When is a pate a terrine and vice versa? The two terms have come to be virtually interchangeable today, but their origins are different. The former described a forcemeat baked in a pastry crust, whereas the latter was cooked in the eponymous earthenware container.
Changes that have occurred in food fashion over the last three decades have given a completely new take on these two classic terms. Traditionally meat pates and terrines were the privileged domain of charcutiers, pork butchers. Their recipes were substantial, high in protein and fat.
When chefs began applying their talents to this particular branch of the culinary art, they introduced lighter mixtures, mousses for minced and chopped pork. They also created ‘pressed’ terrines, held together only by the cooked fish, meat or vegetables themselves. Modern terrines reflect the complete spectrum of creative cooking. They can be colorful, intensely flavored reflections of regional dishes or suave adaptations of classics, such as Frederic Riviere’s foie gras cuit en terrine:
Foie Gras Cuit en Terrine – Terrine of Foie Gras
If you’re French and throwing a party, it’s likely that foie gras will figure somewhere on your menu. Along with champagne, it’s treated as traditional festive food. Both geese and ducks, specially fattened to produce the characteristic large, buttery livers are used for this delicacy, but duck foie gras, smaller, cheaper though with extra taste tends to be more readily available. The south-west of France the major foie gras producing area, which specializes in using duck fat for many recipes, has the lowest incidence of heart disease in the country.
Many people throughout Europe and the Americas have enjoyed savoury pies for generations. In the Americas, it is usually the chicken or turkey pot pie, while in Europe, a variety of pies include meats and vegetables. Americans would be heartbroken to learn the Meatloaf and even the hamburger are in fact, forms of paté.
In places like Cornwall, the Cornish Pastie is incredibly similar to the Jamaican Patty, which is again, similar to the Italian Calzone. As you travel ’round the globe, pies in a wide variety of shapes and sizes with unique savoury fillings are found in every country and every culture.
England’s Melton Mowbray Pork Pie is an international favorite. Depending on your location, the pastry crust may change; the fillings may change, but essentially, they’re all founded on the simple premise of meat or vegetables covered by a crust.
Even in Asian cuisines, we find pates in the form of such delicacies as dim-sum in Cantonese cuisine, Samosas from southern Asia, etc. Very few cultures have ignored this cooking technique or failed to create foods that fall within the broad category of charcuterie.
In many recipes, pates made with pastry crusts are designed to have the crusts discarded, often using lard to make the crust not for eating, but to provide a preservative shield between the valued interior meats and the outside, where germs could affect the filling. Other forms of pates use a light, thin pastry making the entire dish edible, such as meat raviolis, dim-sum (often made with a cornstarch dough), or samosas.
In the field of terrines, the variety is infinite, ranging from the simple meatloaf to the complexities of classic French terrines, along with the mousses. Yes, much as we hate to burst your bubble, chocolate mousse came after chicken mousse. The beauty of these lighter dishes is they’re lighter, and of course, easier to make.
The beauty of a seafood mousse, a paté or a terrine is its visual appeal, but they never disappoint when it comes to flavor. In fact, one could reasonably say that the creation of pates and terrines as far back as Egyptian gastronomy has built the knowledge of ingredients and flavors for chefs. If you’re going to learn to cook, learn charcuterie and discover the fine art of making fine patés and extraordinary terrines.