pork pâté

Yummy Bazaar is back to continuing our Frequently Asked Questions series, where we answer the most often searched questions on the internet so that you don’t need to google each of them individually.

Today we’ll be covering Pâté, a traditional French food that’s been enjoying ever-increasing attention from American foodies over the last few years, but is, unfortunately, just as increasingly seen as far less multi-faceted than it actually is.

What Is pâté?

Pâté (fr. “paste”) is a type of forcemeat, a uniform mixture made by grinding or sieving the ingredients together with fat. Originally, pâté referred to forcemeat baked in a crust or molded in a terrine. Today, it most commonly refers to a spreadable paste, usually served as an appetizer. But it can also be used interchangeably with terrine: technically a separate dish made with forcemeat, cooked in a mold, with a firm, sliceable texture.

Pâté can be made with various base ingredients, from ground meat, poultry, fish and seafood, vegetables, etc. It’s usually mixed with some kind of fat, and seasoned with various spices, and alcohol.

While pâté is commonly spreadable, its grind isn’t necessarily smooth and creamy, it can be on the thicker and chunkier side, especially if it doesn’t contain any smoothening agents like milk or eggs.

What is pâté made of?

There’s no universal base for pâté. It can be made from multiple ingredients from common meats like pork and chicken (the most common choices) to fish and seafood to game meats like wild boar and venison to vegetables (for vegetarians and vegans).

The key to making pâté is the cooking method, not the base ingredients. Anything that has been blended together with fat to form a uniform spreadable mixture can be labeled as pâté, from meat to mushrooms.

(Yes, that means olive tapenade is technically a pâté. That’s not why it’s sometimes called Pate de Aceitunas, but it does qualify).

The most famous pâté variety is, undoubtedly, liver pâté: a meat spread made from finely or coarsely ground liver (most commonly pork or poultry) and lard. Interestingly, while France is considered the birthplace of pâté, it’s not considered to be the birthplace of liver pâté, specifically. It’s thought to have originated somewhere in Northern Europe, and is, these days, most popular in Scandinavia and Eastern European countries.

Is pâté always liver?

While liver pâté is one of the most famous pâté varieties, it’s not the only one or even, arguably, the most common. Pork liver and chicken liver pâté are very common, but it can be argued that pork pâté (made from meat, not pork liver) is just as common.

Pâté can be made from various base ingredients including meat, poultry, fish and seafood, vegetables, etc. with the addition of fat, seasonings, smoothening agents (often milk and eggs), and alcohol.

What does pâté taste like?

Pâté usually has a savory, rather rich flavor due to the high fat content. The overall flavor profile is majorly determined by the base ingredient (as in, rather obviously, pork pâté isn’t going to taste like mushroom pâté and vice versa), but the creamier, butterier version. 

It’s also supposed to be well-seasoned, adding a layer of complexity to the rich flavor profile, enhancing the natural flavors of the base ingredient, and bringing out the weaker, underlying notes (like a touch of sweetness along with savoriness in pork, earthiness in mushrooms, fattiness in fish, etc.). 

Why does pâté have fat on top? Should you take the fat off the pâté?

Fat is used to form a protective layer on top of pâté. It’s supposed to keep the product fresh for a longer period of time and preserve its original flavor. 

Homemade pâté recipes, for example, often suggest pouring a layer of melted butter on top of the finished product to extend its shelf life, even though pâté keeps well in the refrigerator.

If the extra fat bothers you, you can take it off the part of the pâté you’ll be consuming at the moment, but it’s not necessary. In fact, mixing the extra fat in might even add to the smoothness and creaminess of the pâté. 

Why is pâté so expensive?

Not all pâté is expensive! There are, in fact, many affordable brands out there, making it possible for everyone to enjoy what was once a treat for the rich and noble.

But it’s true that pâté, especially high-quality, artisanally made pâté, is not the cheapest meat product on the shelf. 

Making quality pâté calls for quality ingredients. Often artisanal pâté is made with locally sourced ingredients, with meat and fat from small farms instead of large corporations. The practices the company adheres to can drastically influence the price of the final product, creating a rather large gap between mass-market production and artisanal product.

What base ingredients go into the pâté in question may also raise the price point: for example, a wild boar pâté is a rarity found in high-end restaurants and priced accordingly, while pork pâté is one of the most common pâté varieties, with multiple brands producing affordable options.

Is pâté raw? Can you eat pâté raw?

No, pâté is NOT a raw dish. The base ingredients that go into it - whether liver, meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables - are pre-cooked before they’re ground or sieved with the fat to form the paste.

At least, this holds true for commercially produced pâté. A restaurant may make a pâté with still-pink liver or meat, but it’s an increasingly rare occurrence.

As the base ingredients are cooked before pâté is made, it means that pâté is by default not a raw dish and can be consumed as is, without any additional cooking. You can eat pâté straight from the container without worrying about having to cook it first.

How do you eat pâté? Do you eat pâté cold or warm?

Pâté can be eaten both hot or cold, though it’s increasingly more common to serve it as a cold appetizer. 

What do you pair with pâté? What cheese goes with pâté?

Pâté is most commonly eaten on its own, smeared on bread or crackers. But it has a rather versatile taste and can be paired with multiple ingredients, both savory and sweet.

