Salmon Spread Recipe: Salmon Rillettes

I know you’re wondering why I’m not talking about chocolate since I just posted a slew of chocolate faqs. But I made this recipe for a birthday party last weekend and had to share it.

You can curse me now…but thank me later once you’ve tasted it.

Salmon Rillettes

…and yes, you’re welcome. (In advance.)

A recent story on CNN talked about how America’s Favorite French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, was not bourgeois, noting that he didn’t grow up in a rarified family and as the (American) commentator exclaimed…“He didn’t grow up eating pâté!”

I thought that was pretty funny since meaty pâtés and rillettes aren’t upscale delicacies in France, but are considered everyday fare. And some of the best pâtés I’ve had were country-style spreads, or rillettes. Rillettes are usually made with long-cooked salted pork, rabbit, or goose, which is them shredded then mashed with fat to produce a rich, rustic paste for spreading on bread.


If you get a bad one, you’ll think you’re being served something intended for Rover.

But a good one, the best rillettes you find, are nearly buttery-smooth and rich with the taste of fork-tender meat.

Yet rillettes can also be made with fish. I don’t know if they’re so traditional. But boy, is this one good and it’s worth tossing tradition out the window for.

And easy to make. I find it’s pretty impressive instead of the usually cubes of cheese or other ho-hum appetizers that get served at parties. Plus there’s little to whine about, since it literally takes just a few minutes to put together. And who doesn’t appreciate less-whining around the holidays?

I know my friends will certainly appreciate it.

As the busy holiday season approaches, in just a short time, so many of us are going to be loony,or loony-er, and it’s nice to have something in your repertoire that A) Can be made a couple of days in advance, B) Has just a few easy-to-find ingredients, and C) Tastes fabulous.

Mixing it up

People were raving about this spread a the birthday party I went to last weekend—not mine…yet*…, which is nothing more than a little wad of good butter, a drip of olive oil, and a combination of smoked and steamed salmon. I’ve been tempted to try this with some chopped green olives or capers, or dill in place of the chives, so if you do, let me know how it turns out. It’s just always such a hit as it is, I just can’t bear to futz with it. But maybe you can be my cobaye.

Salmon Rillettes/Salmon Spread
Print Recipe
Adapted from Cooking At Home on Rue Tatin by Susan LoomisThis has become one of my top go-to recipes. If you don’t live in France, it’s kind of exciting to introduce guests to rillettes and they’ll immediately think you’re very sophisticated (although that strategy hasn’t worked for me around here.) I serve it with toasted slices of grainy baguettes, but it would be tasty with dark rye or heaped on wholemeal crackers.As mentioned, I haven’t tried variations on this recipe, except I did use smoked trout once along with the steamed salmon, and no one was the wiser. Don’t tell David, but you could probably get away with using canned salmon if fresh salmon is hard to come by where you live.
8 ounce (250g) piece of salmon, preferably wild, bones removed
5 tablespoons (75g) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped chives
4 ounces (125g) smoked salmon, cut into thin strips, then cut into ½-inch (2 cm) pieces
1/4 teaspoon chili powder or smoke paprika (I use pimento d'Espelette) or a few turns of freshly-ground white pepper
1. Season the salmon on both sides lightly with a bit of salt. Steam in a steamer basket until just cooked, about 8 minutes. If you have a microwave, you can probably cook it in there as well.
Once cooked, remove from heat and let cool.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together with a fork the butter and the olive oil until very smooth.
This is très important; otherwise there’ll be big chunks of butter in the finished rillettes.
3. Stir in the lemon juice, then the chopped chives and smoked salmon.
4. Remove the skin from the salmon and flake the cooked salmon over the mixture, then fold the pieces of salmon into the rillette mixture along with the chili powder.
Season with salt, if necessary.
5. Scrape into a serving dish, cover, and chill for at least two hours. Let come to room temperature before serving.

Storage: The rillettes can be made up to two days before and refrigerated. They can also be frozen, well-wrapped, for up to two months.

*Don’t worry. I’ll let you know.

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  • Judith in Yummmbria
    November 13, 2007 4:58am

    Ahhh, this is more my speed than chocolate!

  • November 13, 2007 5:01am

    If you get a bad one … decades ago, I did a French exchange with the daughter of a Paris charcuterer. One day we went to visit a former apprentice on his farm in the countryside. We toured the farm, paying particular attention to the animals, especially ther caged rabbits. Then we went in for lunch. Rabbit rillettes so disgusting it took me years to sort out the problem … was it looking at the animals immediately before lunch? Or just that the guy couldn’t cook? I’m not squeamish about meat-eating, so I always thought it was that he was a lousy charcuterer and that’s why he went back to the family farm. Now I know … because it was worse than dogfood.

    Thanks, David … I’ve finally laid that ghost to rest ;)

  • November 13, 2007 6:37am

    I adore pâté and was scared to make it because it’s considered so high faloutin’. Then I was looking in my cookbook by Julia Child & Jaques Pepin, and Julia writes that one should not be scared to make pâté because it’s really just “French meatloaf”. Well, that did it!

    I made it and it was FANTASTIC. I’m making more this year for my mother’s Christmas party. I cannot wait!

