Since the dawn of agriculture in the Nile river valley, mankind has produced, in one form or another, pates and terrines as part of our gastronomic heritage. Yes, even the ancient Egyptians made a form of Goose Liver pate, as we’ve seen in wall paintings from ancient tombs, where farmers were shown forcefeeding geese, cooks preparing the livers and presenting the meal to pharaohs and princes.
The art of making pates and terrines covers the culinary spectrum throughout the world, with every national cuisine having one or more recipes within this field of gastronomy that is a staple of chefs.
In European cookery, the wide range is due to the use of pate and terrine making as a means of preserving food, particularly pork from the Autumn slaughtering of pigs. From the French paté du porc to the English pork pie, preservation of food in an era when mechanical refrigeration was unavailable became an absolute essential and pate making became the means of achieving that goal.
We often think of pates and terrines in their most formal context – those elegant dishes prepared by expert chefs for wedding feasts and state banquets. But the truth is that pates and terrines are all around us, without our awareness. For example, at social events, chefs often make mousses of duck or chicken, serving the piped delicacy on tiny crackers or slivers of bread. We often eat chopped liver, which is a form of pate.
Most of our stews derived from the fillings made for meat pies in the Middle Ages, as many a chef would attest, and of course our Chicken Pot Pie is fundamentally a pate. We serve things like vol-au-vents for parties and elegant dinners and nowadays, we eat frozen pastry-crusted meat things one can microwave in an instant, that is, after all, the contemporary descendant of the English meat pies.
While many pates and terrines may be elegant and seem extravagant culinary delectation, they may prove in these tough economic times to be quite beneficial stretching the food dollar for home cooks. For example, with today’s modern food processors, found in most homes, a home cook can take simple chicken meat, add egg white, grated lemon and orange rind, some spices and fresh herbs, a little cream and suddenly, there’s a simple forcemeat to fit into a simple pastry crust to make luncheon dishes for the kids or, if cooked into a pastry topped casserole, a wonderful dinner.
Even with less exalted ingredients like leftovers, one can produce superb pates and terrines. Vegetables, prepared with simple sauces that are combined with plain gelatin and added flavorings like rich beef or chicken broth, lemon or orange rind and spices can produce superb terrines that can be frozen and served later when needed.
Believe it or not, the modern recipe for “Turducken”, the turkey, stuffed with a duck and chicken is rooted in the making of Galantines of chicken or goose. While the term Pates and Terrines usually applies to pies and loafs, in fact, the diversity of recipes is immense. It includes timbales, galantines, pastes and mousses, meat patties and even the humble American hamburger. Our sausages too are pates, as is the frankfurter and bratwurst. Confits of meats or vegetables and casseroles are based in the preparation of pates and terrines.
Pates and terrines are not simply appetizers, or even main courses, but can be prepared for breakfasts, lunches and desserts as well. We have in The Recipe Files, several superb dessert terrines, including one made of chocolate that is decadently delicious.
Today, modern chefs are creating outstanding contemporary variations of ancient gastronomic delights founded in the field of pates and terrines. We can only hope they continue on their journeys of discovery within this limitless area of historic culinaria.
Many home cooks fear the preparation of such dishes as “too complicated for me”. This simply isn’t true and most likely, such cooks are making dishes that are pates or terrines often without realizing it. Exploring this diverse range of recipes may open new gastronomic vistas for cooks, both at home and in professional kitchens.
Whether you cook at home or dine out, try a paté or terrine soon. They may surprise and delight you.