Food can be used to affect travel, but food also has a big affect on traveling. Perhaps you’ve had the experience — the best glass of white wine you ever had at a picnic in Cinque Terre, that amazing ceviche on the beach in Mexico, the ta’amiya sandwich you spent three hours hunting down through the tangled streets of Cairo. Food can make some of the most memorable experiences of a trip — how many “best-you-ever-tasteds” have occurred away from home?
But was that white wine really very good? Or were you lulled by the sun, the beautiful countryside, the freedom from work and daily responsibilities, your lover by your side? Anybody who has rapturously sprung for a case of such wine to ship home might be quite disappointed to see how that country white holds up against everyday life. Some things are just for the moment. That may be, I’m afraid, the case for terrine for me.
My first terrine ever — unless you count meatloaf — was in Paris. Martha and I were only there for a couple of days and I was determined that at least one of our otherwise frugally-provided meals would be at a fancy-ish, bistro-ish place. With the help of a Lonely Planet guide we found a maison suitable for tourists such as ourselves. And there on the carte, among the first courses, was a terrine of foies blondes. My French was (and still is) severely limited — in fact I believe we communicated with our waitress in Spanish — but I knew enough to realize foie is a good thing.
I was surprised by what came to the table: a rectangle of grayish-tan meats, bound into a mosaic with jelly. It was cool to the touch. Also brought to the table was a large earthenware crock full of zesty cornichons served with rustic wooden tongs and a venerable old well of mustard — the charming details that makes you feel good about spending 40 euro on a meal. Biting into this mystery-meat melange I was again surprised, but pleasantly: the flavor was clean, meaty, and smooth, with the mustard and pickles adding a zesty punch. I greedily finished my plate, hoping Martha wouldn’t be interested in sharing.
Since then, I’ve been in love with the idea of terrine and have tried to recreate that magical meatloaf in my kitchen — largely without success. My quest kicked off when I obtained a suitable reference, Time-Life’s Terrines, Pâtés & Galantines. This book has been the source of inspiration for a number of attempted terrines, but most of them have been disappointing, especially when compared against that Parisian ideal. There are a lot of challenges: getting the texture right is difficult: you want to mix chunks of meat, coarsely ground meat, and smooth purees into a homogenous loaf that slices clean. And then there’s the flavor. It wouldn’t be much of a terrine without liver, but thus far I seem to have a knack for overdoing the liver: my terrines come out with mineral flavors and are overly rich. Nor does the appearance help: the culinary aesthetics of the early-eighties cookbook that I am using as a source differ markedly from what we would consider attractive today, but I’d be happy if I could even pull them off. Instead, I often end up with grey loaves wrapped in wan strands of undercooked bacon, exuding a strange gray crud; the kind of thing I have to convince Martha to eat.
If that all sounds discouraging, I have also learned a lot from these many failures. Working the meat mixture thoroughly seems to improve the cohesion of the loaf, as does omitting things like whole nuts whose sharp edges tend to break it up. The taste for adding liquor so present in Terrines, Pâtés and Galantines is something best moderated if not omitted all together. Wrapping meat mixtures in fatback or covering them in rendered lard is kind of gross; bacon is acceptable, but it helps if it gets a little crisp. Go easy on the liver. Always fry a portion of the mixture to taste for seasoning before committing the loaf to the oven. A terrine is a lot of meat for two people to eat in reasonable amount of time.
So terrines continue as a work in progress, each one teaching me something about the next, until, I suppose, I am making that Parisian terrine of a few years ago.
This is my most recent terrine, which I made in the midst of a snowstorm that had us stranded inside, using only ingredients we had on hand.
- 1 ¾# ground venison (a mix of ground and whole venison, cut into cubes or strips, would be preferable, but we only had ground)
- 4 oz fatback
- 14 ¾ oz lamb liver (this is way too much liver, but I was trying to use it up. Lesson learned.)
- 1 onion (93 g)
- 2 cloves of garlic (8.6 g)
- 20 g salt
- 2 g pepper
- .7 g juniper berries (about seven)
- 1 bay leaf
Adjuncts, Binders, &c.
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 20 g bread crumbs
- 125 g milk (1½ Tbsp)
- 9 g whiskey (2 tsp)
Sautee the livers in a few tablespoons of butter until they darken. Place in bowl of a food processor. Sautee onions and garlic, adding more butter if necessary. Add to processor with liver. Process liver and aromatics with milk until smooth. Work the pureed mixture through a sieve into a large bowl.
Cut fatback into 1″ chunks and freezer 30 minutes. Chop in food processor until coarsely ground. Add to bowl with liver puree.
Grind the seasonings, except the salt, in a spice grinder until no large chunks of bay leaf remain. Add spices and salt to bowl with liver puree.
Add venison, eggs, bread crumbs and whiskey to bowl. Work vigorously until thoroughly combined (you could also beat it in a stand mixer). Fry a small portion of the mixture in a skillet to taste for and adjust seasoning.
Butter a terrine or loaf pan and line with buttered parchment. Add meat mixture to the terrine, smoothing the surface. Cover with foil. Bake at 300ºF until loaf reaches an internal temperature of 140ºF. Remove from oven and cool, draining juices from pan.
Wrap the terrine — still in the mold — in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Place something flat over the top and weight it. The terrine is ready to eat the next day, though some argue for aging it a few days before slicing and eating.
Serve with mustard, pickles, and crusty bread or crackers.