Pâté is cold meatloaf for snooty people. But when I start eating it, I can’t stop, especially if it’s accompanied by those cute little cornichon pickles. Everyone from Julia Child on down has a method, but whenever I read the multistep process involved, I feel lightheaded and have to sit down (and eat more pâté). Out of sheer laziness, I have backed into a foolproof pâté recipe of my own. Look, French people will probably kill me for what I’m about to tell you, but it’s worth dying for, just to know I’ve spread a little bit more pâté around the world.
So the key components here are liver, meat, fat, egg, flour, seasoning. You’re gonna blend that stuff up and pour it into a tiny buttered loaf pan, bake the crap out of it, then chill it down, while you go find crackers and cornichons. Got me? OK, here we go:
For the frying pan
Two duck breasts (might as well take ‘em both from the same duck, check frozen meat section of good grocery store)
Two chicken livers (I am assuming you aren’t going to try to buy duck or goose liver, but if you are, just aim for liver mass of about 1/3 of the duck breasts)
1 shallot, minced
For the Cuisinart
1 Tbs Cognac
1 Tsp herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper
1-2 small cloves of garlic
1 Tbs whole wheat flour
Any extra bits of fat you have lying around (extra never hurts… at least not until it kills you)
For the eating
Bread, neutral crackers or those hilarious tiny toast things
French cornichon-style pickles (accept no substitute–I will be firm on this, if lax on all else)
First, fire up your skillet to medium and brown those duck breasts. Score the fat a bit with a knife, and stick fat side down until the stuff starts oozing out. Once the fat side is nice and chestnutty, flip it over, brown the meat on all sides, mostly for taste, then pull it out and set it aside. Add the liver and the minced shallot. If you rendered enough fat from the duck breast, you won’t have to add any oil. Brown the liver and the shallots, then put everything, including all the frypan’s fat and drippings, into a small Cuisinart. (You do have one, don’t you? They are de rigueur for fast pâté.)
Now, preheat your oven to 350º F.
Once all the hot stuff is in your Cuis, add the rest: The salt and pepper, the herbes de Provence, the garlic, the egg, the wheat flour, any fat scraps you can find, and that oh so lovely sploosh of Cognac. Blend the fuck out of it. I mean, if you want a kind of “country” feel, maybe leave some lumps, but me, I like every bite to taste the same, so I keep blending until the blending’s done. Also, I don’t know my McGee well–not yet, that is–but I think that getting that egg nice and mixed up helps keep it fluffy and hold it all together.
I almost forgot, you need butter. Not as an ingredient, but as a lubricant. Before you pour your meat paste into the loaf pan, go to town on that with butter. Smear it like Joe McCarthy in Hollywood circa 1951. You want a well greased loaf pan–or two.
Tip #1: Last time I made this, I realized that the meat paste was going to almost fill up my awesome tiny loaf pan, so I grabbed a second, making two pâtés, for the effort of one. Everyone but my arteries was happy. So like keep a spare loaf pan handy, especially if you’re using the smallest size, as I do.
Tip #2: As you can see in the picture, I lined the loaf pan with bacon, but I have decided that buttering is better. Bacon never cooks enough to be palatable, and as Julia warns, American bacon is smoked so can discolor French cooking, not that my act of heresy here could be called “French cooking.”
When the pan is ready, pour the meaty ooze in, and stick it in the oven. You’re going to bake your pâté for about 30 minutes, but like any other loaf product, you can check doneness with the good old “What sticks to my knife?” test.
Lots of recipes say to press the pâté overnight and all that, but let me tell you, this is lazy man’s pâté, and we aren’t pressing it. You will need to chill it, though, so once it’s done, pop it out of the loaf pan, wrap it up in Saran and stick it in the fridge–freezer if you are in a hurry. Pâté is just meatloaf when eaten hot, when cold, though, man is it heavenly. (Pause, reflect, continue.)
When the moment of consummation, er, consumption finally arrives, rustle up some crackers or those cute little slices of bread–if you’re French, like Jenny’s dear Uncle Gerald, you actually use real bread. Incidentally, Gerald is the one who taught me the magic of the cornichon, and I thank him for that, even though it has become a hindrance. To this day, I can’t so much as look at a creamy fowl-derived liver product without requiring that savory crunchy tangy counterpoint. So make sure a jar of those little guys are handy when you slice off a bit of your pâté, and you will be in for some pornographically good hors d’ouevring.
A Brief Confession
The original shot I used to lure in readers was not, in fact, pâté, but rather my fairly faithful preparation of Saveur’s chicken liver crostini. Remember when I said how much I loved pâté? It turns out I love it so much that I ate it all before taking a pretty picture. All I had in my photos was the above shot of the uncooked paste in the pan. Thankfully, a visit from my pâté-loving mom provoked me to make another batch. I did it in a large loaf pan, because I didn’t have two small ones, so it came out thin, but otherwise delightful, especially after a day of chilling in the fridge. As long as you follow the directions, it’s not what it looks like that matters, anyhow. It’s the flavor and texture that count. Have a go, and report back. You’ll see that I am right, even if I’ve just broken about 47 French laws.