disaster because, well, I like tuna salad and so I don't mind spreading it on a piece of bread or cracker.
Also, I don't think I could tell any guests of mine that that what they were eating was called 'rillettes' with a straight face while serving it to them. Dorie suggests with a straight face that serving this with a "cornichon sorbet" as a way of upping the ante. Bwah ha ha ha. Sorry, I couldn't keep a straight face with that one either.
You can afford to experiment here as sardines are cheap but for my money I will next make David's sardine pate the next time I wish to get fancy with sardines. Still, I will call it "sardine spread" or "sardine mashed stuff."
I know will still prefer them right out of the can, however. Eaten this way I have never felt that they are "meh".
adapted from Dorie Greenspan "Around My French Table"
- 2 cans sardines packed in olive oil.
- 2/5 ounces light cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
- 2 shallots, minced
- 2 scallions, white and light green parts, minced
- juice of one lemon or two limes (I preferred the batch with lemon)
- 3 tablespoons mixed chopped herbs (I used chives and parsley)
- Dash of cayenne, salt, and pepper
If your sardines are not already boned you will need to bone then with a paring knife and remove the tail. If your sardines came sans tail and bones then you can get straight to business. In a bowl put the cream cheese and whip with a fork until smooth. Add lemon juice and all the other ingredients and mix well. When mixed, add sardines and blend with a fork breaking up meat until desired consistency. Adjust seasoning and put into a bowl or jar and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
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