As an amateur cook myself (I have plenty of enthusiasm but very little in the way of professional training), I openly admit that charcuterie items like pâté feel more than a little intimidating to try at home. That’s why I’m typically content to shell out the big bucks to pick up pre-made versions at my trusted local butcher…but now that I’ve got plenty of time on my hands, I find myself wondering whether these delicacies are really so far outside of my skill level, or whether I can whip up a flavorful batch of pâté with a bit of expert advice and an easy-to-follow recipe. The fruits of my information quest can be found below, along with 2 very different but equally flavorful pâté recipes to attempt at your leisure.
What is Pâté?
Pâté is a French term used to describe a dish made from a mixture of ground meat and fat. Traditionally, pâtés include organ meat; liver is the most commonly used, as it contributes positively to both the earthy flavor and the spreadable texture of the pâté. Some pâtés also incorporate smoothing agents like eggs or butter.
If you enjoy charcuterie on the regular, then you’ve probably also seen the term “terrine” on menus and in display cases at butcher counters. “Terrine” refers to a deep, rectangular pan that’s often used to make pâté. However, any number of other ingredients can be loaded into a terrine and shaped into a sliceable loaf. Basically: all pâtés are terrines, but not all terrines are pâtés. In charcuterie terms, a traditional terrine is a layered meat dish (made in its eponymous pan, of course) that’s less finely ground than pâté, therefore offering up more varied textures and stronger flavors.
If you feel ready to embark on a pâté-making adventure, consider these tips from professionals who know their way around a charcuterie board:
Source the best possible meat and organs
All good charcuterie requires high-quality meat, and pâté is certainly no exception. “Care about the sourcing of your meat. Purchase from a trusted butcher to make sure it’s high-quality and fresh. It’s especially important that when you’re using organ meat, it’s coming from an animal that’s raised and fed properly. The animal’s diet is going to influence the taste, and an organ like liver already has strong flavors, so you want those flavors to be fresh and clean. When it comes to pâtés and terrines, it’s about using techniques to show off cheaper organs like livers, so you might as well spend a little more money on the liver for the sake of better flavor, because it’s ultimately still going to be a less expensive cut,” explains culinary director Damon Menapace of Primal Supply Meats in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
When grinding liver for pâté, don’t hesitate to let your food processor really rip
Several of our sources indicated that, while it’s possible to make pâtés and terrines with pre-ground meat, it’s far more advisable to grind the meat yourself. After that initial grind, you’ll need to process your meat, herbs, and other aromatics further to achieve that smooth pâté texture. And when you do that, chef/owner Rusty Bowers of Pine Street Market in Atlanta, Georgia suggests allowing your food processor to run for longer than you may assume, especially if you’re using butter as a smoothing agent: “When blending pâté, let the food processor run for over a minute. It seems too long, but completely pureeing the liver while incorporating the butter is what creates the velvety mouthfeel of this simple dish.”
When making a terrine, keep both the meat and the equipment as cold as possible
Because terrines famously hold the shape of the pan used to prep them, it’s important to keep them at a cool temperature that will prevent runniness or collapse. “[For terrines,] we go to extremes to keep everything cold. Not only do you want your meat cold, but you also want the equipment to be as cold as possible,” insists Chef Isaac Toups of Toups’ Meatery in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Frank Proto, the director of culinary operations at the Institute of Culinary Education, recommends keeping the meat cold even as you begin the grinding process: “Put your meat in the freezer before you grind it; this will ensure a good emulsion that won’t break.”
Don’t have a specialty terrine pan? No problem.
Yes, the terrine takes its name from a specific type of pan…but if you don’t happen to have a designated terrine pan on-hand, there’s no need to abandon your terrine dreams. “For a first-time pâté/terrine maker, there is no need to invest in an expensive terrine pan. They are neat, for sure, but a basic loaf pan will do just fine,” says head butcher and chef Rob Levitt of Publican Quality Meats in Chicago, Illinois.
If you want a charcuterie item that’s easier to spread, turn your pâté into a mousse.
Pâté’s unctuous texture counts among its greatest positives, but if you’re in the mood for a spread that’s equally rich but a bit airier and easier to maneuver, then consider adapting your pâté into a mousse. “The difference between a pâté and a mousse is [that] the mousse is lighter in texture and a pâté is heavier. They are both a mixture of fat and meat. Let’s say you wanted to make a basic chicken liver pâté, but wanted it to be lighter and more spreadable. To do so, you would add either whipped egg whites or whipped heavy cream to your meat mixture. When using heavy cream, be sure that you do not over-whip the cream, or it will break and make the texture grainy on the end product. Personally, I love chicken liver mousse more than chicken liver pâté because it’s easier to spread on things and is a little more rich in flavor. I think it’s also pretty easy to make at home,” executive chef Jeff Sellers of Leon’s Full Service in Decatur, Georgia tells The Manual.
Be patient and enjoy the process.
