If you enjoy French gastronomy and are curious about trying the pâté, you have come to the right place. It is one of those classic delicacies that usually puts foreigners off (like escargot and cuisse de grenouilles) until they actually try it, and then wonder why they hesitated for so long.
And that is because French pâté is actually delicious. It is pronounced “pa-tay” and is usually referred to as pâté de campagne, or just pâté. And yes, it is a dish made out of the insides and leftovers of animal meats.
Pâté de campagne is a paste made of ground meats and organ meats, usually containing a portion of chicken, goose, or duck liver, along with herbs, and spices. The meats are ground up and spiced and then lightly cooked in a bain-marie hot water bath at 150°C (300°F) for 3 hours.
Many cooks in France make their own pâté, but it does take a while to prepare and make, so it is just as easily available for purchase. There are several types of pâté you can get, like pâté de foie gras, paté de canard (duck), paté de poulet (chicken), etc. However, vegetarian patés are also available, so don’t let that put you off.
I should note that in French, a pâté should not be confused with “pâte” which is pronounced “pat” and actually sometimes means pasta and sometimes means the dough to make pastry. (Yes, it is confusing!)
There is also a terrine which is similar to a pâté as in it is also made out of of ground meats and organ meats. However, a terrine is usually cooked cooked in an oven, with vegetables, spices, etc. You can find it under the product labels as terrine de campagne, terrine de canard (duck), terrine de foie gras, etc.
And finally, not to be confused, you have rillettes which are shredded meat and guts that are then slow-cooked and preserved in fat. Eg. Duck, pork or goose rillettes. These days, new varieties of crab and seafood rillettes are also available.
All three are more or less eaten the same way, but I will focus on the pâté here to avoid confusion. So let’s get to it, shall we? Allons-y!
How pâté is served
Pâté de campagne is usually served on a platter to share, along side a small bread basket. It may sometimes be accompanied by a touch of fruit, like figs, pears, or grapes in a jam or compote.
You may also get a pâté en croute which is pâté cooked in a pastry or pie crust.
Pâté en crôute is considered finger food and is usually served at parties and apéros in France as such. As such, you can just pick it up and eat it, holding a small plate underneath to avoid crumbs everywhere.
Is it safe to eat?
Yes, pâté de campagne and pâté en croute have been eaten in France since the Middle ages, and it is a very popular dish in the country.
You should probably not eat it if you are pregnant however, as there is a risk of listeria and food poisoning since it is uncooked.
Ordering at a restaurant
Usually, you will have to order it as part of a charcuterie platter which you can find on the menu in plenty of brasseries, pubs, and small restaurants around France. Ask the waiter to ensure that the pâté is indeed part of the charcuterie platter.
Once the charcuterie platter arrives, you will notice that it is served with a small basket of bread and perhaps some condiments like jam or pickles. Using a knife, cut a portion of the pâté and lightly smear it on the bread and eat.
If you run out of bread before you finish all your charcuterie, don’t hesitate to ask for more bread. (I really don’t know why French restaurants don’t give more bread to start with, but there you have it!). You can read more about French dining etiquette here.
Buying it at an artisan grocery store
Because pâté is only lightly cooked, you will want to make sure you are buying pâté de campagne at a reputable artisanal grocery store that is going to use quality ingredients.
Most high-end food stores like Whole Foods should offer a variety of pâtés. Look at the expiry date before purchasing.
Frequently asked questions
What to eat with it?
Pâté is usually served cold with baguette or pain de campagne (farmhouse bread). Pâté en croute is usually served by itself as finger food.
Along with bread, pâté is also usually served with a fruit addition, like figs, pears, or grapes in a jam or compote.
What drinks to have with it?
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about other popular French dishes. A bientôt!