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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.
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
Recipe adapted from and published with permission of Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table.
- 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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Sardine rillettes from Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours (page 25) by Dorie Greenspan
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- canned sardines
- cream cheese
- piment d'Espelette
Always check the publication for a full list of ingredients. An Eat Your Books index lists the main ingredients and does not include 'store-cupboard ingredients' (salt, pepper, oil, flour, etc.) - unless called for in significant quantity.
Seafood : Everyday recipes
300 g T55 flour
1 pinch salt
1 pinch sugar
200 ml warm water
5 g active or instant dry baker’s yeast
2 tsp olive oil
For the sardine rillettes:
300 g sardines in olive oil
1 bunch of chives
1 preserved lemon
1 dash lemon juice
250 g Isigny Sainte-Mère fromage frais
salt / pepper
Dissolve the dehydrated baker’s yeast in the warm water with a pinch of sugar. Stir together and leave to foam for around 15 minutes.
Pour the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, then combine.
Add the dissolved yeast and knead the dough for around 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, homogeneous and elastic dough.
Lightly oil the surface of the dough and cover the bowl with cling film.
Leave to rise for around 1 hour close to a heat source so that it doubles in size.
Knock back the dough to release any air.
Place the dough onto the work surface. Divide into 12 pieces and flatten into rounds approximately 1 cm thick. Flour them, then cover them with a tea towel and leave to rest again for 20 minutes.
Roll out each piece again using a rolling pin so they are 5 mm thick.
Heat up a frying pan on high and grease it with an oiled paper towel.
Place a pitta bread in the frying pan and cook it until small bubbles appear on the surface.
Turn the pitta breads over and continue cooking for a few minutes while turning frequently. The pitta bread should start to inflate.
Remove and wrap each hot bread in a clean tea towel as you go in order to keep the pitta breads soft.
Leave the pitta breads to cool while preparing the sardine rillettes.
Drain the sardines and remove the central bone. Put them in a mixing bowl and mash them using a fork. Finely chop the chives. Peel and finely chop the shallot. Remove and discard the pulp from the preserved lemon so as to keep only the peel and cut into small pieces.
Mix the Isigny Sainte-Mère fromage frais, chives, shallot, dash of lemon juice and preserved lemon in a mixing bowl. Season to taste.
Fold in the sardines using a fork and mix well. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
To stuff the pittas, half open them using a knife and fill them with the sardine rillettes.
Sardines Spread Recipe. Hand Roll Variation '> Sardines Spread Recipe. Hand Roll Variation
Also called sardine rillettes. Sardines are to Mediterraneans what tuna is to most Americans. You say tuna, I say sardines.
The city of Safi in Morocco has the largest sardine port in the world. And we grew up eating them, so this helps explain why I love them in every shape or form, fresh grilled or in tajines (this is a very unfrequent treat here, alas). We eat them canned in sandwiches, in sardine spread, added to pasta and pizza. I even put them in potato salad! If I could think of a few ingredient that gets the stepchild treatment in this country, sardines would be one of them. In my homeland we treat them like a major delicacy and give them pride of place!
Just the mention sardines brings a wrinkle to some noses.
When I mention I look for sardines with skin and bones, I get wary, almost hostile looks. Gosh, it’s like if I said I was growing hair on my legs.
How do sardines come to be so underrated in America? Is it their fault that they look so homely, and smell so pungent? Have you tried them in a sandwich or panini with some lettuce and tomato? Try them in this recipe and let me know if they are beginning to grow on you! Please don’t recoil from the skin and bones, and whatever you do don’t discard any of it: You won’t see them in the finished sardine spread. Plus that’s where all the flavor and nutrition are so you will enjoy them immensely.
Sardine Spread is a Snap!
You will whip up this dish in minutes. Talk about Gastronomie Sans Argent! When we can’t have Duck Rillettes, we whip up Sardine Rillettes in no time and for pennies. I love to see the humble and neglected sardine get so brilliantly vindicated! You will love it on canapes, as a spread on apple or cucumber slices. It’s also great as a sandwich filling, with some added lettuce leaves and tomato slices, or as a dip. Top the canapes with tiny gherkins or capers.
No added salt anywhere please!
Canned sardines and tuna can often err on the salty side. Even the sardines marked low sodium have enough seasoning. So don’t even add a smidgen of salt.
Sardine Spread Hand Rolls
I have included here a hand roll variation, which makes for a dramatic presentation.
