Plain and simple, pâté is a mixture of ground meat and fat that is cooked. And though it might seem intimidating to make at home, it’s actually quite easy. For a pâté, scraps and organ meats are ground up with muscle meat to create beautiful little meat loaf—for that is ultimately what pâté is. It just sounds better in French, doesn’t it? Pâté is often made of pig meat and parts, but wild game like snipe, partridge, venison or wild boar can be cooked into a pâté, as can farm-raised duck, rabbit or pheasant. Even vegetables can be made into pâté. Lean meats might require the addition of some pork fat to keep the pâté from drying out in the oven. Often, pâté is cooked in a crust or pie, in which case it is called pâté en croûte—meaning “in a crust.” In England, a workaday version of this pâté is found in every pub—but they call it pork pie. More often pâté is cooked in a special metal or porcelain loaf pan, and this mold is also called a terrine. You might hear pâté referred to as terrine; if it’s cooked in a terrine, it can correctly be called a terrine.
Sometimes served hot, but more usually cold, pâté in France refers to the coarsely ground version of the rustic meat dish. Savory herbs, sometimes Cognac, Armagnac or wine and onions round out most the pâté recipes, though pistachios, dried cherries, and prunes might show up studding the meat, too. As you can see below, at D’Artagnan we use the term “terrine” to refer to our coarse meat pâtés. The casual use of the two terms interchangeably is now more acceptable in French culinary circles. And we also refer to silky smooth foie gras cooked in a terrine as a “terrine.”
Pâté de Campagne (com-pon-yah) – literally meaning country pâté, this is a pork-based pâté made with liver and usually pork shoulder, onions, garlic and parsley. Sometimes the loaf is cooked with bacon wrapped around it, or caul fat. Best when served with grainy mustard, cornichons and a fresh baguette or boule loaf, though pâté de campagne would be perfect in a banh mi sandwich.
Pheasant Terrine Herbette – another example of the coarse, rustic style of pate, this one is made from pheasant meat, with pork mixed in to add fat and improve texture. A classic recipe, this pâté is distinctive for the pastis (anise liquor much beloved in France) used in the recipe, and the generous blanket of whole fennel seeds on the top. Note that this one is called a terrine, after the mold it is baked in.
Duck Terrine Mousquetaire (moose-kuh-tear) - This classic country-style terrine uses all the Gascony trinity of flavors: duck, prunes and Armagnac. The sweetness of the prunes plays well with the rich duck meat in this savory recipe. The name is inspired by the musketeers (most famous among them a certain D’Artagnan) as mousquetaire is the French version of the word.
Vegetable Terrine – the terrine that breaks all the rules. Actually, vegetable terrines have a place in classical French cooking, and at D’Artagnan, we offer this one truly vegan product. Chickpea flour, sundried tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms give this terrine its earthy flavor. The vegetables are pureed together, to form a smooth, spreadable and tasty terrine.
You can also make foie gras in a terrine, which is the ultimate, purist version of prepared foie gras, since the whole liver is packed into a terrine mold and cooked at low temperature in a water bath. More on that here.
A Final Thought on Pâté Though we have concentrated on the French contributions in the world of pâtés, let’s not forget that other cultures have also made pâtés, in terrines or otherwise. In Germany and Austria, liverwurst, that soft, spreadable sausage shaped pâté is popular, and the recipe came to the United States with immigrants from that region. But the charms of pâté in various guises are well known to the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Sweden and Great Britain. Whichever way you slice it, spread it, or serve it, pâté is a treat that everyone seems to enjoy.