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An Elegant Salmon Hors d’Oeuvre

Smoked and poached fish costar in silky, sophisticated, and simple-to-make rillettes.
By Published Oct. 3, 2022

Swiped across a toasted baguette slice at a party, salmon rillettes feel extravagant. But the cook is the one who experiences its true luxury—the savory spread comes together quickly from a handful of ingredients, and it can be made up to a day ahead. Simply pull it out of the fridge and serve it as a cocktail hour nibble or pack it into a jar as a host gift.

Rillettes originated as a French preservation method in which meat, traditionally pork, was slow‑cooked in fat until it reached a meltingly tender, spreadable consistency. Nowadays the rillettes formula is applied to other proteins, with some modifications. Salmon is a natural fit, as it is rich like the game that was traditionally used but requires only a fraction of the cooking time. Recipes from Eric Ripert and Dorie Greenspan relied on a poached fillet as the base of the spread, and I followed suit, opting for farm‑raised salmon over wild because its higher fat content would produce a richer, more luxurious texture.

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A hybrid method of poaching and steaming the fish would ensure a moist, evenly cooked fillet. I boiled water in a saucepan, added the fish, reduced the heat, and then simmered the fish just until it began to turn opaque. Then, I covered the pot and removed it from the heat, allowing the steam and residual heat to finish the cooking. 

As the poached salmon cooled in the fridge, I assembled the rest of my ingredients. The subtle taste of the poached fish needed some punch, but I didn’t want to distract from the salmon flavor. The solution? Smoked salmon. I processed a few silky slices with softened butter until it formed a smooth paste that would infuse the rillettes with savoriness and subtle smoke. As a binder, I reached for crème fraîche, an ingredient that felt at home in this traditional French dish and would balance the fish’s richness with its mild cultured tang. Lemon juice, whole-grain mustard, and fresh chives also hearkened to French flavors and added a dose of brightness and freshness without disrupting the rillettes’ texture.

With that, it was time to bring the components together. Rillettes run the gamut when it comes to texture: Some versions are finely shredded, while others feature a mix of larger and smaller pieces of meat. I wanted my rillettes to be easy to spread into a thick layer without being too homogeneous, so I finely shredded two-thirds of the poached fillet into the smoked salmon butter and then flaked the other third into 1/2-inch pieces before adding it to the mixture. 

After a couple hours of chilling in the refrigerator, this velvety, spreadable salmon was the star of my charcuterie board.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.