Top | Around My French Table

Sardine Rillettes

(recipe, Dorie Greenspan)

primary-image, l


Time was, not so long ago, that if you said "rillettes," it was understood that you were talking about a rich, salty spread made from pork, goose, or duck slowly cooked in its own fat. Nowadays rillettes is just as likely to be piscine as porcine and more than likely to be lighter and less rich. While salmon rillettes is the one you find most often at restaurants and cocktail parties, sardine rillettes is giving it a run for first place. This rillettes, made in under 10 minutes, is a combination of canned sardines, shallots, herbs, and cream cheese (low fat, if you'd like). You can use skinless, boneless fillets, but I think you get more flavor if you buy sardines in olive oil, bone them yourself (it takes a second per fish), and leave the skin in place. Obviously the cream cheese is an American stand-in, but it's a very good one. In France you'd use fromage frais, a soft, smooth, mild cheese that is as common as yogurt and found right next to the yogurt in every supermarket in the country. If you can get it, of course you can use it, but there's no need to go out of your way for it; cream cheese is more than fine. Rillettes is usually served with small toasts or crackers (it's perfect on Triscuits), and it also lends itself to being used as a filling.


  1. 2 cans (3¾ ounces each) sardines packed in olive oil, drained
  2. 2½ oz. cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese
  3. 2 shallots or 1 small onion, minced, rinsed, and patted dry
  4. 1 to 2 scallions, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  5. Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon, or to taste
  6. 2 to 3 Tbsp. minced fresh herbs, such as chives, cilantro, parsley, and/or dill
  7. Pinch of piment d'Espelette or cayenne
  8. Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  1. 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 2 fillets. Lift away the bones and, if there is a little bit of tail still attached to the fish, cut it off.
  2. 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, adding more juice, salt, and/or pepper, if you'd like.
  3. 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.


Variations: Add a few thin slices of cornichon pickles or a spoonful or two of capers to the mixture. Serving: Offer the rillettes in a bowl surrounded by toasted country bread, crackers, or Pringles, if you dare. Or use it as a stuffing for cherry tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, or piquillo or Peppadew peppers. Storing: Wrapped airtight, the rillettes will keep for up to 2 days. Stir well before serving.