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Paint your palate with pté

We visited an auction house in New Orleans in December, where lovely appetizers were served. The best was the pté served with small French pickles called cornichons. This got me to thinking about how nice a pté would be to serve to guests. (I seem to still have family and guests coming to visit even though Christmas is over.) I have not done a pté in years, and I have decided this is my year to try some different things. So I got out my Julia Child cookbook, The Way To Cook, and she had some great ideas on pté and terrines.

The distinction between pté and terrines has so blurred with time that both mean the same thing—a winey spiced-up ground meat mixture that is baked and served cold. Terrine originally meant a comfortable earthenware baking dish, usually loaf shaped, in which the pté was baked and served. A pté en croûte, on the other hand, is the same mixture in a handsome highly decorated pastry crust. They are both variations on the American meat loaf.

This is an easy pté to make—grind everything together, pack neatly in a buttered loaf pan, and it is ready for the oven. Make it more elaborate if you wish, since ptés are built according to cook’s mood-of-the-day. Layer strips of ham or chicken as you pack in the meat for instance—a quarter pound would do. Or you might fold peeled pistachios into the mixture. Such touches make it you own.

Ptés are particularly good for entertaining since they are best if made a few days ahead.

Country Pté – Pté de Campagne

Liver, onions, sausage, and chicken

For a 6 cup baking dish

2/3 cup minced onions cooked until translucent in 2 Tbs butter

1 ½ pounds (2 ½ cups) pork sausage meat, your own or store bought

¾ pound (1 ½ cups) raw chicken breasts

½ pound pork or beef liver

1 cup lightly pressed down crumbs made from fresh homemade type bread

1 large egg

1/3 cup cream cheese or goat cheese

1 medium clove of garlic, puréed

2 to 3 Tbs good brandy

1 Tbs salt

¼ tsp each ground allspice and thyme

¼ tsp ground imported bay leaf

¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

The mixture: Purée all ingredients together in a food processor; or put them through the fine blade of a meat grinder, then beat in a large mixing bowl to blend. To check seasoning, sauté a spoonful in a small frying pan, let cool, and taste it analytically; correct as necessary, exaggerating the flavors since ptés are served cold.

Assembling and baking: Pack into a well-buttered loaf pan, covered with buttered wax paper, then with foil, allowing only 1 inch of overhang. Bake in a bain-marie (a pan of boiling water) in a 350° F oven. It is done in 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. When pressed, the juices are pale yellow with just a trace of rosy color.

Cooling: When done; let cool for an hour, then weight down with a twin pan or board and a 5-pound weight (such as canned goods). When cool, cover and refrigerate—let the pté mellow for a day or two before serving.

In the new January issue of Bon Appétit, there was an article on pté. This writer had a pté as a child that he remembered as wonderful and was trying to get the recipe from his mother who had not written it down. He worked and found what he thinks to be the closest taste that he remembers. This is his version.

Country Pté

Serve this at room temperature with a sprinkling of salt, cornichons, Dijon and a baguette.

¾ cup Cognac

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup minced onion

2 ½ pounds ground pork

12 ounces bacon (8-10 slices), finely chopped, plus 14 bacon slices (for lining pan)

3 garlic cloves, pressed

2 ½ teaspoon salt

2 ½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 ½ teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs, slightly beaten

1/3 cup whipping cream

1 6-ounce piece ham steak, cut crosswise into ¼-inch-thick strips

Coarse sea salt

Cornichons (tiny French pickles; available at specialty food stores)

Dijon mustard

Set rack at lowest position in oven and preheat to 350°F. Boil Cognac until reduced to ½ cup, about 1 ½ minutes. Cool.

Melt butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent but not brown, about 8 minutes.

Combine ground pork and chopped bacon in large bowl. Using fork or fingertips, mix together until well blended.

Add sautéed onion, garlic, 2 ½ teaspoon salt, thyme, allspice, and pepper to bowl with pork mixture and stir until incorporated. Add eggs, cream, and reduced Cognac. Stir until well blended.

Line 9x5x3-inch metal loaf pan with bacon slices, arranging 8 slices across width of pan and 3 slices on each short side of pan and overlapping pan on all sides. Using hands, lightly and evenly press half of meat mixture (about 3 ½ cups) onto bottom of pan atop bacon slices. Arrange ham strips over in single layer. Top with remaining meat mixture.

Fold bacon slices over, covering pate. Cover pan tightly with foil. Place pan in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan and transfer to oven. Pour boiling water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of loaf pan. Bake pate until thermometer inserted through foil registers 155° F, about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Remove loaf pan from baking pan and transfer to rimmed baking sheet. Place heavy skillets or 2-3 heavy cans to weigh the pate down. Chill overnight. Can be made 4 days ahead.

Place loaf pan with pate in larger pan of hot water for about 3 minutes. Invert pté onto platter; discard fat from platter and wipe clean. Cut pté crosswise into 1/2 –inch slices.

Serve with the cornichons, mustard and slices of baguette.