Sardine Rillettes

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

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


  • 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


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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  • 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!


  • Karen

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


  • Perle Champion

    Just googled rillette. New term I read on instagram 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

  • Michael

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


    • Elise Bauer

      I’m so glad you liked it Michael! It’s one of my personal favorites.

  • 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!

  • seano

    I’m betting this would work well with mackerel as well. I’ll report back!

    • Elise Bauer

      Please do Seano. I would love to know how well this works with mackerel.

  • Erin

    My current favorite way to eat sardines- get the kind preserved in oil with hot red chiles, drain and mash them up with a tablespoon or so of hummus and diced pickles/pickled vegetables. I’ve been using spicy pickles, but that’s up to your taste! Spread on toasted rye bread, eat, and smell like sardines for the rest of the day:D

  • Toni

    PLEASE DON’T REMOVE THE BONES. The bones in canned sardines are soft and edible (no concern whatsoever in choking on a bone), and especially if they’re mashed to use in a recipe like this, they will never be noticed. The bones are rich in calcium, and makes the super food (sardines) even more super.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Toni, it’s a texture thing. You definitely do notice them in the rillettes. That said, you can eat them separately if you want. Good source of calcium.

      • Toni

        Good point – didn’t think about that.

  • Jane

    I made these to take to a pot luck appetizer party. I liked them, thought they were great. No one else did. I have decided that group of friends do not have any taste. ;) Will make them again for a different group of people, as soon as I get a chance.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Jane,
      Isn’t it disappointing when your friends don’t share your tastes? I love sardines, anchovies, canned tuna, but not everyone else does. Sometimes it helps not to tell people what they are eating, that way they don’t get put off by any odd biases to begin with.

  • Margana

    I went on a cruise and was thrilled to see a breakfast bar off to the side that had smoked herring, kippers, sardines, all of those wonderful things that make other people look confused. So despite her pleas to not sit by her, I happily sat across from my sister and her waffle, while I plucked at fish and crackers and capers. She may be German as well, but she didn’t get the love of oily fish.

  • Marcelo

    I tried it yesterday and it turned out to be my favorite canapé recipe. It was perfect! I didn’t use the scallions but minced chive bulbs. And the herbs I added only parsley to keep simpler.
    Thanks a lot!


  • Al in SoCal

    Just made it for T-Day, came out PERFECT.

    Delicious and really light – no sardine smell at all! Thanks for the great idea!!

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


  • Joe

    Sherried Sardine Toast (from Alton Brown)


    2 (3.75-ounce 2-layer) tins brisling sardines in olive oil
    2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, divided
    1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
    1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, reserve the lemon and cut into 4 wedges
    Freshly ground black pepper
    4 (1/2-inch) thick slices crusty bread, such as sourdough, country loaf or rye
    1 ripe Hass avocado
    Coarse sea salt


    Drain the oil from 1 tin of sardines into a small bowl and set aside. Drain the oil from the other tin into another small bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of parsley, vinegar, lemon zest, and black pepper, to taste. Add the sardines, stir to combine and set aside for up to 1 hour.

    After 45 minutes, put a rack 3-inches from the broiler and heat the oven to the broiler setting on high. Brush each slice of bread on 1 side with the reserved oil. Put the bread, oil side up, onto a cooling rack set inside a half sheet pan and broil 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown and crisp.

    Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Smash the flesh in each half with a fork.

    Spread the avocado evenly onto the toasted bread. Top evenly with the sardines. Pour any remaining dressing on top and garnish with the remaining parsley.

    Season lightly with sea salt and serve with lemon wedges.

    I so want to try this, thank you! ~Elise

  • Yoko

    i made your chicken liver pate for our NYE party and it was a big hit! now i can’t wait to try these rillettes (and all your other paté recipes :)

    whenever i want a quick/healthy snack i have a can of sardines with mayonnaise (kewpie), some soy sauce, and shichimi pepper.

    you can also make a mini-gratin by keeping the sardines in the can, topping off with lemon juice, sliced onions, mayonnaise & several grinds of black pepper and popping it in the oven-toaster for a few minutes.

    great with a bottle of sancerre

  • Ryan

    I like to make pasta sauce with sardines, parsley, capers and a bit of lemon juice. I add anchovies too to give it a little more flavour. You can add toasted pine nuts too.

