A Delicious Mash-up: Franco-Asian Salmon Rillettes

Bonjour from Paris, where I’m celebrating the coming new year. It’s a decades-old family tradition and one that centers, as our favorite traditions do, on food: New Year’s Eve always turns into our biggest dinner party of the year!

We never know how many we’ll be; some years (and this is one of them), we have to set up a couple of tables in the living room. But we do know that we’ll have lots of champagne and gougères, spiced nuts and toasts with something delicious on them before we sit down to a long dinner that always includes oysters, a brothy main course (because I own 36 shallow soup plates!), Mont d’Or and Comté for the cheese course, and custards and cookies for dessert. Between the oysters and the main course, I’ll serve the 2015 version of salmon rillettes. I make some play on this mix of poached and fresh salmon every year, and this year’s might be my most unusual yet. It’s sparked with gochujang, the Korean sweet-and-spicy paste that’s gaining on Sriracha in the popularity polls, and togarashi, the fiery Japanese red pepper blend.

Talk about a cultural mashup. Rillettes are a time-honored French preparation traditionally made by cooking pork or duck in its own fat until the meat is soft enough to spread on a hunk of bread. It’s a rich concoction, almost by definition, and all the more wonderful for that richness. Rillettes are a staple of charcuteries all over France; you can find them packed into crocks and can buy them by the heaping spoonful.

These days, rillettes are made with a variety of ingredients, from canned sardines and tuna to chicken and mackerel, smoked and fresh. And where the potted meats had to cook for hours, the new rillettes are quickly made and need just a couple of hours in the fridge to set their texture.

My rillettes use slivered smoked salmon and chunks of poached fresh salmon. (Recently, faced with no access to my favorite fishmonger, I made the rillettes with frozen wild Alaskan sockeye salmon, and they were great.) The salmon is poached for a minute in wine and water, left covered for 10 minutes and then chilled briefly. Once united, the smoked and fresh salmon are made spreadable with the addition of softened butter and mayonnaise; spicy with togarashi (you can use ground cayenne pepper) and gochujang; tangy with rice vinegar and lemon; sharp with scallions and shallots; and herbal with cilantro.

With something this simple, there’s plenty of room to play around. Dill is just as good as cilantro, and seaweed flakes are interesting; clementines can stand in for lemon (they’re sweeter, of course, so you might want a splash more vinegar); Sriracha can bump the gochujang, but be careful, because it’s hotter; and if you want crunch, consider tossing in toasted sesame seeds.

For New Year’s Eve, I’m going dressy, serving a scoop of rillettes on a plate with a slice of smoked salmon, brioche and a wedge of lemon. My usual is a whole lot less fancy: I pack the mix in a preserving jar and nibble at it from morning to midnight, spreading it on whatever I’ve got at hand, including Triscuits, wheat crackers, baguette, rye bread, endive and celery stalks. It’s a great host gift, so make extra. I do.

Wishing you and yours a “joyeux” new year. A delicious one, too.

Photograph by Deb Lindsey. This story originally appeared in my Everyday Dorie column in Washington Post Food.

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Franco-Asian Salmon Rillettes

Makes at least 6 servings

Serve this as an hors d’oeuvre, spreading it on small toasts or crackers; or you can make it a sit-down starter, a scoop of the rillettes sharing a small plate with a few slices of avocado seasoned with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Make Ahead: The salmon can be poached and refrigerated a day in advance. The rillettes need to be refrigerated in an airtight container for at least 6 hours and up to 2 days.

  • 2 scallions
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup white wine or dry white vermouth
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
  • Togarashi (a Japanese spice blend; may substitute ground cayenne pepper; see headnote)
  • Fine sea salt
  • 6 to 8 ounces salmon fillets, skin and pin bones removed (see headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 small shallot, rinsed in cold water and patted dry, then minced (1 tablespoon)
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into small squares or slivers
  • 1/4 cup regular or low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons gochujang (Korean chili paste; may substitute Sriracha)
  • About 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves

Trim the scallions, then mince the white and light-green parts. Toss the dark-green scallion stalks into a medium saucepan along with a thin slice of the lemon.

Add the wine or vermouth, the water, 1 tablespoon of the rice vinegar, a small pinch of togarashi and a pinch of salt to the saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Drop the salmon into the liquid, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat; let the fish rest (covered, in the pot) for 10 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the salmon to a plate. Discard the cooking liquid. At this point, the fish will be cooked and will gently flake apart. Refrigerate for 20 minutes (or up to 1 day; cover if refrigerating overnight).

Put the butter in a mixing bowl; beat it with a flexible spatula until it is spreadable. Grate the zest from half the lemon over the butter, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice from half of the lemon into the bowl and add the minced scallions, the shallot and a pinch each of salt and togarashi. Blend thoroughly, then stir in the smoked salmon.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, the juice from the remaining lemon half, 1 teaspoon of seasoned rice vinegar and a small pinch each of togarashi and salt in a separate bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the gochujang; taste, and add more if you’d like (I usually add a total of 2 teaspoons); the dressing will be thin. Pour this over the smoked salmon mixture and blend well.

Remove the poached salmon from the refrigerator, cut it into bite-size pieces and gently stir it into the smoked salmon. It’s impossible not to crush the poached salmon, but try to keep the mixture as chunky as you can. Taste for togarashi, salt and gochujang, adjusting the seasonings if you’d like, then fold in the chopped cilantro.

You can serve the rillettes now, but the flavor will improve if you pack them into a container, seal and refrigerate for at least 6 hours (or up to 2 days).