Terrine dream

Home-made pate: a labour of love: Home-made? Maison? Sometimes I wonder whether the art of cutting an avocado in half was more trouble than slicing a piece of "Ardennes pate" out of its creamy coloured, pate shaped plastic box Main photograph by Jean Cazals
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The Independent Culture
When I used to inspect for The Egon Ronay Guide, years ago now, there was always one first course on the menus of some restaurants that used to fill me with dread. It would be sitting there, amongst all the other dishes, lurking, in wait. I should first explain that this ordeal would only take place in restaurants where one just had a gut (oh! poor gut) feeling that they were going to be - in the nicest possible way - crap. You see, the other delights on a worryingly long list of first courses were often very tempting to the eyes of the overweight slob I had become. And to hope, usually in vain, that I might be able to veer from eating what might "test the kitchen" almost became an obsession.

So tempting were the deep fried whitebait (yum!), the prawn cocktail (bliss!), a cream of tomato soup (would it be Heinz?), avocado vinaigrette (please?) or corn on the cob even (with, naturally, lashings of butter), that I would nearly succumb. But, no, the thoroughbred inspector may not touch these unsavoury delectations. He must experience the skills of the kitchen. He has to have the "pate maison". House pate? Home-made? Maison? Sometimes I wonder whether the art of cutting an avocado in half was more trouble than slicing a piece of "Ardennes pate" out of its creamy coloured, pate shaped plastic box. (I did always eat the toast though, steaming nicely in its folded paper napkin.)

Seventeen years on, however, it is now thought that a perfectly respectable slice of pate - home-made or bought-in - will be well constructed, thoughtfully made and taste close to decent. Perhaps it is down to a mildly unsavoury combination of advanced techniques, EC directives as to what makes a pate and what does not, and keen young chefs who think that to combine duck, apricots, hazelnuts and sun-dried tomatoes is an especially good idea or that a pork rillettes is a dish that was created only last year. And anyway, it is the opinion of many modern-minded cooks today that a pate is only any good if it has some foie gras in it. Well, no actually.

To make a good pate or terrine (the former meaning simply "paste", the latter describing the cooking vessel, but - heaven knows why - having become synonymous with a coarse-textured pate) requires a little forethought and a modicum of knowledge as to its construction. The essential combination of ingredients has to be considered. A basic pate or terrine needs the correct ratio of fat/meat/liver: too much meat and the pate will be dry; too much fat and the result will be greasy. And not enough liver produces a dull taste redolent of cold meat loaf.

Making pates and terrines is a job for people who like to cook. It is something you have to really want to do. I know I have droned on about this before, but in this instance it is an imperative consideration. There is weighing to be done of the various ingredients, hand chopping of lumps of meat and fat in some cases and pushing smooth purees of chicken liver through sieves.

Nerves and gristle often need to be trimmed away, the lining of chosen vessels with thin slices of bacon or pork fat has to be the neatest task and the final cooking of the thing has to be controlled and looked after. None of this is difficult. It is just a time-consuming business, most definitely messy, and the result is deeply satisfying.

Traditional country terrine, serves 10-12

This is one of the simplest terrines to make. It only requires some coarse mincing and thorough mixing. The resultant texture of the terrine is firm and densely meaty, ideal to serve with a perky chutney or onion marmalade. The pork back fat can be obtained from your butcher and you should ask him to cut the fat from its rind and then weigh it. There is also a product called lardo, available from good Italian delicatessens, a great thick slab of pure pork fat that has been lightly salted. If you use this, reduce the salt content somewhat.

450g/1lb onions, peeled and coarsely chopped

75g/3oz butter

450g/1lb belly pork, skinned and any little bones

removed

350g/12oz rindless streaky bacon

450g/1lb pig's liver

175g/6oz pork back fat

50mls/2fl oz cognac

50mls/2fl oz port or sherry

4 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and finely chopped

1 large bunch flat parsley, leaves only, coarsely

chopped

1 egg

1 flat tbsp herbes de Provence

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1tsp freshly ground white pepper

salt

Pre-heat the oven to 300F/150C/gas mark 2. Gently fry the onions in the butter until golden brown, which will take about 20 minutes. Tip on to a plate to cool. Don't wash the frying pan yet. Put the belly pork, bacon, liver and back fat, together with the cooled onions, through the largest hole of the mincer (if you wish for a finer texture, put the meat through twice), and leave in the bowl of the mixer. Heat the cognac and port or sherry slowly in the onion pan. Whisk them together to lift off any caramelised bits of onion and then light with a match. Once the flames have subsided, remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the cooled alcohol, but not the salt, to the mixer bowl. Mix slowly but thoroughly with the flat blade of the mixer until well combined.