- 2 cans sardines in water, undrained
- 1/4 cup tehina paste
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- 2-3 tablespoons bottled hot sauce, such as Sriracha
- 6 scallions, sliced very thin
Place the sardines and their liquids in a bowl. Add all but last ingredient, and mash with a fork until smooth but still a little chunky. Stir in the scallions. keep refrigerated in a pint glass jar. Serve at room temperature.
Variation: Hand Rolls.
A funky and easy take on spicy tuna hand rolls. Make the exact same spread, and bulk it up with alfalfa sprouts and finely chopped watercress, or some cooked brown rice. Use the filling for nori hand rolls
Stuffing sardines with fresh herbs, garlic, and lemon before grilling suffuses them with zesty flavor. Get the recipe for Grilled Gremolata-Stuffed Sardines » André Baranowski
Briny sardines get added intensity from fresh onion and Dijon mustard in this open-face sandwich from chef and radio host Mike Colameco. Get the recipe for Sardine Sandwich » Todd Coleman
About the author .
My name is Patricia Kettenhofen, I am a photographer and for many years I have been working exclusively in the culinary world by capturing images that I wish authentic for many customers I’m also a recipe writer and culinary stylist . but for my images. Everything inspires me in my profession: the markets, the interior of my neighbour’s fridge, high school canteens, an apple vendor, a crate of carrots, the hands of a gardener, the speech of a farmer or a grandmother who makes her garden, the great chefs of course, books, foreign recipes my box and I work for you with great humility, it is important in this profession.
Total Time: 10-15 minutes (plus however long you'd like the rillettes to chill in the refrigerator, perhaps overnight). Around eight servings or so.
- 2 tins of Donostia Foods Sardines in Olive Oil
- olive oil from those tins of sardines
- 2 shallots, peeled and minced
- some chives, you decide how many
- freshly ground black pepper & salt to taste
- a bit of Donostia Foods Piment d'Espelette
- 2 ounces or so of butter, unsalted, room temperature
- crackers or bread or not
- freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1. Mash up the sardines in a bowl with the minced shallots, the chives, the butter, the black pepper and the salt. Want it smoother? Use a food processor.
2. Squeeze the lemon for that fresh juice and mix and mash a bit more.
3. Top with the piment d'Espelette for some nice color.
4. Leave the whole thing in the refrigerator for eight hours, but serve at room temperature. Or don't, you decide.
Make it ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for up to three days. You can even serve the rillettes in the very same tin the sardines come in, which everyone will find adorable.
For additional recipes and serving suggestions for Spanish conservas, please see our aptly named Recipes & Serving Suggestions page.
Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz.
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31 Comments on "Sardine Cakes"
Excellent. So easy to make with just a short list of ingredients. And sardines are so healthful.
I make sardine salad which is very good also. I don’t use mayonnaise. I use a little olive oil if they are in water. I add chopped onion, raisins, lemon or lime juice, a little Tabasco, salt and pepper, and sometimes other things e.g. garlic, chopped olives, curry powder, etc.
Would you have a no or low carb option?
I just made these and man are they fantastic! Beautiful recipe
Yesterday I mashed 3 sardines into reheated leftover mashed potatoes. I once heard a French person say that his grandmother sometimes served this. I was surprised that it wasn’t bad at all, so I looked up mashed potatoes and sardines, and voila. I’m so happy to find this tastier-sounding yet still simple recipe. Thank you.
These are fantastic, tasty, healthy , and easy! We eat them with a salad or on a bun like a burger (with sprouts and a yummy mayo/siracha ailoi). Prefect as is, mostly, although I would say mine hold together better with an egg yolk or two as a binder. The best part, you can add almost anything to these based on what you have lying around: lemon zest, mustard, spinach, or dill etc….A must have recipe, as is, or you can mix it up. This is a solid “go to” for us. Thanks, Jenny!
I made this today using: sardines in olive oil,1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp garlic salt, 1/3 cup celery (minced).
I was unable to keep the first one together so I added an egg yolk to the remainder …& these (3) held together perfectly.
They were absolutely delicious and are now one of my wife’s favorites.
Hi, I was just wondering what I could use as a substitute for bread crumbs? Would flour work?
Flour does not have enough substance and would not provide the browning needed.
I have used flour for years. It holds ingredients together and Browns beautifully!
12 Fresh Homemade Pasta Recipes
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I am so excited to share this recipe with you today! I know, I know…sardines. I have to admit that this little fish came into my life only recently and with some hesitation on my part. I knew that sardines were supposed to be one of the safest and most sustainable seafood choices on the market. I also was aware that they were one of the best sources of healthy Omega-3 fatty acids available. And compared to wild Alaskan salmon (another healthy and sustainable option), they are a steal. But, still, I wasn’t sure I was ready to venture into sardine territory.