Hard or semi-hard cheeses like Gouda, Edam, or Emmental are a common pairing due to their distinct and not easily overpowered flavor profiles.

Fruit jams, especially slightly zesty berry jams, and citrus marmalades are also considered a favorable flavor pairing, especially with pork and pork liver pâtés. 

Last, but certainly not least, they’re increasingly common to pair with fresh vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce if served as a sandwich, not a separate ingredient.

Why do people eat pâté? When should I eat pâté?

(I won’t lie, this was a rather unexpected question).

There’s no specific time to eat pâté. It can be enjoyed at any time of the day, be it at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. That said, if it’s part of a multi-course meal, pâté is usually served as an appetizer, together with bread or crackers. 

I suppose people eat pâté for various reasons, simply from wanting to try something new, to liking its creamy texture, to enjoying its flavor. Or maybe all three together.

Does pâté have alcohol?

The original French pâté recipe does contain alcohol - usually wine or brandy (cognac and armagnac being the traditional choices).

But while the restaurants tend to stick to the original recipe and cook pâté with alcohol more often than not, commercially packaged options aren’t so ubiquitous. Many companies prefer keeping their recipes alcohol-free these days, or at least keeping their options open, offering both types of pâtés. 

Simply spare an extra minute to check the label of the product that’s attracted your attention and you should be fine.

Does pâté contain egg?

An egg is not a necessary ingredient in a pâté, but most pâtés do include it in the recipe. Along with milk (or cream), egg acts like a smoothening agent, making the pâté texture more creamy and easily spreadable. 

It’s not uncommon to encounter either one, the other, or both of them together in the pâté. 

That said, eggs are not mandatory for pâté or rillette. There are plenty of options out there that are made with just meat, fat, and spices, without the addition of smoothening ingredients.

Again, the best way to purchase the product that fits your preferences is to do research beforehand or spare a minute to check the label for the ingredients before making the choice. 

Is it OK to eat pâté every day? What happens if you eat too much pâté?

It depends on the type of pâté in question. Vegetable pâté is perfectly ok to eat every day, though it may become rather boring if you do so.

Pâté made from ground meat, poultry, or fish holds the same general risk as eating other high-fat foods does: excessive consumption over a prolonged period of time puts you at risk of weight gain due to added calories and increased levels of cholesterol.

But it’s usually not the vegetable pâté or meat pâté consumers worry about, but liver pâté.

Liver pâté is a very nutritious product and its consumption can greatly improve your daily intake of certain vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc, and folate. But it’s particularly rich in Vitamin A, which is where the risks lie.

If you eat liver pâté every day, the Vitamin A levels in your body may exceed the healthy range. Consuming liver pâté as a treat every once in a while is perfectly fine, but eating it every day for a prolonged period of time is certainly not recommended. 

How long is pâté safe to eat? How long does pâté last?

The shelf life of a freshly made and commercially packaged pâté is vastly different. 

Freshly made pâté lasts for about a week in the refrigerator and is best consumed within the first 3-4 days after making.

Commercially packaged pâtés differ from manufacturer to manufacturer: their shelf life can last from as little as just 3 months up to 24, depending on the recipe and preservation method (ex. rillettes, preserved in fat, can usually last longer than vegetable pâtés). 

Once opened, the shelf life of a commercially packaged pâté drastically decreases, but it can still last longer than a homemade one. On average, commercially packaged pâté can last around 10 days once the package is open, sometimes even longer. 

That said, they’re best consumed within the first 7 days, as the texture and flavor quality starts to decline after the first week.

Can I freeze pâté?

Yes, you can! Admittedly, it’s not the best way to enjoy pâté, but if you freeze - and defrost - it the right way, the changes to the texture and taste should be quite minimal.

The main enemy of frozen pâté is freezer burn: losing moisture if improperly stored in the freezer. Pâté is also a food with a high fat content, which makes the texture and taste even more susceptible to changes when frozen and defrosted (due to the fat globules expanding). 

In short: if you don’t take proper care of the pâté before storing it in the freezer, the defrosted product will likely have a dry, crumbly, even sandy texture and more “muted” flavors.

On the bright side: most commercially packaged pâté can be stored in the freezer in its original container, if unopened. The packaging (unless stated otherwise) is designed to preserve its natural texture and flavors. 

On the darker side: few people keep pâté unopened after making the purchase. Whether pâté should be left in the original packaging after opening depends on whether or not it's resealable. A jar with a screw top will do the job, but a plastic peel-off lid will not. In this case, pâté should be transferred into a separate container, with airtight lead. 

The way you defrost it will also influence the pâté texture and flavor. The slower you go the better. Keeping it in the fridge overnight to let it slowly defrost is the best option. If you’re in a hurry, then submerge the container (tightly closed) in room temperature water. Do not use either the microwave or oven to defrost.

If properly stored, freezing will extend the pâté shelf life by around 3 months.

Visit Yummy Bazaar’s French Grocery Store for More:

You’ll easily find a premium assortment of authentic French pâté along with other similar meat products like duck and pork rillettes, confits, and mousses, at Yummy Bazaar’s online French grocery store. Take a minute to explore the collection, or, for even more options, visit the section on artisanal products, where you’ll find a selection of similar products from local producers. Then all there’s left to do is add your favorites to your cart and let us take care of it. The Yummy Bazaar team will ensure it gets delivered to your doorstep ASAP.

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