Party and Christmas food: Sardine rillettes

Christmas is coming, I’m going to get fat…or rather I am probably going to eat more than is strictly necessary. That is usually because I start to think about what are commonly known as ‘nibbles’ (horrid word) and ‘dips’ (not much better). Whereas for most of the year I tend to eat a one- or, at a push, two-course meal, December tempts me to other delights. What’s a few twiglets between friends after all? And, even though I rarely throw parties and, as a freelancer, am unlikely to be attending any office bashes I love discovering, and making, little treats. Like these sardine rillettes for example.

Rillettes originally come from France and are traditionally made with cuts of fatty pork, rendered down and shredded into a paste that is then served hot on toast with, at least in my perfect world, crisp cornichons. I would never make a meat version (all that fat in the kitchen is a tad nauseating) but, having spotted what is a madly simple, and relatively shopping-free, recipe for a fish one I ventured out of my comfort zone. And, my, they are bloody delicious. I highly recommend them to you, with perhaps toast or some celery and, if you can bear it, try and chill them for a while before eating them: the recipe says two hours, I managed 30 minutes but they were much better even after that short time. The recipe is not clear whether to use one herb or a mix; I used just coriander and it worked perfectly but I’m sure a mix would be yummy too.

Sardine rillettes (adapted from Around My French Table)

Makes about six servings (a good pasta bowlful)

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
cayenne pepper, a pinch (for some reason I never have this; I used smoked paprika)

Shopping list
sardines in olive oil, 2 tins (usual size is about 120-150g)
shallots, 2 or a small red onion
spring onions, 2
full-fat cream cheese, 65g
limes, 2 or 1 lemon
fresh herbs (coriander, flat-leaf parsley, chives or dill), 2 tablespoons

How to
1. Drain the sardines then slice each fillet in half lengthways and lift out the long bone. Cut off any tails too.
2. Rinse and chop the herbs. Peel and finely chop the shallots/onion, trim and finely slice the spring onions and juice one of the limes (you may not need both).
3. Put the cream cheese into a medium bowl and mash it a bit with a fork or wooden spoon until it is a bit softer. Then add the shallots, spring onions, herbs, cayenne/paprika, and the juice of one lime. Mix it all together well then add the sardines and mash them in too.
4. Taste and season as required, juicing and adding more lime juice if needed. Finally, cover with clingfilm and chill for as long as you can.

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