Sardine Rillettes

French Fridays with Dorie

Sardine Rillettes


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.
N’est-ce pas?

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.

Sardine Rillettes

Sardine Rillettes

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”.

Sardine Rillettes

Sardine Rillettes

Sardine Rillettes

adapted from Dorie Greenspan “Around My French Table”

This is what you will need:

  • 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

This is how you make it:

  1. If your sardines are not already boned you will need to bone then with a paring knife and remove the tail.
  2. If your sardines came sans tail and bones then you can get straight to business.
  3. In a bowl put the cream cheese and whip with a fork until smooth.
  4. Add lemon juice and all the other ingredients and mix well.
  5. 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.

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.

Sardine Rillettes

My desk drawer!  Yes, that is Coffee Mate.  (Shut up!)

About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don't know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]" means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small 'boom' in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a "food blog" or even myself a "food blogger".

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  1. OOooh hahahah you are so funny! Sardines in your desk drawer, how proletariat of you. Now I must try my hand at the rillettes… I love salty little fishes as well. Boomya!

  2. Onion Soup Rillettes sound exponentially more delicious to me than I found the sardine ones to be. Too bad you didn’t enjoy these more. It’s always disappointing when a recipe fails one of your favorite foods.

  3. Omg coffee mate!!!! What’s in your other drawers?? I think you should do a whole “Trevor’s desk drawers” post. Please?
    Like you, I do not fear the sardine, and I agree that a spread by any other name would be just as tasty on a cracker, though I would prefer pork or salmon.

    • Don’t we all have a guilty pleasure? Mine is Coffee Mate which goes with me on business trips as I HATE those little cups of so-called “half and half” with the peel off tops that you KNOW have been sitting in a box for 5 years.

  4. My rillettes preference is duck, sadly, sardines and tuna fish, while tasty do not compare. Such is life when it comes to French Fridays and Coffee Mate!

    • Mmm….duck fat. Mmmffllflfffft.

    • Mmm….duck fat. Duck fat fries. Mmmfflfflflflfffffft. Yes. Well said. You’re good at that! I can tell, and I’ve only known about you for about 5 minutes. Anyway, back to the duck fat. How am I going to get through this evening stuck at home w/the kiddos and no duck fat in sight. Might have to open the bubbly w/the pizza.

  5. Sigh. I love tuna. I love anchovies. I love most things fishy. But sardines – not so much. I guess I haven’t found the right brand of “tuna sardines”. I fear I shall be ever bound to the ranks of culinary riff raff, since I can not cultivate my taste buds to appreciate items such as this.

    Oooohhh, I am with Trix – I want to see what Trevor is stashing in his drawers 😉

  6. I love tuna, too, but no sardines for me! It’s one of my food aversions! Loved your post, Trevor! I love the way you tell a story! Great job! And Yes, I forgot the peas and didn’t realize it until you left your comment! Lol! Have a wonderful weekend!

  7. You are so sophisticated that you make me jealous. I did chocolate cake from a box– then I come here to get shamed by your gorgeously fishy rillettes!

    I’d eat them with a cake
    I’d eat them with a rake
    I’d eat anything you make


  8. Interesting take. I think that most of us like this recipe simply because we were expecting to hate it (I fell into this category). But you are correct, it qualifies as a very good tuna salad, but not really a rillettes. I LOVE a good traditional porc rillette, and this just wasn’t in the same league. But it did give me some ideas for my tuna salad, so I still call it a winner.

  9. I want to hug my fellow sardine enthusiast for loving the fishies straight out of the can. I do the same thing too and seek out the fanciy stuff when traveling abroad. Sigh, sardines do have a big rep. More for us I guess. I remember the first time traveling to Europe my then-BF and I went to Hediard and Fauchon to shop for canned sardines…those that ought to be kept in the cellar! We gave them all away as gifts and it pains me to this day that most were NOT appreciated. >:|

  10. Ha! Ha! What a great post, Trevor. Love your sardine poem and the photos of your sardine spread. My dad used to have stashes like yours and yes, he also loved eating them straight out of the can.

  11. I’m sorry Trev, but I absolutely HATE sardines…can’t stand the smell! However, after reading this post in a very public place and trying desperately to muffle my giggles, you have make sardines and rillette sound so enticing that I may just give it a second chance. If you were in a room full of people, I really can’t imagine you not being the smartest person there! Despite your drawer of sardines AND Coffee Mate… :). Btw, I second Trix & Cher, we’d love to see the inside of your drawers, please.

  12. I’ve never been a lover of sardines but if you’ve got your drawers stuffed with them, perhaps I need to rethink. 🙂

  13. Trevor, This was the best riff (don’t think “musical” here) on sardine rillettes that I have read. There were so many good phrases that I had to go back and read it twice more. And, you’ve shown that I must have new respect for that little guy (are there gal sardines???) Am not touching the “what’s stashed in YOUR drawers today” line but, of course, I could go there. Just baked a pan of Banana Bread Scones with Brown Sugar Glaze (recipe from theKitchn) and am going to pour a cup of coffee, take two warm scones to munch, and sit down to read your back Posts.

  14. I think you’re the first blogger I’ve seen post about his worry that the mixture would “dumb down” the awesomeness of the sardines. Great take!

  15. Ha-yes I think this is like trying to put a caviar spin on sardines! I will never see them as fancy or gourmet. Just like you can put a bow around a pig’s neck but it still is a pig, just better dressed. This was a great read and I will take the salmon rillettes ones over these. Hope you are enjoying the weekend!

  16. I think you should be able to get a job with the Sardine Appreciation Council. (Or maybe you have, and we just don’t know it? If so, good work!) You made the sardines seem almost inviting, but since even you weren’t crazy about the rillettes, I feel no guilt at giving that recipe a miss.

  17. Too funny! Sorry that the sardine rillettes were only “meh” for you. It is awesome that you buy them as souveniers!

  18. If I had a desk at an office, I’d keep a drawer full of sardine tins, too…I love them plain, but I enjoyed the rillettes, too. I have the feeling I’d love a salmon version just as much~

  19. Amazing, all the differing viewpoints on this one- there’s definitely 2 camps & I am not sure of the two meet very often!