Gulf Coast Cooking

Spread the word: Making pâté is easier than you think

There is a somewhat confusing culinary juncture where pâté meets terrine and mousse and, in fact, they are all related. The basic idea is to combine a mixture of meat, fat and seasonings into a firm loaf. It can be an elegant beginning to a meal or a great snack along with a glass of wine and crusty French bread.

The idea for this technique goes back a long way. The Romans thought a pâté made from the tongue of birds a fine thing, but by the time the Middle Ages had arrived it had become more of a patisserie or meats cooked in a pastry. Even today the French make pâté with larks, sweetbreads, pheasant or woodcock. But a good pâté doesn't have to be exotic.

In classic parlance a pâté should be a pastry shell -- filled with blended meats, vegetables and spices -- that has been baked in an oven.

A terrine is a deep oblong dish with handles on each end. What is prepared in the dish also takes on the name. A terrine is served in the dish itself and is never unmolded.

A mousse is a much lighter mixture, often made with eggs, butter and cream and is made in a mold, which is then unmolded to be served.

To complicate matters even more the French make a ballottine, boned meat formed into a bundle and braised or roasted and a galantine, which is wrapped in a cheese cloth and simmered in stock. Enough!

No matter the complication great chefs have added over the years, the basic idea behind a pâté or terrine is solid. In fact, the Southern favorite hogs-head cheese has French origins in pâté de tete. Its most famous incarnation is of course pâté de foie gras, or a pâté of goose liver, which is perhaps a third or fourth cousin to liver cheese.

There is a long list of ingredients and techniques that can be used to prepare a pâté.

For us, seafood is the natural choice, but the old standby chicken liver should not be left out.

SMOKED SALMON

This is a light and airy spread that is great on butter-toasted rounds of French bread or as a pasta stuffing served with a light tomato basil sauce.

2 cups smoked salmon

3/4 cup homemade whipped cream

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Pinch white pepper

Lemon and basil leaf for garnish

It is very easy to smoke salmon at home in a stove-top smoker or on the grill, but caution should be used as it cooks quickly. Give it a light coating of olive oil, placed it on a sheet of tinfoil and place it in a grill or smoker under low heat. Use hickory chips to produce smoke or any other wood you prefer. Check it after 10 minutes, if it flakes easily it is done.

Whip heavy cream until it is stiff and the peaks hold. Combine the salmon, whipped cream and a pinch of white pepper in a food processor and process until smooth.

Pour into individual ramekins and chill. Garnish with thin slices of lemon and basil leaves.

SHRIMP WITH SPINACH MAYO

1 pound shrimp

1/2 pint heavy cream

1 egg

2-3 tablespoons lemon juice

3-4 tablespoons dry sherry

Butter as needed

Black pepper as needed

1/2 cup best quality mayonnaise

1/3 cup cooked spinach

Season the shrimp with a pinch of black pepper and then sauté them gently in a butter. Add the shrimp, cream, sherry and egg to a food processor and process for 2-3 minutes until well blended. Pour the mixture into a ramekin, place the ramekin in a pan with 1-2 inches of water and bring to a simmer, hold the simmer for 6-8 minutes or until the mixture is firm. Remove to cool and

refrigerate before serving.

Cook the spinach in boiling water for 3 minutes, remove and place in a cold water bath for a few minutes more, then remove. Place the spinach in a cloth towel and twist to remove all of the water. Combine the mayo and spinach in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add a touch of lemon juice if necessary. Unmold the shrimp pâté carefully and garnish with the spinach mayo. Serve with slices of French bread or a good cracker. Asparagus spears cooked in butter and thinly sliced can be layered in this to good effect.

CHICKEN LIVER PÂTÉ

1/2 pound well-trimmed chicken livers

1 small chopped onion

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 bay leaf

2 sticks butter

1/4 teaspoon thyme

2 teaspoons Cognac

Salt and black pepper to taste

Sauté the onions and garlic along with the bay leaf in a little butter until soft but not brown. Add the chicken livers and continue cooking until just done, but still a little pink. Remove the bay leaf and place the vegetables and livers in a food processor and process until coarse. Cut the remaining butter into equal pieces. Add the Cognac, season to taste, turn the machine on and add the butter one lump at a time. The pâté should be smooth.

Place in ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

Serve with toasted rounds of buttered French bread.

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