Sardine Rillettes

AppetizerFrenchPate

Heavenly spread for crackers, made with canned sardines, cream cheese, shallots, green onions, and lime juice.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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 in-between-ers.

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 of a cross between a tuna spread and caviar.

Sardine Rillettes on a plate

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.

Sardine Rillettes Recipe

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

Recipe adapted from and published with permission of Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table.

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 Prep the sardines: 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 Mix the cream cheese, shallot, scallion, herb mixture: 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 Mash the sardines into the cheese: 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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Links:

Salmon spread - here on Simply Recipes

Sardine Pâté - from David Lebovitz, using fresh sardines.

Salmon rillettes - also from David Lebovitz

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

69 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Michael

    I made this today basically using this recipe. I order one of the top rated sardines from Portugal. I used three 4.23 oz before drained cans. I cut them down the middle and removed the spine, saved the oil, and put them in a small shallow oven safe dish and poured the oil back on them. I put a small fire box in my gas grill with some apple wood and kept the temperature around 200 degrees after I got the applewood smoking and smoked them for about 1 1/2 hours then followed the recipe as presented. Very good!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Karen

    Wow so delicious! I didn’t have sardines so used canned smoked trout.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. Perle Champion

    Just googled rillette. New term I read on instagram @Sardinen.bar this morning. I make w/o cheese and never remove bones. I use either packed in mustard or red sauce and mash to paste, spice w cayenne, drizzle of malt vinegar, mix in finely minced onion and serve variously on crackers, bruschetta, cucumber or radish rounds or in celery hearts. Thanks

  4. Michael

    I made this yester day for an appetizer. Delicious! Thank you for sharing!

    xxxxxyyyyy

    Show Replies (1)
  5. Higgy

    This reminds me strongly of Gefuellte Gurken – a German stuffed cucumber dish, so I think this spread could also work on fresh cucumber slices in the summer. I shall try this later and report back!

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Sardine Rillettes on a plateSardine Rillettes