    • Tami

      I add lemon zest and either red pepper flakes or a 1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce. Good with capellini.

  • Anonymous

    This recipe would be a lot easier if you didn’t have to filet the small sardines, which I feel if not only impossible, but unnecessary!

  • Kerry

    Try this simple snack – toast a slice of yummy bread, pile on drained sardines (yes, bones and guts included) and top with sliced tomato, salt and pepper. Takes two minutes and is soooo tasty and good for you. Drizzle some tabasco for an added hit of flavour.

  • Michael Birchard

    A favorite method of fixing sardines for me is to “deep fry” them. Dredge in seasoned flour and fry in an inch of so of oil. The ones packed in mustard taste the best done this way. Folks that don’t care for sardines will love these (just don’t tell them what they are).

  • Lynne

    Not a big sardine fan, but I would love to try this recipe with smoked trout! Thanks for this post. Just in time for holiday entertaining.

  • Serge

    I like this recipe by Mark Bittman for pasta with bread crumbs, sardines and capers very much:

    I add some sliced fennel bulb to the onions, which is even better in my opinion..:)

  • nikkipolani

    Sounds delicious! I think I’ve seen the little 6oz cans of sardines in chile tomato sauce at Asian markets, but they’re great sauteed with onions and tomatoes and served over buttered rice. It’s one of my favorite quickie dinners.

  • Doug McNeill

    I have posted a recipe for sardines in tomato sauce on under the title of: Sardines with Tomatoes over Spaghetti Squash (#416500). Tasty and good for you…enjoy.

  • Jessica

    Hi. I’ve only very recently begun to like anchovies. And I LOVE them now. I even recently had fresh anchovies in Italy, and have been calling all over town trying to find fresh ones. But a good puttanesca will have to do until I do find them.
    I’ve never had sardines. What are they like? Are they like anchovies? Elise, you are the one who made me try anchovies for the first time actually, when you talk about how they’re not “fishy” and just very flavorful (I think it was in your caesar salad recipe, which I’ve made many times now – I used to sub out the anchovies for a little fish oil until I finally tried them).
    So very curious now about sardines, but no idea what they’re actually like?

    Sardines are like big anchovies, but not as salty, more intensely tuna-ish in flavor. ~Elise

  • Jim

    Sardine and Beet Salad

    8 sardines, chopped
    2 large beets, boiled and diced
    1 med onion, minced
    4T oil
    4T vinegar
    1t salt
    dash cayenne pepper
    chopped parsley for garnish

    Put together the sardines, beets, and onion. Mix the opil, vinegar, salt and pepper together until well blended. Pour this over the sardine mixture. Garnish with parsley on top.

    from Creative International Cookbook ed: Charlotte Turgeon (1981)

    I sometimes put it on a bed of spinach with some tomato slices.

  • Christine

    Sharon, if you’re looking for the Sicilian recipe, google pasta con le sarde. I have never had any luck finding fresh sardines here, so I generally just saute some onion and garlic in a good amount of olive oil, add chopped green olives and capers and a drained can of skinless boneless sardines in olive oil. Add your cooked pasta, stir around a couple of times and add some chile flakes. (If you want a hit of acid, a squeeze of lemon juice is always welcome).

    We obviously love sardines in our house, and I’ll have to buy another tin (the husband ate the last can on Saturday as a drunken snack, after attending an Octoberfest) and try it out this week!

  • FromSardinia

    I was born in the island of sardines. I cannot help but love them. However, the best way to eat then is “barbeque” !! Buy super fresh, big (the biggest the better) sardines you can find at the fish market, rush home and just put them on fire.

  • Dennis

    There’s a nice recipe from LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE for Christmas Rolls. The sardine is combined with soft Chorizo (I use a brand from El Salvador) and other things, and then stuffed into a roll. It’s delightful.

    1 can sardines
    1/2 chorizo sausage
    1 onion
    1 can chilies serranos
    10 hard rolls

    Chop onions fine. Fry the sausage over low heat so that it cooks thoroughly without getting too brown. When done, remove from heat and add the sardines, which have been deboned ahead of time. Any black spots on the skins must be scraped off with a knife. Combine the onions, chopped chilies and the ground oregano with the sardines. Let the mixture stand before filling the hard rolls.

