It is possible to have friends over for dinner & conversation after the kids are in bed.
But it will be late enough to have a hearty appetizer absolutely ready to eat when your guests walk in the door. I adapted a recipe for Dilled Salmon Rillettes from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)’s book, Hors d’Oeuvre at Home. Not being the biggest fan of dill, I swapped out dill for fennel seeds, since it sang nicely with the rest of the menu (lemon, arugula, manchego, fresh fennel). The intense flavor of the rillettes meant there’d be some leftover for the next day.
Next day I got home from a long seminar and had some catering work to do. While the quiche crust dough for breakfast catering rested, I baked off a single demi-baguette. This also gave the rillettes time to warm up and soften. I was starving, but I resisted the urge for faster peanut butter & marmalade.
I ate a hot, still crackling baguette, spreading each bite with rillettes. French cuisine, I think, shines when it comes to snacks.
Salmon Rillettes with Crushed Fennel Seeds
4 oz butter
6-8 oz salmon fillet, skin on or not (using skin-on will add beige flecks to your rillette, which I think is nice and rustic)
3 fl oz dry white wine
1 tbsp minced shallots
1 tsp salt
1 tsp whole fennel seeds
1 tsp lemon zest, finely chopped/grated
1. Slowly melt the butter in a saucepan just large enough to hold the salmon.
2. Crush the fennel seeds with the salt in a mortar, or use a sturdy glass tumbler on a cutting board to crush the fennel and blend with the salt.
3. Add the salmon, wine, shallots, salt, fennel, and zest to the butter. Simmer over low heat til the salmon is firm. Finish the cooking with the skin side up.
4. Remove from the heat, chill until the butter begins to solidify again. Remove the salmon skin and feed to dog or discard.
5. Using a stand mixer with the paddle on slow speed, blend everything together until if forms a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if you need to.
6. Press rillettes into the mold (small shallow bowl is good) you’ll serve it from, and chill until just firm. Serve with crackers, lavash, or baguette.
Variations: Add 2 tsp chopped fennel fronds, more lemon zest & a little lemon juice to the mix when cool. Serve on “spoons” of fresh fennel (bulbs). Or simmer with a couple inches of lemongrass stalk (instead of fennel) and add minced Thai basil to rillettes mix when cool.
Thanks to Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking…” for Creme au Citron recipe, and Jeff Hertzberg for baguette recipe. Not to forget the CIA’s awesome Hors d’Oeuvre Boot Camp.