Then, canned sardines went on sale at the grocery store and I decided it was now or never. I bought 2 cans. The first can was used to make fisherman’s eggs, which is basically a hot dish of sardines topped with baked eggs. It was pretty good, but I can’t say I was completely won over. The sardine rillettes won me over. Think of it as a pate that you can serve on crackers or toast. It’s deliciously creamy with little bites of shallots and herbs and a nice briny flavor from the sardines. A little bit of lemon juice freshens everything up. That’s the fancy description. Another way to think of the taste is that it’s kind of like tuna salad, all grown up.
I enjoyed mine spread generously on some gluten-free multi-grain bread from a local bakery. It’s also nice to have a little sprinkle of fleur de sel for the top and perhaps some pickled vegetables (I used some peperoncini but there are probably better options).
And so, I would like to present to you…sardines that I think you will like!
makes about 1/2 cup
adapted from Simply Recipes
– One 4.3 oz can sardines, packed in olive oil (I used Wild Planet brand)
– 1/3 cup cream cheese
– 1 shallot, finely minced
– 1 scallion, finely chopped, white and light green parts only
– juice from half a lemon
– about a tsp each of fresh chives and parsley, finely chopped
Place all ingredients except sardines in to a bowl and mix with a spoon until smooth.
Remove tails from sardines, if necessary. Split them down the center and remove the backbone. Note: While I’ve learned that I like the taste of sardines, I can’t say the same about their smell on my hands hours after I’ve eaten them. Try to avoid getting too much oil on your hand to avoid this problem. Or you could use gloves if you have some.
Add sardines to cream cheese mix. Using a fork, break them up and stir them in. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
In our plentiful culture -- at almost any price point and grocery budget -- we can purchase what it takes to make anything from macaroni and cheese, to beef stew, to golden melon gazpacho flavored with ancho chile powder. It's common habit for most home cooks to choose a recipe, read the ingredients, scan our pantries, make a grocery list, and then head to the market.
There we will find ingredients that are acutely specific to our needs and wants. Need almonds? We can buy them raw, toasted, smoked, salted, peeled, sliced, or pulverized into flour. Canned tomatoes? Our choices include whole, diced, puréed, roasted, with jalapeños, reduced to paste, or cooked into a sauce. Even meats are specifically cut and trimmed: beef short ribs with or without the bone, chicken thighs with or without the skin, and pork that's been produced to have lots, or less, fat.
In its complicated history, our food industry has evolved to be both consumer and convenience-friendly. Of course in countries that are less developed and less plentiful, this is not the case, but in the world that most of us live in every day, we can completely cook to the recipe.
But this has not always been so. And from such times when every food had to be cultivated and processed by hand, have come some of our favorite and oddly, our most luxurious dishes. Certain recipes, especially those in our most advanced cuisines -- French and Chinese in particular -- were developed from the thrifty need to use every possible part of a plant or animal. Stews and slow braises were the solution for using meat that didn't successfully roast or stir-fry. Stocks and fumés pull flavor from animal and fish bones. Beets grown below the ground are roasted and their green, leafy tops are wilted. Gelées come from the collagen found in animal skins and bones. Sausages make flavorful use of organ meats and leftover scraps. Vegetable soups are a way to make something fabulous with what's left in the garden at the first frost -- or found fading in the refrigerator's vegetable bin.
Because until recently our food was just so darn hard to grow, harvest, slaughter, preserve and cook -- nothing could go to waste, making our cooking forebears, by necessity, very inventive.
Consider rillettes -- "Ree-Etts" -- in which shards of deftly seasoned cooked meat or fish are combined with fat. The fat -- less costly and more plentiful than the meat or fish -- softens the texture and extends the other ingredients. The result is a soft paté, usually served at room temperature, spread on pieces of baguette or toast.
Despite pejoratives as an elite treat, in fact rillettes and patés have rustic origins. Made with game, pork, rabbit, fish, and even vegetables, these dishes were invented to use precious scraps, while at the same time, adding wonderful flavor plus preservation.
Today rillettes may seem old fashioned. I think that's partly due to the effort required to cook pork or duck rillettes from scratch you first need to cook the main ingredient using a confit technique, in which the pork or duck (or rabbit or goose) is poached in fat (here's the method). Once cooked, the meat is shredded and combined with some of its own fat, a step that can give us nutritional pause since we're no longer likely to think of rendered animal fat as a main ingredient (even though rillettes are eaten sparingly, as you would a piece of brie on a cracker).
