Salmon Rillettes (One Good Thwack)

The sun loses itself behind a scrim of melted butter-clouds.

I move a mason jar filled with wildflowers so they catch the caramelly light. They die so quickly. The hardwood glows amber-gold. The sun burns beauty into our shoulders and thighs. We try to make the most.

I’m embarrassed to find myself these days writing mostly about weather. It can’t be helped. Last week I wrote about not writing, of all things, about the feel of quiet. What I meant then was not that I have nothing to report from that quiet. I meant I’m troubled about what to possibly mean.

It would be a relief to mean something hefty but I’m not much a believer in grand schemes. What I worship, when I worship, is often reducible to light, to taste, to skin. To the swift rough thwacks of life we call breathlessness, or reverence, or joy.

“If I had my way, my life would be a happy succession of such thwacks, and I’d be the tight reeling that comes just after and begins slowly to lose itself… But I can’t even get one good thwack.”

– Joe Wenderoth, Letters to Wendy’s

What I’m up against now is the problem of living a life that’s not driven by any one idea of itself, aside from the thwacking. I’ve heard this is what happens with young women in their twenties. Before it was easy; I thought I’d be a writer. It’s easy until it isn’t.

And I don’t have to tell you that the last thing anyone wants after nine hours in an office is to come home to a messy kitchen, a messy life, ignore it, and write late into the night. The last thing you want is to swim around in that murky meaning.

What you want is the rigor of a beating heart. You want to taste sweat, eat a good meal, sleep like the dead—be, for a precious few hours, unmeant. Is this the work of a lazy mind? Perhaps this is the work of a lazy mind.

But not a lazy body. On weeknights I drink altogether too much coffee and run around the cemetery, along the lake. I swallow my fear of birds. I want to jump in the water but do not. The following mornings I search my train conductor’s speech for signs of life. She has this tired, breakable, sunless voice. She warns us, as we approach every obscure platform, not pull the doors open, “as the train may not have arrived at the station.”

Which, can you imagine?

Terribly insufficient, all of it. One hungers for a hard, honest thwack. A deep soul-thwack. And I’m not prepared to tell you that salmon spread is the answer.

But tomorrow, I think—or maybe the next day, or the day after—we’ll make an example of ourselves. We’ll drink too much, crow drunk at the birds, swim out past the bounding buoys, pull open the doors before we reach… before we reach…

Reach what?

Salmon Rillettes


– 3/4 lbs wild salmon (Copper River is nice, if you can buy it without getting gouged)
– 3/4 lbs smoked or cured salmon
– 3 tbsp fennel bulb, minced
– 3 tbsp shallots, minced
– 1 tsp tarragon, roughly chopped
– 1/2 tsp dill, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish
– 2 tsp chives, chopped

– 2 cups white wine
– 1/2 lemon
– 2 egg yolks
– 3 tbsp butter, separated
– 2 tbsp olive oil, separated
– Kosher salt
– Black pepper
– White pepper


Please take my advice here and cure your own salmon before mixing the rillettes. It takes an extra day and a half but it’s worth it. But please note: if you’re just making 3/4 lb, it takes only about 30 hours to cure, and less if you weigh it down.

Once you’ve procured your cured/smoked salmon–however you’ve procured it–poach 3/4 lb wild salmon in 2 cups white wine in a shallow pot with plenty of salt and pepper. Feel free to add fennel fronds, lemon slices, dill, shallots, peppercorns, etc. to the poaching liquid. It’ll smell up the place unforgettably.

Bring wine to a simmer and lower the heat. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, until salmon is barely cooked through. Remove salmon to a bowl, peel away the skin and allow it to cool.

Meanwhile, soften shallots and fennel in 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and white pepper. When translucent, add 2 supremes (pithless slices) of lemon and warm through until they disappear into the aromatics. Set aside.

Melt 2 tbsp of butter and allow to cool slightly. In a small bowl, whisk together butter with 2 egg yolks and 1 tbsp olive oil until mixture thickens. Season liberally with Kosher salt and 1 tsp white pepper powder.

Chop cured salmon into roughly 1/4 cm cubes.

In a large bowl, using a dinner fork, thoroughly combine poached salmon, cured salmon, egg mixture, sauteed aromatics and chopped herbs. Test for seasoning. Add more salt or white pepper as needed. Season thoroughly with fresh ground black pepper.

Store in airtight container (I use a mason jar). If you’re going to store it for long before eating, you can seal it with butter. But I think that’s a waste of butter.

Serve on a toasted, buttered baguette with radishes and pickles. Garnish with chopped chives and dill flowers.

Let it catch the light.