Pate
by Mark R. Vogel

        A pâté is a rich forcemeat: ground beef, pork, poultry, seafood, liver etc., often combined with some form of fat, vegetables, herbs, and seasonings.  The forcemeat is then placed into a mold (known as a terrine), and cooked.  It may be served hot or cold depending on the nature of the particular pâté.  It is often fabricated into a decorative shape and presented rather elegantly.  Pâtés are typically employed as a first course or an appetizer. 

      There are four general types of forcemeat.  Straight forcemeats are combinations of pork and pork fat, which are successively ground and emulsified.  Country-style (campagne) forcemeats are coarser, and routinely made from pork, as well as liver.  Gratin forcemeats employ meats that are sautéed first before being ground into the admixture.  Finally, mousselines are very light and airy forcemeats based on white meats, cream and eggs. 

       In addition to pâtés, forcemeats are also used to fill sausages, roulades, and other items that can be stuffed.  Or they may be shaped into quenelles (an oval shaped dumpling), and cooked on their own. 

The texture of forcemeats used in pâtés varies from very smooth and satiny to rustic and coarse.  Gradations of texture are achieved by the amount of grinding, either through a traditional meat grinder, or a food processor.  The nature of the supplemental ingredients will affect the texture as well.  Normally, the protein and fat in the forcemeat are sufficient to bind it, but sometimes additional ingredients are necessary for cohesiveness.  Dry milk powder, eggs, and starchy foods, are common secondary binders.  Salt, herbs, or spices, are ordinarily mixed with the meat as well.

Some forcemeats also contain garnishes: a flavoring element such as chopped nuts, or an inlay: slices of meat layered above or below the forcemeat in the terrine prior to cooking.  The molded forcemeat can also be topped off with aspic: a clear jelly made from gelatin-thickened stock.

          Finally, pâtés may be encased in pastry.  Prior to cooking the terrine is lined with pastry, filled with the forcemeat, and then the overhanging pastry is folded over the top.  The resulting pâté is known as pâté en croûte.  A forcemeat added to a fat-lined terrine without any pastry produces a pâté en terrine, or in the traditional vernacular, simply a terrine.  

        The history of pâtés begins in ancient Rome.  The Romans, much like today, relied on pork, but dabbled in numerous other victuals including bird tongues.  All sorts of pâté recipes flourished during the Middle Ages.  In fact, it was common to name pâté recipes after famous people such as Pâté a la Mazarine, in honor of Cardinal Mazarin of France.  Other well known pâtés include pâté de campagne from Brittany (pork, offal and seasonings, rustically textured), pate de foie (liver and fat), pate de tete (made from cooked pig’s head) and pate de volaille (made from chicken).  There are many others. 

         Your average supermarket will usually carry some kind of pâté.  Their selection however will normally be more limited to more familiar ingredients such as chicken and/or pork liver.  For more exotic pâtés, you’ll need to visit a gourmet grocer.  Smooth and spreadable pâtés are perfect for crackers, crostini, and toast points.  Rustic pâtés and pâté en croûte can be eaten unfettered by any accompaniments.  Personally, I relish pâtés made from duck, foie gras and truffles. 

Pâté, like many other comestibles, isn’t as popular in America as compared to Europe.  I suppose this is due to the unfamiliarity of the American culinary landscape with many of the characteristic ingredients that compose pâtés.  I invite you to reverse this inhibition and embrace your adventurousness, as pâtés can make for a delicious, elegant, and novel addition to your hors d’oeuvre repertoire.  For the time being however, you can start off slow with conventional ingredients with my recipe for mushroom pâté:

 

MUSHROOM PÂTÉ

 

16 oz. sliced mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste.

1 stick (4-oz.) butter

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary

 

        For a greater breadth and depth of flavor, employ a variety of mushrooms.  But at the very least, standard white button mushrooms can be used.  Sauté the mushrooms with salt and pepper in the butter until they start to brown.  Add the garlic and sauté a minute or two more.  Add the mushrooms and remaining ingredients to a food processor.  Process until smooth.  Scrape the pâté onto a large platter and with a spatula mold into the desired shape.  Refrigerate briefly to firm it up and then serve with your favorite crackers. 


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