Pâté de campagne
In anticipation of a number or social engagements at our place in Orthez, I though I would make a little pâté. A fat terrine full of county-style pâté is the perfect thing to have on hand to go with aperitifs. It has long shelf life, and in fact gets better with a bit of age (I worked for a chef in Paris who claimed that to reach its peak flavor, a pâté should not be served until 28 days after it is made. This put him in a bit of a bind, as the Paris health department had just decreed as a measure of hygene, that pâté could not be served if it was more than 30 days old, a rule that my chef bitterly condemned. When Paris outlawed beurre noir or black butter, which is the classic sauce with sauteed calves brains, on the basis that blackened butter is carsinogenic, he was ready to take to the barricades).
Pâté is also inexpensive and in theory, at least, is easy to make, especially if you 1) plan to bake and serve it in a terrine and thus avoid any need for wrapping the forcemeat in caulfat or fatback – check- and 2) you have access to good quality ingredients – check also…or so I thought. Which is where the above “in theory” comes in.
The problem is that the ingredients for a country pâté, along with almost all abats or specialty meats as we call them in the U.S., are not available from the boucher, but from the tripier. And in Orthez, the tripier is only in town on Tuesdays, when the town hosts the largest marché fermier in the area. The butcher we visited looked very sad to tell me definitively that he could not provide the cuts of pork that I was asking for.
In the French system of butchery, strictly speaking, the job of selling meat is shared by four different professionals: le boucher, who sells fresh meat and poultry but not pork; le charcutier, who sells fresh pork as well as charcuterie, meaning cured meats, terrines, pâtés, sausages and the like; le tripier, who sells tripes, organ meats, feet, ears and other odds and ends, and le boucher chevaline, who sells horse meat (that’s a whole other story). This division of labor dates back to the old system of guilds, that also regulated what restaurants could sell to the public, for example.
In practice nowdays, there is a lot of ambiguity and overlap among these groups (we are taking about France, right?) as well as with le traiteur, who sells prepared dishes. You often find bouchers who sell pork, as well as charcutiers who have a fresh chicken and a bit of meat and some prepared dishes all on display. But for some reasons, organ meats are almost always on their own. Go figure.
Fortunatly, there is a full-time tripier not far away in Pau. I include a photo of his wrapping paper which makes it clear what bits of what animal he sells.
Anyway, back to pâté. A quick conversation with Monsieur le tripier happily confirmed that he could provide everything I needed and that he shared my opinion as to the proper cuts of pork to use for country pâté. Without a doubt, these are pork liver and pork gorge. Gorge, which literally translates as “throat”, is a cut that is hard to find in the Seattle and consists of the fatty piece of flesh that covers the throat. Officially part of the pigs head, from the point of view of a French butcher (see diagram above), gorge is roughly 50/50 lean to fat and has a strong, piggy taste, ideal for pâté. I suspect that it is because of this strong flavor that it does’nt en up in an American butcher counter.
As I said, the recipe for a good pâté de campagne is pretty straight forward and everyone has their own variations. Suffice it to say that you want about about one third each liver, fat and lean pork, so using gorge, you would use 1 part liver to 2 parts gorge. Sounds fatty, but the reality is that you dont want to risk ending up with a dry, over-lean pâté. If you are avoiding fat (why again?) I recommend smaller portions or choosing another project.
The other ingredients are some wine or brandy to marinate, some aromatics like onion, garlic or shallot, a few herbs, thyme is classic but other choices work as well, salt (figure about 1 oz for every 5# of meat) and spices (follow your own taste) and a few large eggs (I use 2 for every 5# of meat).
I don’t think a more specific recipe is helpful or authentic. We are, after all, talking about a dish that started as a way to use up the left-over bits when a pig was killed. Stick to the basic ratios of liver/fat/lean and you will be pleased with the result.
A few other tips:
The pâté will be better if you cut up your ingredients and leave them to marinate overnight with the alcohol (for this batch I used some cognac and some white wine) and aromatics. Just put it all together in a shallow dish and cover with plastic.
I ground by hand (I love a challenge) but for larger batches, many butchers will grind for you; our friendly tripier in Pau offered. For a country pate, the grind should not be too fine especially for the liver. I like to grind the liver with a lean 1/2″ die and fat a bit smaller, say 3/8″.
The aromatics should be ground and sauteed in a bit of oil or fat before adding to the ground meat. If added raw, they can have a raw, bitter flavor in the finished pâté.
Always fry off and taste a little of the finished pâté mixture before baking and remember that seasoning, including saltiness, is more pronounced in hot preparations than in cold. Meaning that when you taste the hot sample, it should be on the salty side so that when you serve the pâté cold, it will be properly seasoned.
The pâté is cooked in a waterbath in a medium oven to an internal temperature of about 140 deg F. It should then be cooled with a moderate weight on top so that the finished pâté is tight and not crumbly like a meatloaf (like my meatloaf anyway…never could make a very good meatloaf).
That’s all there is to it. The next day the pâté is ready to serve, and will get better with time. Serve with crusty bread, cornichons, mustards and your apero of choice. I think that the liver in this pâté is complimented by a sweet wine like Jurancon but light reds work well also (Beaujolais anyone?). I have even tried it with a glass of Ricard, and found it pretty good.