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.