Sardine Rillettes

When I was a kid, my Granny used to eat sardine sandwiches.  I, a young lady with a timid palate, was terrified and disgusted.  Who eats whole fish that come in a can?  Isn’t that just, like, cat food?  The answers are “me” and “yes,” respectively.  My tastes have (thankfully) changed, and I’ve embraced the concept of fish in a can, upgrading Granny’s sardine sandwiches to something slightly more sophisticated: sardine rillettes.  The name is French, so it’s really classy.

I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for about six months, and now that I’ve finally gotten around to making it, I regret not doing it way sooner.  They’re almost absurdly easy, they taste amazing, and as I mentioned above, the name is French, so people will be really impressed when you serve these at a dinner party or support group meeting.

First, gather up your ingredients: a can of sardines in mustard or hot sauce, a lemon, some parsley (I forgot to photograph this), a small shallot, salt and pepper (the original recipe called for kosher salt, but my Maine sea salt has a large flake, so I didn’t have to make the effort of reaching the top of the fridge for my giant container of kosher salt), and some fancy European butter.  I also strayed away from the original by adding a dash of Louisiana hot sauce.

The cast of characters

First, mince the shallot and parsley and zest the lemon.  Then crack open the can of sardines.  You have to de-spine the sardines, the most labor intensive (but not even difficult) part of the whole recipe.  I am not an expert at this by any means, but my method worked pretty well–I didn’t get any spine in my teeth while I was eating this stuff.  Gently (they’re delicate!) remove the sardine from the can.  Holding the sardine as though you are rolling a joint, squeeze gingerly until the fish sort of splits in half.  The spine will just kind of pop up.  The spines are also delicate, so just make sure you have the whole thing out of the fish before you throw the flesh into a small bowl.  My technique for ensuring my sardines were bone-free was to squish it between my fingers to see if I felt anything sharp.  So what?  You’re going to mash it all up with a fork in a minute anyway.

A disgusting picture of sardine spines

Once all the bones are out and the sardines are in the bowl, dump in all the other ingredients.  I didn’t measure anything; I just sprinkled in the seasonings and hot sauce until it looked good, then squeezed lemon all over it. Mash everything up really well with a fork until it looks like cat food but smells a lot better.

An attractive bowl of ingredients
Le cat food!

Once the sardine mixture is evenly mashed, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, slice up a crusty baguette.  When the flavors have had time to meld, pull it out and slather all over the baguette slices.  Arrange artfully on a plate as if you are only going to eat three, then polish off the rest of the bowl all by yourself.  I recommend adding a dash more hot sauce to each piece.

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