Thomas Keller's Smoked and Steamed Salmon Rillettes

In August 2009, Amy and I spent two days hopping from vineyard to vineyard in Sonoma County, California. After a full afternoon of wine tasting at 5 different vineyards, we stopped in Yountville - a foodie's heaven - for dinner. Because Yountville has so many, not just good, but great restaurants, we had a difficult time making a decision where we wanted to spend our evening. Would it be Ad Hoc, Bouchon, Bottega, Red, the French Laundry? I literally felt like a kid in a candy store. We decided to do a progressive dinner and try as many as we could in one evening.

Our first stop, for appetizers, was Bouchon, Thomas Keller's more affordable country French bistro. We chose Bouchon because we didn't plan far enough in advance to make reservations at the French Laundry. The salmon rillettes were one of several small dishes we ordered there. This recipe is absolutely brilliant. It is a delectable mixture of smoked salmon, fresh salmon, and of course lots and lots of butter. You must try this at least once in your lifetime - and if you can't make it to Bouchon, try making it yourself. The recipe looks a little intimidating but it is fairly easy and the ingredients are readily available


  •     1 pound center-cut salmon fillet, skin and pinbones removed
  •     2 tablespoons Pernod
  •     Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
  •     8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  •     1/2 cup minced shallots
  •     1 tablespoon of creme fraiche
  •     8 ounces unsliced chilled smoked salmon, cut into 1/4 inch dices and brought to room temperature
  •     2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  •     1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  •     2 large organic egg yolks, lightly beaten
  •     about 1/2 cup clarified butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  •     Minced chives


Step 1: Trim and discard any dark flesh from the salmon fillet. Place the fish in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle each side with 1 tablespoon of the Pernod, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and one-fourth teaspoon white pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes, turning the fish over halfway through the marination.

Step 2: Bring water to a simmer in the bottom of a steamer. Remove the salmon from the baking dish and place it in the steamer and cover with the lid. Steam gently for 5 to 8 minutes; if you see steam pouring out the sides of the steamer, lower the heat. Check the salmon by separating the flesh with the tip of a knife and peering at the center. It should be medium-rare. When it is cooked, remove from the steamer.

Step 3: Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium saute pan over low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Season with one-fourth teaspoon salt and continue to cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the shallots have softened but not browned. Remove from the heat.

Step 4: Put 7 tablespoons butter in a small bowl and beat with a rubber spatula until it is smooth and resembles mayonnaise in consistency. Stir in the creme fraiche. Set aside.

Step 5: Put the cooked salmon in a large bowl and stir to break it into large chunks. Because you will be stirring in the remaining ingredients, you don't want to break up the pieces too much.


Step 6: Stir in the smoked salmon, shallots, lemon juice, olive oil and egg yolks. Season assertively with one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-half teaspoon white pepper, since this will be served cold. Fold in the butter mixture.

Step 7: Transfer the rillettes to 2 ceramic or glass serving bowls, leaving at least one-half-inch of space at the top. Smooth the top of the rillettes and wipe the inside rims clean.


Step 8: Refrigerate for about 1 hour, until cold. Pour a one-fourth-inch-thick layer of clarified butter over the top of the rillettes to seal. (To clarify butter, melt the remaining one-half cup -- 1 stick -- butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Do not let it brown. Remove it from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes. A white foam will collect on top. Using a large spoon, remove the foam. Carefully and with a steady hand, pour off the clear yellowish liquid, leaving the milky solids at the bottom.)

Step 9: Cover the bowls and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. To serve, break through the butter layer and remove it. Spread the rillettes on toast or crackers and sprinkle with chives. (Once the butter is removed, eat the rillettes within 2 days.)

Thomas Keller's version

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