Pairings: Pâté Today
These days, most people buy their pâté premade, but die-hards still make their own—in a rainbow of varieties.
Today's pâtés and terrines put new spins on old favorites.
Pâté. You've likely eaten it in one form or another, perhaps as a pale smear of smoked trout on a tiny crouton, or as a deeply hued paste of chicken livers spooned from a warm ramekin as you sat on a terrace in Tuscany. Maybe you sampled a rich, dense slab of truffled foie gras as you and your petit ami snuggled in a corner of a Parisian café, taking refuge from the rain.
Today, a pâté can be almost anything, as long as it is can be spread on some sort of cracker, bread or toast. I've seen shiitake-tofu pâtés in vegan restaurants, tasted eggplant pâtés all gussied up with olives, roasted peppers, carrot jus and walnuts, and savored voluptuous pastes of smoked salmon. Some have been good, others have been dreadful. Every now and then, I have come across a version that is inspired, full of the intensity and complexity of taste and of texture that is, or should be, a hallmark of the genre.
You Say Pâté, I Say Terrine
Actually, none of the dishes I've mentioned is a true pâté, a term that traditionally describes forcemeat—a mixture of ground poultry, meat or game and spices, wrapped in an inedible dough made of flour and water. Without pastry, the mixture is known as a terrine. And call me a pedant for pointing this out if you like, but pâté en croute is redundant; the word pâté is itself sufficient to indicate the presence of a crust, a detail that is all but forgotten in today's cookbooks and on modern menus. Over the years, the crust, if it's there at all, has become edible and pâté has come to mean all manner of thick savory purées.
The contemporary cousin of these classic dishes is meatloaf, its ancestors the elaborate meat pies of the Middle Ages. All exist along a continuum that includes everything from the tiny little sausage and the mosaic-like head cheese to the huge galantine, which is an elaborate forcemeat stuffed into the skin of a large bird, poached and glazed with aspic.
The primary quality that distinguishes pâtés and terrines from the humble meatloaf is the quantity of fat—50 percent or more—that lends pâtés and terrines their silky, voluptuous textures. The other signal characteristic is the labor involved in making them: A meatloaf is a simple project, quickly and casually accomplished; both terrines and pâtés—recipes for which can run to four, five, and even six pages—require hours of work and days of aging. No wonder we buy more pâtés than we make these days.
A Lost Art
For years, I made duck pâté at Christmas. I used Julia Child's recipe, carefully removing the skin of a duck in one piece so that I could use it in place of pastry or caul fat (the fatty lining of a pig's stomach that is sometimes used to wrap the forcemeat before it is cooked). After two days of work and a third day for the flavors to develop, we were rewarded with a dense loaf studded with pistachios and bursting with earthy flavors.
That was a long time ago. Recently, I checked with my local butcher to see if the ingredients necessary for traditional pâtés and terrines are readily available. He could get pork livers, he said, but I'd have to buy 15 pounds. He hadn't seen fatback in years and was confused when I asked about caul fat. He had never heard of lard leaves, the thin sheets of lard that can be used in place of the lacy caul fat.
Across the aisle from the butcher counter, a selection of pâtés and terrines from Marcel & Henri beckoned.
Pâtés Like Mamma Used to Make
Marcel & Henri Charcuterie Française was founded in San Francisco in 1960, when Henri Lapuyade and his partner at the time, Marcel Moura, opened a market on Russian Hill. It was the first pâté company in the United States.
The little shop on the corner of Union and Hyde streets offered French cheeses, high-quality meats and other specialties that were unfamiliar to most Americans at that time. Soon Lapuyade, who was born in Arette in the French Pyrenees in 1928, began making pâtés in the store's tiny kitchen, using his mother's recipes. Customers loved them, so he made more. One day, a buyer from Macy's in New York City hopped off a cable car, came inside and sampled Henri's pâtés. Not long after, Marcel & Henri pâtés were becoming as popular in New York as they were in San Francisco.
By 1984, the operation had grown too large for the tiny kitchen. Lapuyade closed the store, and opened a factory in South San Francisco, near the airport for easy shipping. Today, 60 distributors deliver more than four dozen Marcel & Henri products throughout the Untied States, Mexico, Singapore and the Caribbean, including smooth pork pâté with truffles and Cognac; duck liver mousse speckled with bits of prune; galantine de canard, with duck, olives, pistachios and duck truffle mousse and boudin noir, a Pyrenees-style blood sausage. You'll find them in retail markets everywhere, in handy little 8-ounce packages. They are outstanding, a commercial product that is not a compromise.
I'd Rather Do It Myself
In The New Making of a Chef (Morrow, 1997) Madeleine Kamman, the renowned chef and cooking teacher, writes, "If you want more information on pâtés, see the first edition of this book; they will not appear here because so very few chefs, cooks and diners are interested in them anymore." That said, she then offers detailed explanations on how to make both traditional forcemeats and contemporary ones with less fat, a guide that will help accomplished, dedicated cooks come up with their own versions.
If you're just looking for recipes, American Charcuterie: Recipes from Pig-By-The-Tail (Penguin Books, 1986) by Victoria Wise is excellent, with accessible versions of pâtés, terrines and galantines that don't require the better part of a week to make. The book is out of print, but not difficult to find online or in used bookstores.
Here are some recipes for some scrumptious terrines that you can make at home.
|Terrine of Foie Gras|
|Country-style Terrine of Chicken Liver and Chorizo|
For more scrumptious pâté recipes, pick up this month's issue of Wine Enthusiast at your local newsstand.