Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sardine RIllettes

14: Sardine RIllettes

I resolved to cook and eat more fish this year, and when Adam realized that included sardines he was pretty excited. The guy can bring a can of sardines and some crackers to work and happily call it lunch. I am not quite so good at the oily little fishes. I know, I know, but they're so little! And oily! Here's the thing, though: they're also delicious and sustainable.

You can buy fresh sardines if you want (and you should, then you should butterfly them and pan fry them and serve them with orange beurre blanc), but since sardines are more or less shelf stable when canned, they make a great pantry item. Super fast dinner: cook them with boatloads of garlic and red pepper flake and toss it all with pasta. Nice and easy lunch: smash them up with cream cheese and a few other bits and bobs, then eat the mess on crackers next to a salad.

Sardine Rillettes
serves 2 as a light lunch or more as part of a larger spread, doubles easily

This is adapted like crazy from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table; I didn't have the herbs her recipe called for, and I had an odd size can of sardines, so I just mashed and smashed until it tasted good. I am confident that you could take this in a whole bunch of directions, so trust your instincts and embrace the little fishes. 

2 oz cream cheese
1 4.5 can sardines in oil, spines and viscera removed (see below)
1 small shallot, minced
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp capers, rinsed, chopped
1/4 tsp marjoram, finely chopped
lots of black pepper

To remove the spines and icky bits of the sardines, use a small knife to slit open the bellies and open up the fishes. The spines are soft, so be gentle, but you should be able to just pick them up and remove them quite easily. The icky bits will be obvious, darker and sometimes green. Just scrape them out. You should also remove any residual fins by cutting them away, but the skins are ok to leave on.

Put the cream cheese in a bowl and bang it around with a fork, smush it all up. This is easier if it's at room temperature, but no big deal. Add several grinds of black pepper, the shallot, marjoram, and capers. Continue mashing and smushing. Add the sardines and the lemon juice. Continue mashing and smushing. Give it a taste to see if you need salt; you might not  since the capers and sardines and cream cheese bring plenty to the table.  Now, cover the rillettes with plastic wrap and stick the bowl in the fridge for at least an hour or two. Taste it again before serving and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Serve with crackers or sliced baguette.


  1. I LOVE fresh sardines. They are so amazing. I taught myself how to gut and fillet whole sardines when I found them at Whole Foods once. It made me feel so powerful...and holy shitsnacks are they delicious!

  2. How to Prepare Shelf Stable Cheese? How long does it survive after storing?