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A story on CNN talked about how former 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 paste for spreading on bread.

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. It’s easy to make, too. And I find it more impressive than the usual appetizers that get served at parties. It’s a no-fail recipe and literally takes just minutes to put together.

People were raving about this spread at a birthday party I went to last weekend—not mine…yet…, which is nothing more than a few pats 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. It’s just always such a hit as it is but it’s certainly open to other interpretations.

Salmon Rillettes/Salmon Spread

Adapted from Cooking At Home on Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis This 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 baguettes, but it would be tasty with dark rye or heaped on hearty crackers.
Servings 6 servings
  • 8 ounce (250g) piece of salmon, preferably wild, bones removed
  • salt
  • 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 pimente d'Espelette) or a few turns of freshly-ground white pepper
  • Season the salmon on both sides lightly with a bit of salt. Steam in a steamer basket until just cooked, about 8 minutes. Once cooked, remove from heat and let cool.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, mash together with a fork the butter and the olive oil until very smooth. This is important at this point. Otherwise, there’ll be big chunks of butter in the finished rillettes.
  • Stir in the lemon juice, then the chopped chives and smoked salmon.
  • 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. Taste, and add more salt if desired.
  • 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.


    • Judith in Yummmbria

    Ahhh, this is more my speed than chocolate!

    • Joanna

    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 ;)

    • Nicole

    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!

    • Jeremy

    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?

    • andreea

    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! :)

    • Caroline in DC

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

    • La Rêveuse

    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!

    • Caroline in DC

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

    • Wendy in Seattle

    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.

    • christina

    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.

    • shea

    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

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

    • izzy’s mama

    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

    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

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

    • Cassoulet Cafe

    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!

    • johanna

    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!

    • Hillary

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

    • DrBehavior

    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

    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.


    • Elizabeth

    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!

    • tom | tall clover

    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.

    • Lisa

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

    • David
    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.

    • salmon recipe

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


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