French Fridays with Dorie – Tuna Rillettes
Rillettes are coarse, pâté-like (but not actually pâté) French spreads typically made from duck, pork, or rabbit. They are easy to make and present well as a deeply satisfying appetizer or picnic food. Rillettes are the perfect type of something-something that when added to a charcuterie tray and set out on your kitchen island (and enjoyed with a glass of wine) brand you as chic and ‘with it.’
At least I think so because I don’t actually have a kitchen island.
Rillettes of all kinds (including tuna rillettes) are quite simply a meal in a jar if you also happen to have a loaf of bread (and a kitchen island) nearby. While I’ve enjoyed the more traditional meaty preparations quite a few times (but never actually around a kitchen island – because I don’t have one) I’ve not yet had the pleasure of making them myself. Shame on me for that. I have, however, made them using different fish types which have yielded varying results. In fact, if you were to set foot in my house 2 years ago I’m sure you enjoyed David Lebovitz’s recipe for Salmon Rillettes because I was hoisting them just about everyone who walked through the door back then.
A year later I gave the sardine variety a whirl for the French Fridays with Dorie project but I was not so impressed. I felt the preparation didn’t have much there there and didn’t elevate the sardine in the slightest. If anything, it dumbed it down. Please don’t think was because I am not a sardine fan because I am. A rabid sardine fan. The lack of any distinctive flavor addition (other than shallots and lemon juice) ended up creating more of a “mock tuna salad” than any chic appetizer spread brandishing as fancy a name as “rillettes” (pronounced “ree-yet.”)
Seeing Tuna Rillettes turn up in our assignment then gave me some pause as I was sure the inclusion of tuna itself would pretty much guarantee I’d end up with, well, tuna salad. I was pleasantly surprised for this spread relied on an expert balance of flavors including curry powder, quatre épices (thankfully I had a sizable stash leftover from its staring role in Dorie’s chopped liver and onions) and lemon juice to brighten up the whole mix. Even the choice of creme fraiche, with its distinctive tang, contributed a uniqueness here where cream cheese, heavy cream, or mayo (more commonly used) would not. While gobbling it all down my brain made no connection to the pedestrian tuna salad I earlier feared this would become.
Rillettes come in all sorts of textures. There are no rules here so make them how you like. Dorie Greenspan’s recipe calls for putting the ingredients in a food processor, but felt that turning this into tuna baby food would take all the romance out of it for me — with or without a kitchen island. Instead, I gave it all a very hearty mix through with a fork and left it at that. I think it ends up more closely resembling the texture of the duck or pork rillettes this way anyway.
And since I was already deviating from tradition I decided to served the tuna rillettes with toasts made from some tasty Persian sangak, a dimpled flat bread dusted with sesame seeds. (Seem previously as the base for the Ahi Tuna Pizza’s.) We may not have a kitchen island but we always have sangak on hand and I have yet to find anything that isn’t somehow enhanced by its inclusion.
Will I make them again? Yup. Probably. When I get a kitchen island.