But in fact we can take a modern approach to both the making and the ingredients and then rewarded with a satisfying and luxuriously flavored hors d'oeuvre.
Making Rillettes In A Modern City Kitchen
I was first introduced to rillettes on a trip to France, where they're sold in almost any traiteur, the deli-type markets found in every neighborhood. They're an instant hors d'oeuvre, served on rounds of French bread with cornichons and a glass of chilled white wine.
Returning home from France to my New York kitchen, I wanted to make my own rillettes and went through my cookbooks in search of recipes. Interestingly, none are in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although I've come to appreciate that this is probably due to rillettes being a rustic and country food, not classic French haute cuisine. But I found several options in books that specialize in regional French cooking, such as Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of Southwest France, one of my favorite cookbooks. Her recipe for classic "Rillettes of Shredded Duck" includes an intimidating instruction: "Prepare up to 1 week in advance." Less a hurdle is her recipe for "Salmon Rillettes" that uses both cooked and smoked salmon and requires only a three-day minimum for curing in the refrigerator.
I've never tried either recipe, discouraged by the time required from the making to the eating. But I've never lost my appetite for rillettes, nor my ambition to make them, and so recently, when I cooked our recipe for Slow Roasted Duck Legs, I planned ahead: realizing that while I was making the ducks for dinner, I could simply add four extra legs to the roasting pan and then use them the next day to make rillettes.
I made the rillettes with a very simple method I found from Tom Colicchio back when he was the chef at Gramercy Tavern.
Ingredients (makes about 1 cup or 6 servings)
4 duck legs with thighs attached, that have been either slow-roasted or cooked using a confit method have the legs be at room temperature or chilled, making it easier to remove the meat from the bone
1/4 cup duck fat, plus extra for sealing (the fat should be either room temperature or chilled so that it has solidified and is no longer completely liquid)
Freshly ground black pepper
- Remove the meat from the legs, discarding the skin and bones.
- Shred the duck meat into shards and place in a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon of duck fat and 4 or 5 grinds of black pepper. Pulse a couple of times, adding more of the remaining fat so that a paste gets formed don't over-process and avoid liquefying the duck meat. (You could also do this step by hand with a fork.)
- Taste and adjust for more pepper. If the duck had not been seasoned when originally cooked, you may also need a little salt.
- Transfer to a ramekin and top with a layer of duck fat to seal the top. Store in the refrigerator where they will keep for about two weeks.
- Serve at room temperature with rounds of French baguette and cornichons.
While duck may be the best known, rillettes can also be made with almost any fatty meat, especially pork belly. In her wonderful book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes, Jennifer McLagan includes a recipe for "Spanish-Style Pork Rillettes" that is seasoned with both hot and mild paprikas, fennel seeds, and sherry.
But rillettes can be successfully -- and quickly -- also made with canned sardines, smoked trout, or my favorite, a combination of cooked and smoked salmon. In these, cream cheese or butter takes the place of rendered pork or poultry fat. The challenge when making fish rillettes is to avoid making what is effectively a compound butter. So keep in mind that the purpose of the fat is to help the fish and other ingredients hold together, with just enough extra so that the finished result is extravagant and luscious.
Sardine rillettes are not fish-flavored butter, as you can see in this recipe adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recent book, Around My French Table.
Ingredients (makes about 1 cup or 6 servings)
2 (3 3/4 oz.) cans sardines packed in olive oil, drained (King Oscar is a good brand)
2 1/2 oz. cream cheese, regular or low fat, slightly softened
2 shallots, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, halved and thinly sliced
Juice of 1 medium lemon, about 1 tablespoon, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives or flat leafed parsley or 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh dill
- In a food processor add the cream cheese, shallots, scallions, several grinds of black pepper, pinch of cayenne, fresh herbs, and half of the lemon juice. Pulse until the cream cheese is fully softened and all the ingredients are combined. Transfer to a small mixing bowl.
- Add the sardines, and using a spatula or fork, gently mix to combine.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice and black pepper as you like. Both the sardines and cream cheese are probably salty so you shouldn't need to add more salt.
- Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and chill for several hours or overnight.
- Serve as a topping for rounds of baguette or crackers or use to stuff small tomatoes.
As much as I've loved my duck and sardine rillettes, the best I've ever made was with fresh and smoked salmon, from a recipe by Susan Loomis, author of Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin. It is easy to make, needs no confit cooking -- just some steaming for the fresh salmon which you can do in the microwave -- and it produces a salmon spread that is a year-round delight. See our link to the recipe.
A final tip: don't skimp on any of the ingredients. Use good salmon, fresh chives, and good butter because each of them matters.