French Terrine: Ramp up the big guns!


The terrine in its "bain-marie".

Almost done: The terrine in its “bain-marie”.

A home-made terrine (de campagne or other) makes the pride of each amateur chef. A poor man’s feast in former times (when the left-overs and not-so-noble parts needed to be used), it has turned into an almost ceremonial dish nowadays, a festive center-piece reserved for special occasions, brunches with friends, family dinners.

In fact, it’s not such a hard thing to do, and many French housewives (and their modern male counterparts) still prepare their terrines and patés maison, at home, and rightfully so: Only then you have full control of all the ingredients, only then you have room to explore your personal culinary twists.

For me, there’s no better book at hand than Stéphane Reynaud’s. It’s in French, yes, and it doesn’t seem to be available anymore – but  you’ll find it second-hand. Let me just quote his “rules of the game” for a terrine based on meat:

  • pork (belly) makes one half
  • another meat (duck, boar, veal) makes the other
  • add chicken livers (or not)
  • a little alcohol (cognac, porto, armagnac, wine…or not)
  • spices (the ones you like)
  • garlic, onions, shallots, parsley, basil, estragon (whatever you prefer)
  • cream and eggs (if you wish)
  • salt and pepper

Terrine4I would add, as an important further basic rule, that you’ll need approximately 12 to 14 grams of salt per kilogram of the terrine mass in order to avoid a bland taste. I know that our American friends have entered into an anti-salt frenzy which we Europeans will never quite understand. I mean, in the end, it’s all about the overall balance of what you eat. And a nice slice (or chunk) of paté won’t kill you right away…

Now: How to cook it? Well, let me quote Reynaud’s basic rules again (they’ve proven true): You send your meat through the masticator. You add everything else and blend it in well Terrine6(use your hands, there’s no better instrument). Then you fill your terrine dish, trying to avoid inclusions of air.

You can (and should) dump the filled dish a couple of times on a triple layer of tea towels to get out any excess air. Then you cook it in your oven at 180°C (350°F) for about two hours in a bain-marie, a water bath, which is nothing else than a casserole filled with water (big enough to take in your terrine dish). And that’s about it. Count at least 36 to 48 hours of resting time (in the fridge). This will render your terrine or paté or what have you even tastier.

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