Pâté: The Next Best Thing is Here
When it comes to catering trends, the phrase, “what goes around comes around,” is particularly meaningful and relevant. The culinary pendulum is in constant swing and what goes out of style one year is bound to become the trend of the moment a decade or two later. Wait long enough and tried-and-true buffet staples, like pâté, start showing up again at catered events, with a few twists and turns that make them a dish so right for our times. The classic French favorite, pâté, as well as various modern interpretations, are now a trendy item that can showcase a caterer’s skills.
What is Pâté?
Pâté (pronounced pah-TAY) is French for “pie,” but we tend to refer to anything that is ground into a spreadable topping for crackers, or molded into a terrine, as pâté. It is often served baked in a crust (en croûte) but it is easier to simply serve the pâté mounded in a decorative way, so that guests can easily partake.
Mention pâté to anyone who’s been a foodie for more than a few decades, and what comes to mind first will either be expensive gourmet duck liver or classic chopped liver. One is associated with the rich and famous – like caviar – and the other is synonymous with old European-style cooking, like stuffed cabbage or noodle pudding. Pâté is most associated with French cuisine, Americans who are unfamiliar with pâté, but who are fans of liverwurst, may be unaware that these two dishes are more or less the same!
Pâté is not limited to ground poultry liver, either. It can be a mixture of any seasoned, finely ground meat, poultry or vegetable, and is often a combination of several different base ingredients. It is nothing if not versatile; it can be as fancy as you like, suitable for a wedding or another formal occasion, or an inexpensive, but attention-drawing appetizer at a less fancy event.
Pâté: An Easy – and Healthy – Catering Option
Most pâtés are much simpler to prepare than you might expect. It is usually served cold; chilling it for a few days before an event will enrich its flavor, so it’s a great do-ahead dish. The degree to which you ground the pâté – the grind – is up to you. It can be smooth and creamy or on the chunky side. It may be served hot or cold (though usually cold), molded or unmolded.
While liver in general, and pâté in particular, may have gone out of style partially because of health concerns – and, yes, all types of liver are high in fat and cholesterol – liver is actually one of our leading sources of iron. It also contains significant amounts of vitamin B-12 and vitamin A, which help support healthy eyes and skin, boost your immune system, and produce red blood cells.
Pâtés: Can Be Complicated and Rich…
There are many traditional and classic ways to serve pâté, and, in terms of preparation, they range from difficult and time-consuming to quick and easy. Using pâté as part of a terrine is perhaps the most complex way to serve it, but it will get rave reviews.
Traditionally speaking, a terrine is a dish of different types of pâté – which usually includes foie gras – infused with seasonings and packed or layered in a ceramic or steel loaf-shaped mold. A classic foie gras terrine is then cooked in a water bath, cooled, turned out and sliced for serving. (Sometimes an infused gelatin, called aspic, is set on top for a decorative effect that also adds an additional layer of flavor.) Terrines can also be wrapped in puff pastry, and baked for “pâté en croute.” A non-stick, heavy-duty, steel loaf pan is the perfect pan in which to bake a terrine.
… or Easy and Light
The production of foie gras (the liver of a duck or a goose) has been embroiled in controversy for years. Animal rights groups contend that the methods used to produce foie gras, particularly force feeding, are cruel and inhumane, making fois gras less than the ingredient of choice for pâté these days.
Therefore, we’re going to offer two types of pâté – one that is based on chicken liver, and the other that is vegetarian (let’s call it faux gras), offering a completely modern twist to an old standby.
Chicken Liver Pâté
- 2 pounds chicken livers
- 1 cup rendered chicken fat, or oil
- 2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 onions)
- 1/3 cup Madeira wine
- 4 extra-large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled, and chunked
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
- 2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Saute the liver in two batches in 2 tablespoons of the chicken fat or oil over medium-high heat, turning once, for about 5 minutes, or until no longer pink inside. Don’t overcook the livers or they will be dry. Transfer them to a large bowl.
- In the same pan, saute the onions in 3 tablespoons of the chicken fat or oil over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until browned. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping the sides, for about 15 seconds. Pour into the bowl with the livers.
- Add the eggs, parsley, thyme, salt, black pepper, cayenne, and the remaining fat to the bowl. Toss quickly to combine. Transfer half the mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, or to a meat grinder. If using a processor, pulse 6 to 8 times, until coarsely chopped. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
- Season, to taste, and chill. Serve on crackers or molded on a platter.
If your customers and guests want not only to avoid foie gras, but prefer a lighter, liver-less, meatless pâté, it’s nice to have an alternative, especially one that’s just as delicious.
Faux Gras Lentil Pâté
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 1 cup button mushrooms
- 2 Tbs. butter, salted or unsalted
- 1 small onion peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 2 cups cooked green lentils
- 1 cup toasted walnuts or pecans
- 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 Tbs. soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
- 2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
- 2 Tbs. fresh sage or flat leaf parsley
- 1 tsp. brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse and slice the mushrooms.
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet or wide saucepan. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and cooked through, another 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.
- In a food processor, combine the cooked lentils, nuts, lemon juice, soy sauce, rosemary, thyme, sage or parsley, brown sugar, and cayenne. Scrape in the cooked mushroom mixture and process until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and additional cognac, soy sauce, or lemon juice, if it needs balancing.
- Scrape the pâté into a small serving bowl and refrigerate for a few hours, until firm.
Pâté is Having a Catering Comeback
If you cater to hip and trendy customers, don’t be surprised if you start hearing requests for pâté once again – after a hiatus of a few decades. The bottom line is, pâté is both a delicious and, if prepared with flair, an unusual addition to any catered affair, so be prepared with pâté recipes, both classic and updated versions. Use the freshest ingredients and invest in flashy presentation, to take pâté – the old standby that is making a fabulous comeback – to new levels.