I used to think pâté was something only rich folks served at extravagant dinner parties. Perhaps it was all those little punctuation marks over the letters that made it seem a bit hoity-toity for my taste. But when I actually tried pâté for the first time — a rich meat spread a hunting buddy created with some duck giblets, vermouth and other simple ingredients — I quickly changed my mind. This stuff was delicious! And I couldn’t get enough.
The word “pâté” is French for pie. It originally referred to a pastry case filled with a savory mixture of ground or chopped meat, fat and other ingredients. One well-known version is pâté de foie gras, an expensive, extraordinarily rich pie with a silky-smooth filling made from raw truffles, seasonings and the enlarged livers of force-fed geese.
This is only one of many pâtés that once were popular in European households. Pâtés de poissons, or fish pies, also were common. And in the 1921 English translation of Escoffier’s well-known cookbook “Le Guide Culinaire,” we find recipes for pâtés made with a variety of game meats, including woodcock, pheasant, partridge and hare.
In the old country, pâtés were often served by removing the upper crust in one piece, inverting it and topping it with little scoops of the filling that were served on slices of crusty bread. Today, the pâté is more likely to be cooked in a terrine or similar-sized mold with no crust at all. It is usually served on bread or crackers as a first course or appetizer.
In its modern form, pâté is more like a meat spread than a pie — a fancy, yet infinitely more delicious, potted meat or liverwurst, if you will. Liver still is the main ingredient in many pâtés, but if you would prefer your pâté sans liver, there are many recipes to choose from, like the ones below.
With a food processor, blender or meat grinder, these are very easy to make, and I highly recommend you give them a try. Pâté is, in a word, delicious.
1/2 pound ground venison
1/2 pound pork sausage
1 cup finely shredded carrots
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup sherry (optional)
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and mix well. Pack lightly into a 7-1/2 x 3-1/2-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until well done. Drain and discard excess juices. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill until completely cold. Slice and serve as an appetizer.
1 bunch green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 pound boneless dove-breast fillets
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
Place the green onions in a food processor and chop finely. Melt the butter in a skillet, briefly sauté the onions and add dove meat. Gently cook, stirring constantly, until the meat is no longer red in the center. Allow to cool slightly.
Place the contents of the skillet in the food processor with the remaining ingredients. Process continuously until smooth. Spoon pâté into a greased 1-cup mold and chill until ready to serve.
Un-mold and serve with your favorite crackers. Makes about 1 cup.
Duck Giblet Pâté
1 cup duck gizzards, livers and hearts
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 hard-boiled egg
1 tablespoon liquid margarine
2 teaspoons vermouth
Dice giblets, and discard any tough pieces of gristle. Place the giblets in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Add a little water during cooking if necessary.
Drain the broth off the giblets and reserve. Put the cooked giblets and a hard-boiled egg in a blender, and blend at medium speed to a consistency of a thin paste. Add a little of the reserved broth if necessary to obtain the right consistency. Spoon into a mixing bowl, and stir in margarine and vermouth. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Place in a serving dish and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Serve with party crackers as an hors d’oeuvre. Yields 2 cups.
Tips for Great Pâté
- Although pâté can be eaten the day it’s made, it’s often more flavorful when made one or two days ahead of time and kept refrigerated until serving time.
- You can serve pâté with almost any type of bread or cracker, including buttered toast points, slices of baguette, ciabatta, sourdough or brioche bread, as well as Melba toast, water crackers, Saltines, focaccia squares and hard bread sticks.
- Pâté can be presented on a plate atop a bed of mixed salad greens or in small ramekins garnished with sprigs or leaves of herbs such as dill, chives and basil.
- Good accompaniments include French gherkins, cocktail onions, spicy capers, cheese, olives and coarsely ground mustard, each mounded on the edge of the serving dish for your guests to spoon onto their plates.
- To keep pâté longer, it can be made in small ramekins and topped with a few spoonfuls of clarified butter. When refrigerated, the butter solidifies on top to seal out air and prevent the top of the pâté from getting hard and dry. When the butter seal has been broken, pâté keeps up to a week when covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated.
Try to serve only what may be eaten within two to four hours. If more pâté is needed, replenish from any extra held in the refrigerator.