Sardine Rillettes

Oolala. Say the word “sardines” around people and you get one of two reactions. Either they love them… or they don’t. I haven’t found many inbetweeners. Obviously, given the title of this recipe, we fall in the “love them” camp. As in seriously love them. Fresh sardines, canned sardines, heck, I’ll even happily eat sardine sushi. Growing up we always had several cans in the pantry. Sardines packed in olive oil, packed in mustard, or packed in tomato paste. Must have something to do with my father’s Minnesota roots. We also had pickled herring and if we were lucky, smoked dried herring in the fridge. (You think sardines are strong? You should try smoked dried herring!) So when Dorie Greenspan had a recipe for sardine rillettes in her fabulous cookbook, Around My French Table, I couldn’t wait to try it. So. Darn. Good! I’ve made these several times and everyone loves them. Think a cross between a tuna spread and caviar.

If you are unfamiliar with the French term “rillette”, it is basically a pâté, often made with pork that has been cooked slowly in fat and shredded. One of the things I love about these sardine rillettes is that the thinly sliced green onions sort of mimic the texture of pulled pork. They easily spread over crackers, my favorite way to eat them.

By the way, I’m always looking for interesting recipes that call for canned sardines. If you have a favorite, please let us know about it in the comments.

  • Prep: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 1 cup. Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

Ingredients

  • Two 3 3/4 ounce cans of sardines, packed in olive oil, drained
  • 2 1/2 ounces of Neufchâtel cheese or cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots (or minced red onions that have soaked in lemon juice for a few minutes)
  • 1-2 scallions (green onions), white and light green parts only (about 3 inches from root), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup lime juice or lemon juice, or to taste
  • 2-3 Tbsp minced fresh herbs such as chives, parsley, or dill
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

1 Remove the sardines from the cans. Using a small, sharp knife, carefully open each one down the belly and back, folding them open to expose the backbone. Remove and discard the bones. Cut away and discard any tails. Set aside.

2 Place the cream cheese or Neufchâtel in a medium bowl. Fold and stir with a rubber spatula until smooth. Add the shallots, scallions, fresh herbs, and most of the lime or lemon juice, mixing into the cheese with the spatula.

3 Add the now boneless sardines to the cheese mixture. Use a fork to smash the sardines and stir into the cheese. Add cayenne, salt, and pepper to taste. Add more lime or lemon juice to taste.

Either serve immediately (Dorie suggests chilling at least 2 hours, but I haven't found that necessary), or chill. Can make up to two days ahead if you carefully cover with plastic wrap so there is no exposure to air, and chill.

Serve on crackers, bread, celery sticks, or as a stuffing for cherry tomatoes.

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