FOOD FOR THOUGHT - January 28, 2009 - Mark R. Vogel - Epicure1@optonline.net - Mark’s Archive
A pâté (paa tay), is a rich forcemeat, i.e., ground meat such as beef, pork, wild game, poultry, liver, offal, (organ meats), seafood, etc., often combined with some form of fat, vegetables, herbs, or seasonings. It is then usually placed into a mold and cooked. It may be served hot or cold depending on the recipe and 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.
Forcemeats, as described, run quite a gamut of ingredients but as the name implies, inevitably involve some kind of ground meat. Textures also vary from a very smooth and satiny composition to a more rustic and coarser style. Gradations of texture are achieved by the amount of grinding, either through a traditional meat grinder or food processor, as well as by the nature of the supplemental ingredients. Normally the protein and fat in the forcemeat is sufficient to bind it but in some cases additional ingredients are necessary for cohesiveness. Dry milk powder, eggs and starchy foods are common secondary binders. Salt, and other seasonings, such as herbs or spices are ordinarily mixed in with the meat. Finally, some forcemeats also contain garnishes. A garnish can be a flavoring element such as chopped nuts which like seasonings, is intermixed with the other ingredients. Inlays are garnishes such as slices of meat that are layered above or below the forcemeat in the mold that it will be cooked in. Sometimes the molded forcemeat is topped off with aspic, a clear jelly made from gelatin-thickened stock.
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 also 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 with the addition of cream and eggs.
Forcemeats are 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. But for our purposes, forcemeats serve as the backbone to most pâtés. As stated, forcemeats are placed into a mold, (more specifically known as a terrine), and cooked. Another variation is encasing the pate in pastry. Prior to cooking the mold 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 croűte. 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 particular 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 and confined to more familiar ingredients such as chicken liver, pork and/or pork liver. For more exotic pâtés you’ll need to visit a specialty or gourmet grocer. Smooth and spreadable pâtés are perfect for crackers, crostini, and toast points. Rustic pâtés and pâté en croűte 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:
• 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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