Growing up in Brittany, on the Atlantic coast, sardines were a staple food – coming in fresh every morning from the harbor and sold at the local “poissonnier” (fish shop); in cans or in the form of the utterly popular sardine rillettes. This tasty spread is a delight for sharing during the French Apéro (pre-meal drinks & small bites) and makes the perfect nutritious snack too.
So what are “Rillettes”, exactly ?
If you’re unacquainted with it, a “rillette” (pronounced “ree-yet”) in French is similar to a pâté, often made with pork that is slowly cooked in fat and then shredded. Once cooled down, the fat acts a paste while the pork shreds give a chewy bite. Just like pâtés, you can enjoy it spread on toast, bread or in a sandwich.
Rillettes can also made with duck, rabbit or gamey meats, and with fatty fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines.
Sardine Rillettes can be made from canned sardines or cooked sardines and are usually spiked with spices and herbs. You will then classically find them mixed with butter or olive oil – to provide that fat component that acts like a smooth binder. My take on it, made with cream cheese, isn’t very traditional, but just as deliciously creamy and tasty.
These Sardine and Cream Cheese Rillettes are easy and quick to put together, and so full of flavour. The texture is smooth, with a satisfying chew, and is simply heavenly spread on crisp baguettes slices. I like to top each toast with a tangy cornichon (French-style gerkins) for a crunchy component, that cuts through the richness of this luscious spread.
- Most sardines in cans come deboned and with no heads/tails. If you happen to get bone-in filets, make sure you debone them first for this recipe: run a sharp knife down the belly of the sardines, open them in half and remove the spine (very easy to do!). Cut off the head/tail too.
- You can opt for canned smoked sardines as well.
2 cans (2x160g) sardines in olive oil (8 filets), drained.
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt
6-7 sprigs flat leaf parsley, stemmed and chopped (about 1 tbsp)
1 tsp whole pink peppercorns (+extra for serving)
¼ cup (62g) cream cheese (31%M.F.), at room temperature
¼ lemon, juiced
For serving: toasted baguettes slices, cornichons, parsley leaves,
Combine the sardines, black pepper, salt, parsley and pink peppercorns in a bowl, and mash with a fork until it turns into paste, fairly smooth, with small chunks still visible.
In a separate bowl, mash together the cream cheese and lemon juice until smooth. Combine with the sardine mixture until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
Cover with plastic film, and chill for 2 hours minimum.
For serving, spread about 1 tablespoon of rillettes on each baguettes slice, top with a cornichon, 4-5 pink peppercorns and a leaf of parsley.