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Gourmet Secrets: In praise of the pâté

The key to making a perfect paté is ultra-fresh liver...so be sure to go to the best butcher!

brunch Updated: Oct 13, 2018 22:36 IST
Karen Anand
Karen Anand
Hindustan Times
paté,rillettes,pâté
Paté en croute at 114 Faubourg in Le Bristol Paris

I have always been fascinated with pâté, parfait, rillettes and terrines. This is really the backbone of French country cooking. The central part of France is considered as being the stronghold of pâtés and terrines. The most famous of them is pâté de Chartres. Like the magnificent Gothic cathedral, this is an elaborate and complicated work of art, in which the most important element is game.

This is initially left to marinate for a relatively long time. It is then mixed with stuffing made from pork and veal, various kinds of liver, truffles and Cognac and baked in pastry or in a terrine. Gourmets of earlier times, greatly prized lark pies. The one they liked the best was pâté de mauviettes de Pithiviers, which had made the fortune of the Provenchere family in the 16th century when Charles IX found that their recipe was to his taste. It was the game rich forests of Beauce and Sologne, which supplied the bakers with most of their ingredients. And so, they created terrines and pâtés from quails and snipe, partridges, wild ducks and pheasants, rabbits, hares and a red deer.

Pâté today and yesterday

In principle, a distinction is made between pâtés, which have a pastry shell and are baked in a metal mould and terrines, which are cooked in porcelain or ceramic moulds (often lined with fatty bacon) and which must then be pressed for some time. Nowadays, however, these expressions are used with greater freedom.

In The Lily of the Valley, Honoré de Balzac, the insatiable novelist, sang the praises of the substantial specialties of his home town of Tours, rillettes and rillons. Whereas most respectable people did not want to know about them at the times, he waxed enthusiastic over “these remains of a pig, braised in its lard.” He compared rillons to cooked truffles, while elevating rillettes to the status of brown jams.

Clearly, Balzac the hedonist, writing in the 19th century had no problem in declaring his support for the rustic pork products of his native region. Their origins go back centuries and are lost in the details of village life in the dim and distant past.

A pâté today is a mixture of ground protein (meat or fish) - often supplemented with fruit, nuts, vegetables, spices, dairy, eggs, alcohol, herbs and bread, that is baked and served either hot or cold. Terrines are the vessels in which pâtés may be cooked. The word “terrine” also serves to distinguish already cooked items that have been pressed together into a mould such as vegetable and goat’s cheese terrine from cooked pâté.

Pâté en croûte (simply “pâté croûte” in and around Lyon, France) is a pâté that is baked in pastry (generally savoury) and the pastry is eaten. The pastry ranges from short crust and puff to hot water pastry (which is popular in the UK), which results in a very crispy texture but is less workable in terms of making decorative embellishments. Fats can be butter, lard, or a mixture of both even shortening. Initially, the pastry functioned as a method of preservation but it developed into an edible version much later. Charcuterie derives from “chair” meaning flesh and “cuit” meaning cooked, and it’s been part of the culinary arts in France since the 15th century. While some charcuterie techniques are incredibly laborious and possibly best left to the professionals, others are much more accessible.

Patés and parfaits are a good way to dip your toe into charcuterie as the techniques involved aren’t too daunting, but you get a lot of bang for your buck in terms of flavour and texture. Patés can, in theory, be made from any kind of liver, but duck or chicken livers are commonly used. Duck livers are rich, dark red, larger than chicken liver and slightly stronger in flavour,

When making paté, the key is ultra-fresh liver, so be sure to go to a quality butcher.

The second most important thing is not to overcook them — the finished dish should still have a slightly pink tinge to it.

And thirdly, be sure to season generously, it will make all the difference.

The French connection

On a recent visit to Paris, I was lucky enough to meet Eric Frechon, one of those classic and much awarded French chefs. He now presides over Le Bristol Paris hotel where he reigns as executive chef as well as spreading the word of French gastronomy to other restaurants in the group. I chose to dine at 114 Faubourg, their Michelin star brasserie and as far as I know, the only Michelin star brasserie (as opposed to restaurant) in the city. Le Bristol is also the only Palace hotel in Paris to have four Michelin stars under their belt.

Although their restaurant Epicure is much touted for its fine dining experience, I found nothing “casual” about the level of cuisine at the brasserie. In fact, Frechon even admitted that while some of the ingredients differ, the producers he uses for both restaurants are often the same. The menu at 114 Faubourg is packed with good old brasserie staples like entrecote steak, Burgundy snails, sole meunière and steak tartare. My eye catches the pastry encrusted duck paté. French delicatessens used to make these regularly but on this trip I am hard pressed to find one. It’s a fabulous way of eating a really refined pate and those who still make them, like Eric Frechon, go all the way using foie gras (duck liver) and Cognac. It keeps the paté moist and encased within a deliciously flavourful dough. This recipe won the coveted prize of the “Best paté in the world” in 2014 and I am delighted that Eric Frechon shared it with me.

Chef Eric Frechon and Karen Anand at Le Bristol Paris

Duck Paté en croute by Eric Frechon

Stuffing (diced)

400 g pork shoulder
400 g veal fillet
400 g duck legs
150 g lardo di Colonnata (lard)
100 g chopped shallots cooked in fat (confit)

Stuffing (minced)

400g pork neck
400g lard
200g chicken liver
500g duck foie gras
2g chopped thyme
1.5g chopped bay leaves

In a blender

200g pigeon liver
12g thin cream
1 egg
Pâté dough
1.125g flour
625g softened butter
120g egg whites
165g warm water
45g Cognac
20g salt
5 pieces duck fillet
1.5 pieces whole deveined foie gras
Seasoning
36g salt
9g pink salt
15g black pepper
2.5g juniper berries
60g Cognac

Preparation:

Stuffing preparation:

Dice the stuffing (1cm) and mix with the seasoning. Leave to marinate for 24 hours. The next day, mix the diced stuffing and the minced stuffing together. Season the duck fillets and the deveined foie gras with salt and pepper and leave to marinate for 24 hours.

Pâté dough preparation:

Mix the flour, salt and softened butter to give the mixture a sandy texture, then add the eggs and water. Mix all the ingredients together in an electric mixer two times, for eight minutes, full speed with a 10 minutes break between each. Divide the dough into three parts and leave it to settle for 24 hours. Then roll dough to 5mm with a rolling machine.

Making the Pâté:

Line the pate mould with the dough and layer with the stuffing, duck fillets, foie gras, and stuffing again. Tightly close the pâté with the dough and glaze with egg yolk. Bake for 10 minutes, 220°C then 10 more minutes, 200°C, and lastly, twice for 15 minutes at 180°C. Remove from the oven when the centre of the pate is 44°C exactly.

Leave it to settle for minimum 48 hours in cold storage before slicing.

(Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.)

From HT Brunch, October 14 , 2018

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First Published: Oct 13, 2018 22:36 IST