  • November 13, 2007 7:04am

    I make pate at work and it took years for the clients to start ordering it instead of just passing it on bread for parties, I guess the old Chef was using leftover pates and adding them to the new batch, sort of like sour dough, duh!
    Salmon rillette is great too, made it and my cook was like, is that tuna?

  • November 13, 2007 8:18am

    I have a big pre-holiday season party coming up this weekend so all I do now (instead of work!) is look up party proof easy recipes. This sounds like a winner. Will let you know how it turns out as I am very tempted to add some capers … great recipe idea! :)

  • November 13, 2007 8:21am

    Oh, this looks so good. I’ll take salmon over chocolate any time!

  • November 13, 2007 11:05am

    This sounds fabulous, and probably a good use for the farmed salmon I got that isn’t super great for just broiling.

    My MIL has a recipe for a salmon spread that’s great for the holidays, with cream cheese, pecans, lots of fresh parsley and horseradish. It’s so good, but I secretly love it when the conservative midwesterners don’t eat it–more for me!

  • November 13, 2007 12:11pm

    Hey, I just thought of something… this looks like it would make a great filling for crepes. What do you think?

  • Wendy in Seattle
    November 13, 2007 12:46pm

    Mmm, crepe filling. I love savory crepes. Caroline, that sounds fantastic. I’ll try it.

    P.S. I highly recommend the book, On Rue Tatin. It’s a great story that takes an unexpected turn into uncovering surprising and charmin cultural differences for pregnant women between France & the U.S.

    Plus the recipes are wonderful.

  • November 13, 2007 2:27pm

    The salmon looks fantastic and I’m excited to give it a try. Also, thanks so much for the tip on the book – I just ordered it.

  • November 13, 2007 4:14pm

    oh that’s just great. now I’m hungry and my mouth is so watering and I can’t even serve this since my hubby’s allergic to fish. sucks to be me right now.

  • simona
    November 13, 2007 4:26pm

    The American CNN commentator probably meant “pate de foie gras”. Which is very bourgeois indeed.And expensive. A “bloc” will be preferable.

  • November 13, 2007 5:13pm

    Thanks for the perfect-sounding appetizer. I will most definitely serve it for my Hannukah party. I am a duck rillettes fiend and these sound like a great, easy alternative.

  • Hillary
    November 13, 2007 6:16pm

    True story. Just made this the other week for a housewarming party. I added a mixture of chives, capers and dill and I must say that it was pretty fantastic! Worth a go!

  • Simon
    November 13, 2007 8:54pm

    Hah, this is a funny coincidence, must be the season or something, but I’m making turkey rillettes for Thanksgiving.

  • November 14, 2007 1:53pm

    I’ve had bad rillettes before, and you are right, it tasted like something meant for the dog. When my brother-in-law (who was visiting us) exclaimed that it tasted like tuna, a man from the Ariege freaked out and said he was insulted!
    Glad to know that we just had a bad rillettes. The only good one I’ve ever had was homemade. It was divine!

  • November 14, 2007 3:33pm

    i love my rillettes, no matter which kind! i’ve nver tried the fish version, though, but thomas keller does it, so it must be all the rage in the states now! you’re right, a perfect canape for the holiday season, it’s going on my list!

  • November 14, 2007 7:08pm

    Whew – I don’t even like salmon but that looks downright delicious to me. You MAY have converted me…

  • November 16, 2007 1:32am

    Hi David – I know this may sound sort of off the wall, but, I used a very thick sour cream that’s available here in Northern California instead of the butter and olive oil. The combination was wonderful. I also made the chocolate/caramel covered matzoh as a ‘foreshpice’ – appetizer, thanks to you, and everyone went at it until the whole batch was devoured. Thanks for both recipes.

  • haapi
    November 16, 2007 1:57pm

    Just to set the record straight about Sarko not being bourgeois:
    -Born and raised in Neuilly
    -Mother a doctor
    -Father from minor Hungarian aristocracy.

    He has taken a page out of Bush’s “spin” manual and CNN, oddly, fell for it.

    That said, salmon rillettes are one of my fave dishes. Believe it or not, those at Chez Flo are outstanding.


  • November 16, 2009 7:55pm

    Oh my word, I had no idea that this was going to be as good as you said it was. But by golly, you were right! Fantastic recipe David. I’m going to post my pictures in a week or so!

  • June 30, 2010 11:40am

    David, David, David…this is one fine recipe. Thank goodness for the search option on your site. My fresh-caught salmon is waiting in the fridge; some for the grill, and some for rillettes.

  • November 6, 2010 7:17am

    Made this this evening and used lemon infused olive oil in them – delicious :)
    Thank you!

  • barney simon
    November 6, 2010 1:54pm

    Love the recipe, but really a microwave = steaming?

  • November 6, 2010 4:07pm
    David Lebovitz

    barney: I don’t own a microwave but since you’re just cooking the fish in the vapors of nearly boiling water, ie steaming, so it is possible to use a microwave steaming contraption if you or others wish.

  • December 13, 2010 3:42am

    I made them today and they tasted great. my family enjoyed it. thanks