  • william a. carlson

    i didn’t think people in minnesota (me) would not like pickled herring. a great snack with beer. i like sardines too, and think they make a good sandwhich on dark bread (toasted) washed down with beer, of course.

  • monty

    My favorite thing to do with sardines is quickly walk past them while in the store. My father always had the smelly little critters around while I was growing up, but I never learned to appreciate them.Put me down in the somewhat narrow minded “no thanks” column

  • lisa

    Growing up in Hawaii we also always had sardines in the pantry as well as rice in the rice cooker on the counter. A favorite quick meal or snack was to put a can of sardines, oil and all, into a small skillet along with a shot of shoyu and gently heat them. Put this over rice and top with chopped scallions. Yum!

  • Judith

    When I was small I sometimes used to wake up in the middle of the night. My Dad was always up late, and he’d make us a snack. He’d open a can of sardines, chop up an onion, and the two of us would eat sardines and onions on cream crackers (we lived in England). I love pickled herring, kippers (smoked herring – especially good with fresh home made bread and unsalted butter), anchovies (excellent with celery sticks), and all kinds of smoked fish. Unfortunately, good smoked fish seems to be vanishing.

    Thanks for all the sardine-induced memories everyone!

  • Ally

    Elise, sardines are beloved in the south as well. My dad liked them for lunch with a shot of mustard and some saltines. I have never been crazy about them, but I think it is the idea of them (whatever that means) and not the taste. Haven’t actually tasted one in about 40 years. This dish however, inspires a little bravery and I think I will try them again in rilletes.

  • Stephanie

    Yum! Just had for lunch with tomatoes and bread. Used low-fat ricotta because that’s all I had but still very, very good. Thanks!

  • Deb

    A favorite lunch: Sardine sandwich – sardines in oil on good rye bread, with red onion and leaf lettuce.

  • Michele Hays

    I love sardines! We used to call this recipe “sardine dip” back in the day. “Rillettes” is a much easier sell!

    I do two things with sardines: I think they work waaay better in a salade nicoise –

    The other is a sardine and breadcrumb pasta –

  • Natasa

    I grew up on the coast of the Adriatic sea and we had a lot fresh sardines very often. Love them!
    A special treat is to grill them in the summer.

    But they are not less yummy from the can…

    What I love to do is fry a little garlic in olive oil, add some pepperoncino (fresh or dry) and a can of sardines (canned in olive oil). Cook some pasta, mix with the sardines and sprinkle with a lot of fresh parsley.

    SO GOOD!

  • dorie

    Elise, I’m so happy you like my recipe as much as I do. And I’m thrilled that so many of your readers are sardine lovers. It’s really a love-it-or-loathe-it food, but I’ve converted people with this recipe. Of course, I just serve it and don’t say what it is. It’s easier to win converts that way!

  • Lida

    My favorite “midnight” snack is a can of Sardines with freshly sqweezed lemon juice and salt…and eat with Pita bread!

  • Michelle

    Pre-heat oven to 375F
    1) Peel new potatoes, cut them into matchsticks or chunky fries.
    2) Open sardine tin, drain the tin oil into a heated frying pan. Leave sardines in tin and set aside. Add the potatoes, 1/2 cup milk, some salt and pepper and simmer for a few minutes.
    3) Place sardines in baking dish, single layered. Then add the potato/milk mixture on top of sardines.
    4) Place in hot oven and bake until golden and bubbly.

    My husband loves this recipe. It comes from a Jamie Oliver episode I saw this summer. He recommends using sardines in olive oil. Below is a second sardine recipe from the same episode.

    1) Toast thick slices of country style bread
    2) Smash sardines to the consistency of canned tuna. Then add a splash of ketchup, worcestershire sauce, tobasco, lemon and coarse salt
    3) Spread sardine paste on bread.

    Great ideas, thank you! ~Elise

  • Penny

    Mmmm! I went to the store to get the cheese for this. When they had avocados on sale, I decided to sub one for the cheese and I have to say that this is one of the better 3-minute lunches out there!

