This is the first of probably many posts on pate. Why it has taken me almost two years to talk about pate in the Nasty Bits column, which by definition emphasizes ingredients like liver and fat, is really only due to my fear of overeating it. I envy those friends who can have just a little nibble on toast and bread, then say, "oh, that's too rich for my blood!"
I can easily polish off a slice of pate like most people would a slice of cake. I find its richness so beguiling and to compound matters, pate comes in such a variety of textures and flavors, there's one for every occasion.
Roughly defined as a combination of meat products and fat set in a terrine, pate is a many-splendored thing. A rustic country pate of ground pork and fat (pate de campagne) and a crusty baguette is all you need for a casual picnic; a truffled foie gras pate is just the thing for a special occasion. In between, there are game pates, pates with lots of aspic, pates with nuts, liver-intensive pates, creamy mousse pates, and so forth.
The first time I remember truly relishing pate wasn't until after college. I bought two tins, tender rabbit rillete and a duck liver pate (that was twice the price), from a store in Paris. Digging into what little euros I had left, I took the plunge and enjoyed both tins in a single train ride.
There was a little bread, a little pate, and as the train sped along, I dove into the creaminess of the pate and thought that life really couldn't have been better.
If you're looking for a way to get your feet wet, try this chicken or duck liver mousse. The recipe comes from Kenji, who got it from chef Jason Bond of Bondir in Boston. There's nothing particularly distinctive about it; it's just very good to eat, and very straightforward to make.
Remember to incorporate the fat and onions with the cream, eggs, and liver mixture slowly. The fat will break the mixture if introduced too quickly in the food processor. If the pate is cooked at a temperature that's too high, it will also break. But these are just perfunctory warnings for what really is a simple procedure: boil fat with onions, puree the livers with cream, eggs, and flavorings, slowly add in the fat and onions, and bake.
The mousse is very fine to eat with bread and crackers, and if you happen upon any leftovers, feel free to freeze them. Julia Child is so right in insisting that pates will never have their original texture once frozen, that there is a certain "damp quality of thawed pate." Nevertheless, frozen pates may be used to enrich pasta sauces, or spread thinly in banh-mi style sandwiches.