Pairings: Pâté Today

Pairings: Pâté Today

Pâté Today

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.

Mother, Please!
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

As it turns out, the simplest of all terrines is also one of the most luxurious and delicious. Foie gras is literally a fattened liver, typically from a goose or duck in its native France, although in this country, raw foie gras is from ducks. Acquiring the fresh, raw foie gras will take more time than preparing it. If you have a high-end gourmet market, you should be able to order a foie gras there. If not, you can buy one online at Be sure to plan ahead; although there is not much work involved, the terrine requires a total of four days of aging.

Wine recommendations: Rich, silky pâtés call for rich, silky wines. One traditional match is Sauternes or Barsac. Another option is a late-harvest (vendages tardives) wine from Alsace. You don’t want something too sweet, but it should have an unctuous quality to stand up to the foie gras.

  • 1 foie gras, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Cognac
  • Croutons or toast triangles

Set the foie gras on a cutting board or other work surface and let it rest for 30 minutes. Remove it from its package. Separate the large and small lobes, or sections, and remove any visible fat. Make a slit in the bottom of each lobe, open it gently with your fingers, and remove and discard the large vein. If any pieces of the foie gras break off, tuck them into the larger pieces. Season the foie gras all over with salt and pepper. Then press it into a terrine or loaf pan with lid, smooth side up. Press down gently, pour the Cognac over the foie gras, cover with the terrine lid and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200F. Let the foie gras rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Bring a teakettle of water to a boil. Create a water bath by setting the terrine into a roasting pan, placing it on the middle rack of the oven and filling the pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the terrine. Bake for 20 minutes. Let the terrine rest, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Pour off any fat that has collected around the edges, and save it for another purpose. Using the lid of the terrine turned upside down, gently press the foie gras down into the terrine. Cover and refrigerate for three days.

To serve, gently loosen the edges of the foie gras with a knife, remove and save the visible fat, slice the foie gras, and serve with croutons or toast triangles. Serves 10 to 12.


Country-style Terrine of Chicken Liver and Chorizo

Country-style pâtés and terrines, sometimes called pâté maison, generally have a chunky texture. In this version, which is my own, I replace the more traditional pork and veal with chorizo, a mildly spicy pork sausage. To make clarified butter, melt 8 ounces (two sticks) of unsalted butter in a small saucepan set over low heat. Skim the foam and impurities from the surface and discard. Carefully pour butter into a small container, being careful to leave milk solids in the bottom of the pan. Clarified butter will keep for several weeks if refrigerated in an airtight container.

Wine recommendations: Like the terrine of foie gras above, match the personality of the dish (rustic and chunky in this case) to the personality of the wine. A bold, not-too-polished red wine with spice notes will match well with the assertive flavors in this dish. Try Grenache-based blends from Spain or the south of France, a peppery Côtes-du-Rhône, or even a sturdy Beaujolais—preferably a Morgon or Moulin à Vent—with this country-style terrine.

  • 3/4 pound chicken livers, fat and membranes trimmed
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Tequila or brandy
  • 6 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 large head garlic, cloves separated, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon minced sage
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 teaspoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 pound Mexican (not Spanish) chorizo sausage, in bulk or with
    casings removed

Put the chicken livers into a shallow bowl, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the Tequila or brandy and set aside for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch the bacon by filling a small saucepan half full with water and bring it to a boil. Separate the bacon slices so that they do not stick to each other, drop them into the boiling water and simmer for 30 seconds. Transfer to absorbent paper to drain.

Melt the butter in a medium pan set over medium-low heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic and sautée 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the allspice, sage and oregano and remove from heat.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Chop half of the chicken livers into medium (about 1/2-to 3/4-inch) chunks and put them into a bowl. Chop 3 slices of bacon. Put the chopped bacon and the remaining half of the chicken livers, along with any juices, into the work bowl of a food processor. Add the egg and cream and pulse until the mixture is smooth; pour into the bowl with the chopped livers. Add the chorizo and the onion mixture and use a wooden spoon to mix together thoroughly.

Line a 3-cup terrine or narrow loaf pan with the remaining bacon and pack the forcemeat into the pan and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Create a water bath by setting the pan in a larger ovenproof dish and setting it on the middle rack of the oven. Fill the larger dish with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the smaller dish. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the terrine reaches an internal temperature of 145F on an instant-read thermometer. Serves 10 to 12.

For more scrumptious pâté recipes, pick up this month’s issue of Wine Enthusiast at your local newsstand.


Published on December 1, 2001