    Also, the sardine discussion board on Chowhound ( is a wonderful place to appreciate the canned sardine, which I am now inspired to fold into heavy rotation. Thanks Elise!

  • Audrey

    Why remove the bones they are quite soft and you wont notice them. They are good for you – calcium!

  • Jeanette

    Mmmmm…. sardines! My husband and grown children can’t abide them, but I love them. I’ve made a spread similar to this before using plain yogurt instead of cheese. The yogurt is tangy enough that you can skip the lemon. Also, I don’t bother deboning etc… just mash the whole thing up – my Mom always told me the bones were a great source of calcium. Thanks for another great recipe Elise.

    The bones are a great source of calcium! And sardine bones are easy enough to eat. I think Dorie removes them for this recipe just because of the texture. ~Elise

  • Kathryn

    Check out this page:

    I have been meaning to try them all, but so far have only made the fisherman eggs (several times). That’s a great dinner with a side salad.

    Your rillettes look soooo good. Will definitely be trying them out.

    Also, I agree with the sardine sandwiches with onion and dijon. Nothing better!

  • Allen Wright

    Sardines and peanut butter sandwiches are a favorite combination for a meal for me.
    Unfortunately my wife of 37 years is in the can’t even stand to be in the same house camp, as are my two grown sons.
    The only creatures that share my love of sardines are the various felines that have graced my life through the years.

  • Trish-in-MO

    Definitely a keeper!

    Pasta con sarde is a fave dish from my childhood; I love sardines! I’ve had them just out of the can on sandwiches many times, especially the ones in the mustard sauce.

    I love anchovies too. Must be from from all my Italian grandmas, great-grandmas, and aunts! Thank goodness my mom loved to cook and paid attention to them all, and passed it down to me. Now if they only would have passed down the language ::sigh::

  • Liz

    Mark Bittman has a pasta recipe with sardines, lemon, parsley, capers and breadcrumbs, in

    I was a great hit at our place :)

    • Margana

      Hail to capers. They are a must with sardines, anchovies, mackerel, etc. My favorite way to eat them is to plop the fish on top of a salad, add capers and cilantro. I can eat it every day. Sardines are sustainable fish that are short lived so they do not have a chance to absorb mercury and other heavy metals. Plus eat the bones. They are the very best source of calcium.

  • Crazy Radishes

    Mint makes an amazing partner to sardines. I mash up a can of sardines with a spoonful cream cheese, mayo or sour cream and add in a good amount of chopped fresh mint. You can also add raw onions if you like them. Delicious!

  • kathy

    I’m going to try this, it looks delicious. I grew up in south america, and my mom would by several pounds of fresh sardines which she would just boil and feed them to our pets as treats (we didn’t eat them – now, I wish I had tried them).

    But, about the sardines and peanut butter, your memory is probably right. My husband eats peanut butter and bologna sandwiches, which his dad made for himself. Depression-era food, sounds like to me.

  • The Elegant Eggplant

    These are so interesting!! Great for a (foodie) wine and cheese party… :)

  • Sharon

    Wow! this looks good! I learned to like sardines only recently, from an elderly friend who taught me to eat them on potato bread with butter. YUM! They are high in vit D so I try to eat a can a week! I’d love to find a recipe that uses them with pasta.

  • Marilyn

    I am English but follow your site avidly. Thanks for a lovely presentation and great recipes. I live equally between the UK and USA, spending six months (the winter) in Florida, so have been known to fly my sardines over the pond! (and was even challenged by the TSA for the large square metal container in the centre of my suitcase (8 tins of sardines). We have skinless, boneless sardines in tomato sauce in the UK – none of that fiddling around doing surgery before you eat them. I can’t buy them in Florida – even getting them in tomato sauce is a challenge. I discovered my neighbours were appalled at the thought of sardines on toast and had never heard of it, so for those of you colonials who have never tried….. After de-boning, de-gutting, de-tailing and de-finning them, even sometimes taking off the big flaky plasticy scales, mash your sardines in their tomato sauce, meanwhile toast one side of your bread then butter the other side (and, yes, I do mean butter not some substitute)cover edge to edge with sardines and pop back under the grill until hot. My husband adds (malt) vinegar to them at table, you can squeeze lemon or lime over them and even grate cheese on top before grilling as long as it is a good hard sharp cheddar (English? Irish?) but, for me, none of this is not needed. Add a piece of fruit for afters and you have a nice good-for-you easy peasy snack, supper, lunch, whatever.