It’s no secret that making your own pâté and terrine requires a solid amount of time; it’s a kitchen marathon, not a sprint. But Austin, Texas-based private chef and cooking instructor Crystal Reinwald urges you to embrace the long-haul nature of this project: “One piece of advice for someone trying out making pâtés and terrines for the first time would be to take your time and enjoy the process. These aren’t hard to do, but rushing them can cause [the] food to not set or cook correctly, which can change not only the flavor, but also the texture.”
Chicken Liver Pâté
(By Crystal Reinwald, personal chef and cooking instructor, Austin, Texas)
Reinwald’s classic pâté mousse recipe uses chicken livers, and she likes to pair her rich spread with toasted baguette slices and bacon jam. The smoky sweetness of the latter brings out the savory notes of the pâté, making for a wonderfully balanced and indulgent snacking experience.
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 2 shallots, minced
- 16 oz fresh chicken livers, trimmed
- 2 tbsps fresh thyme leaves
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 4 tbsps heavy cream, more if needed
- Salt, to taste
- Over medium heat, melt 1/2 of the butter until foaming. Add in the shallots and cook until they are translucent. Be careful to keep your heat low so that they don’t get any color on them.
- Add in the thyme, vinegar, and chicken livers. Crank up the heat to high while stirring everything in the pan. Cook until the liquid has reduced and the livers are brown on the outside but soft on the inside, 5-7 minutes.
- Take off of the heat and puree in a blender or food processor with the rest of the butter and the cream. Add more cream if it’s too thick. Season with salt, to taste.
- Refrigerate immediately in the serving dish you want to use. Pâté is ready once chilled, about 1-2 hours.
- Serve with toasted baguette slices or crackers.
(By Isaac Toups, chef/owner, Toups’ Meatery, New Orleans, Louisiana)
“A terrine is a pâté that’s cooked in a terrine mold. There’s no quick get-out on a terrine; It needs to fully chill after it’s been cooked, and it’s best when prepared a couple of days in advance. The Sazerac is my favorite New Orleans cocktail. Invented here, it’s made using good rye, Herbsaint, bitters, sugar, and orange. I love those flavors so much that I turned my favorite drink into a meat dish. Of course,” Isaac Toups tells us of his Sazerac-inspired pork terrine.
- 1 ½ lbs ground pork butt (either ground by a butcher or ground yourself), very cold
- 8 oz ground pork belly, skin off or fatback, very cold
- ¼ cup rye whiskey
- ¼ cup orange liqueur, like Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
- 2 tbsps sugar
- Grated zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges (use a microplane to zest the oranges)
- Grated zest of 2 lemons (no juice)
- ½ cup Luxardo maraschino cherries (with syrup)
- 2 tbsps nonfat dry milk powder
- 2 tsps fennel seeds, toasted and ground
- 1/4 tsp quatre épices (French four-spice, includes equal parts allspice, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg)
- 1 ½ tbsps kosher salt
- ⅛ tsp curing salt (optional; Toups uses it to “preserve color and shelf life”)
- 12-14 slices bacon
- 8 cups ice
- Creole or Dijon mustard, pickled red onion, and pickled grilled pineapple, for serving
- Put the mixing bowl and paddle attachment of a large stand mixer, along with the ground pork butt and belly, in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Combine the whiskey and orange liqueur in a small saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce until you have 1 tbsp of liquid left (takes about 5 minutes). Be aware that the alcohol may ignite; if it does, allow it to burn off.
- Remove the chilled mixer bowl from the freezer and add the liqueur mixture, sugar, orange zest and juice, and lemon zest. Whisk to dissolve the sugar, then add the bowl to the refrigerator and chill until cold.
- Remove the meat from the freezer and add to the mixer bowl, along with the cherries, milk powder, fennel, four-spice, kosher salt, and curing salt (if using).
- Using the mixer’s chilled paddle attachment, combine the ingredients on medium speed for 15 seconds. Turn the mixer speed up to high and mix until the meat blend begins to stick to the side of the bowl, about 30 seconds. The meat mixture should come together, but should be a little loose. All of the juice and liquor should be incorporated, with no excess liquid at the bottom. Cook and taste a sample of the meat.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Drape the bacon slices into an 11 ½” x 3 ½” x 2 1/2” terrine or loaf pan, lining them with about a ¼” overlap between slices and letting excess bacon drape over the edges.
- Working with handfuls at a time, press the pork mixture into the terrine mold, tamping down gently with the back of your forefinger and middle finger to remove air pockets. Wrap the excess ends of the bacon over the top of the terrine to make a nice little package.
- Cover the terrine mold with a lid and place the mold in a high-sided roasting pan. Add room-temperature water to the roasting pan until it comes halfway up the side of the mold. Carefully place in oven and back for 1 hour, until the terrine reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Once the roasting pan comes out of the oven, use an oven mitt to carefully remove the terrine mold. Pour the hot water out of the roasting pan. Place the terrine mold back in the roasting pan and add ice water until it comes ¾ of the way up the terrine mold. Refrigerate overnight.
- When you’re ready to serve, turn the terrine out of the mold and serve with mustard, pickled red onion, and pickled pineapple.
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