Pâté or Pâté?
Lorraine, the French region near Alsace from which my family originated, is very well known for its famous Quiches Lorraines (no cheese and no onions into it!). But if the quiche is the Lorraine’s specialty that is undoubtedly the best known all around the world, with the Baccarat crystalware, there is another specialty that is preceding it, both historically and sentimentally in Lorraine, as it is often reserved for celebration days, the Pâté Lorrain.
I will tell you a secret, the Pâté Lorrain is a pâté, a real pâté… If you think that I am losing it, I will precise as, in fact, the French term pâté could be ambiguous. A pâté refers now to a preparation based on a combination of various meats (pork, poultry, veal) and/or organs (liver), hashed or ground, spiced, possibly marinated in alcohol, and cooked in different ways, some kind of sophisticated meat loaf or forcemeat so to say. Originally, I mean in the middle age, the meat loaf was cooked either in an earthware, called terrine (same roots as terra cotta), or in a dough. If I tell you that dough, in French, is pâte (same Latin roots as pasta), you immediately get that pâté initially designated forcemeat cooked in a dough crust. Progressively, the term pâté lost its reference to the dough, to finally designate any kind of ground meat preparation, with or without a dough wrap. Which has conducted to the etymologically redundant term of pâté en croûte (crust), i.e. the meat pie.
This is why the Pâté Lorrain is a genuine pâté in the sense that it is cooked in a dough crust. It is in fact a very ancient recipe, the oldest recorded recipe from Lorraine, before the quiche lorraine as mentionned above. Under the name petits pâtés lorrains, it was described in the first cookbook supposedly written in French, Le Viandier, which was attributed to Guillaume Tirel, aka Taillevent, in 1392, although oldest versions were found in the 13th century.
A family celebration dish
Served lukewarm, Pâté Lorrain is generally consumed as a starter, accompanied by a light green salad, but it could also form the base of a delicious lunch or light dinner. In Lorraine, it is also appreciated early in the morning, for breakfast, in lieu of a croissant. In my family, like in many local families, it is reserved for celebration days. My grandmother used to make it as a starter for Christmas dinners or any other family banquets, before serving a choucroute (sauerkraut, Alsace is nearby) or a Potée Lorraine (not to be confused with the Paté Lorrain), a broth stew featuring an assortment of salted and smoked pork meats and varied vegetables, with a sauce made of the broth mixed with crème fraîche and vinegar... The filling of the Pâté Lorrain is made of a half-and-half combination of veal and pork, chopped and marinated for at least 24 hours in dry white wines with varied herbs. This long and flavorful marinade is the key of the recipe, the phase that builds up all the flavors and aromas finally developed by the Pâté Lorrain after cooking. Also, it is important in my opinion to use local wines, such as Lorraine’s Côtes de Toul (I was able to find some in the USA) or Alsace’s Riesling or Sylvaner. In addition to being from the same locale, the wines from Alsace are much less sweet than German or American Rieslings.
Level of difficulty
1 hour + 24-hour marinade
§ 1.5 lb. of pork shoulder or butt (or similar)
§ 1.5 lb. of veal chuck* (or similar)
§ 2 glasses of Alsace’s Riesling or Sylvaner, or Lorraine’s Côtes de Toul (otherwise, a non-oaky Chardonnay may do the job)… + 1 shot for the cook
§ 2 shallot heads (i.e. typically 4 cloves)
§ Fresh herbs: thyme, marjoram, tarragon, bay leaves, sage
§ Salt and pepper
* NB: I realized that it may not be easy to find veal chuck or similar cut a bit fatty but not too much. If so, the option I use is to buy a dryer cut and to bring moistness with mushrooms… but this is not an authentic Pâté Lorrain anymore!
§ 2 large portions of puff pastry (homemade or commercial)
§ 2 egg yolks
Dice and chop the pork and veal manually diced/chopped. Don’t grind it mechanically to keep texture. Marinate it in the fridge, with a film and/or lid on, for at least 24 hours up to 48 hours in the wine with the finely chopped shallots, the herbs, salt and pepper.
2 After the meat has marinated, strain the filling and squeeze it by hand, with a plate with weight on top and/or using a cheese cloth to eliminate some of the marinade liquid.
3 Roll the pastry to make a rectangle of around 16” by 8” (for around 12 servings), and reinforce the central part, where the filling will be placed. Pierce the central area with a fork. Place your filling on the pastry rectangle, and fold in the sides (they should only cover the side of the filling, not the top) and the ends. Use water or the marinade liquid to seal the dough.
4 Make another pastry rectangle of 13” by 5” (approx.) so that it tops the filling. Keep some pastry for the decoration. Make 1 or 2 “chimneys” (holes in the dough) to let the liquid and steam escape. With the leftover dough, make one or two doughnut-shaped circles of dough) to reinforce the chimneys, along with some other decorative shapes (generally leaf shapes, but of course any other shape won’t change the taste).
5 Brush the pastry with the egg yolk for coloration. Make some decorative stripes on the top if you wish.
6 Prepare a baking sheet or a pizza stone with a sheet of floured parchment paper. Bake in a preheated oven for around 20-25 minutes at 420 degrees F. (less if you have a convection oven), then at 380 degrees F. for another 20-25 minutes, for a total cooking time of 45-50 minutes. Let cool down and serve lukewarm… with, of course, a bottle (at least) of Alsatian Riesling.