    Yum! That sounds wonderful, thank you! ~Elise

  • Christine

    I grew up with sardine loving parents (and smoked oysters and anchovies etc) but I hated it, I would flee the room when they came out. However I am now comming around to them. I don’t think a person dosent like a food its just that they have not had made in a way they like it. This is the recipe they has started me on the path to enjoying sardines. Drain a can of sardines in olive oil and mash them with chopped mint, touch olive oil and salt pepper to taste

  • Lacey

    I love sardines! I recently discovered them when watching Alton Brown’s show on Food Network. He made this recipe for Sherried Sardine Toast and credited the sardine with his amazing weight loss. I tried it and fell in love with sardines of all sorts (fresh, canned, whatever) and then was lucky enough to spend my honeymoon in Spain where delicious sardines are abundant. Here’s the Alton Brown recipe:

    Looking forward to trying the Rillettes Elise, they look wonderful!

  • elston

    I loved reading this recipe and will be trying it…..I have the sardines in the pantry….they are a staple around here….altho we seem to get into eating them in spurts….and havent had them recently.
    Sardines on saltines with thinly sliced red onion…..

    My partner is japanese and he loves fresh sardines…unfortunately altho we live in maine where sardines were plentiful….we never see them in the fish market. (He also loves flying fish and a type of fish from Hokido (sanma) that is plentiful in Japanese markets right now. We just came home and he got this autumnal treat while there…..cleaned and pan grilled. He discribed it as “rich”[oily] fish it is served with head, tail and fins….I didnt try it.

    When I was growing up, my Dad was a country minister in northern New England and Canada…..he was the sort of minister who sometimes got paid in produce…..and at that time sardine canning plants dotted the northern maine coast….so we always had lots and lots of sardines on hand…I remember using the cans as building blocks….and considered them “toys”.

    In the back of my memory…..sardine and peanut butter sandwiches and sardine and peanut butter stuffed celery. I am not sure if this is for real and my mom is gone so I can’t ask her….but I thnk she and I used to eat this. (I grew up in the 1940’s) But then again…maybe she only threatened me with the sardines and peanut butter????????

    Sardines and peanut butter? Somehow I think those words shouldn’t be used in the same sentence, but who knows? :-) ~Elise

    • Kathy

      My husband and his dad share a love of peanut butter and bologna sandwiches; His dad is 82, must be a product of that generation. If peanut butter was a “new thing” in the 40’s, why not try it with…everything?

  • Sha

    I made this recently and was quite pleased with the outcome.

    Venetian Spaghetti with Sardines

    I love sardines and will have to try making rillettes sometime soon.

  • Torrey

    Nice recipe, this one is a keeper! For Jenny, my favorite supermarket brand is Wild Planet. Vital Choice is really good, too, but I think they are mail-order only. Amazon has them.

  • Lee

    Love, love, love sardines! My mother and I used to eat them on saltine crackers with a little lemon juice right out of the plastic lemon while my sister and father gagged quietly in the background. I’m off to the store for some right now…

  • Luisa

    Ah, David Lebovitz’s recipe uses butter instead, that’s likely what we used.

    I might just have to bake some bread for this.

  • Luisa

    Hmmm! One of my favorite treats as a little girl! But now I’m curious what we used instead of cream cheese… we didn’t have that back home! But I remember it was creamy.

    *scratches head*

    Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful snack :-)

  • Jenny

    I will have to try this for my man. My husband LOVES sardines. Sadly, I’m in the group that finds them disgusting! But, good wife that I am, I’m always buying him different varieties so he can try them out. His current fave out of all that I’ve bought him is the olive oil Trader Joes variety. Do you have a favorite brand or just go with whatever is on the shelf?

    I do like Trader Joes, some other brands too, though can’t remember the names of them now. ~Elise

  • Kath

    We love sardines, but I don’t have a single recipe for them. We just enjoy the occasional sardine sandwich with lots of onions and Dijon mustard.

    This recipe looks fantastic! Thanks for sharing it.