It is a good idea at this point to take a spoonful of the mixture and fry it in a scrap of butter until cooked through. Allow to cool and then eat some. Now decide upon the amount of salt you need to add. It is important to allow the little taster to cool, as this, naturally, will be the temperature at which the terrine is to be served: seasoning in a dish changes with temperature. Once the mix is correctly seasoned, pour into a chosen terrine mould. Traditional ones can be oval or rectangular loaf-shaped containers, usually with lids. Whichever you use, a capacity of 2 pints/1.1 litres is going to be about right. Once the container is filled, dip your hand in warm water and smooth the surface into a slightly domed appearance. Put on the lid and place in a deep roasting tin. Fill the tin with hot water to three-quarters of the way up the side of the terrine dish.

Put in the oven for one hour and then check to see how it is coming along by inserting a thin skewer right through the deepest part of the terrine. Leave in there and count to ten. Remove and place on to your tongue. The skewer needs to be hot; warm is not enough. Replace in the oven, but without the lid. This will allow the surface of the terrine to brown a little. Cook for another 10 minutes and check again. The approximate time for a terrine such as this to cook is around 11/2 hours, but this can differ with each and every oven. Hence the 10-minute checks. Once you feel the terrine is cooked, remove from the water and replace the lid. Leave to cool at kitchen temperature, then put in the fridge. Hold there for two days at least before eating, so allowing the flavours to develop and mature. It should keep for at least ten days.

Chicken liver pate, serves 8-10

This recipe is one of my all-time favourites. It is based on one from Richard Olney's French Menu Cookbook and he names it "Terrine of poultry livers". It is very simple to make and a classic of its kind. You can make it fairly coarse by hand chopping the livers and pork fat, or if you prefer a smoother texture then put them twice through the smallest hole in the mincing disk. Use a rectangular 1.1litre/2 pint capacity loaf-shaped terrine dish for this one.

15-20 rashers of thinly sliced streaky bacon

450g/1lb chicken (or duck) livers, chopped or

minced twice

175g/6oz fresh pork back fat, chopped into tiny

cubes or minced twice

1 large onion peeled, chopped and fried in 25g/1oz

butter until pale golden

1 large handful of fresh breadcrumbs

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, briefly chopped

1 egg

1 rounded tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 fresh bay leaves

Pre-heat the oven to 300F/150C/gas mark 2. Line the terrine with the bacon by placing two rashers end to end in the base of the dish and allowing them to come up the sides and flop out over the rim of the dish. Continue in this manner along the entire length of the dish. Thoroughly mix together all the other ingredients, except the bay leaves, and pour into the bacon- lined dish. Lay the two bay leaves on top and neatly fold over the bacon. Lay a buttered sheet of foil over the surface and lightly press down and then crimp around the edges to seal. Place in a deep roasting dish and fill the dish with hot water so that it comes two-thirds of the way up the sides of the terrine dish. Place in the oven and cook for one hour.

Take out and carefully lift off the foil. Check to see if it is ready by using the same principles employed in the previous recipe. Once again leave the surface exposed for the final cooking time so that the bacon will take on some colour. When the pate is cooked, remove from the water bath and allow to cool and rest for ten minutes. Now place the terrine on a tray and take a piece of wood or heavy cardboard shaped to fit the opening of the terrine dish and wrap it first in cling film, then foil. Place on top of the pate and weight with a few tins. Juices will run out and over the dish into the tray. Don't worry, these can be poured back into the dish later. Weight for at least one hour, pour back those juices and refrigerate for at least 23 hours. This pate does not keep quite as well as the previous one; probably not more than 5-6 days

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