Fear is always at the root of serious procrastination; fear masquerading as self-doubt, the nagging worry that I’m not up to the task at hand. And in this case, fear that I might not like the final product.
This month’s Charcutepalooza challenge is packing – making paté, or pork pie. I know from following the charcutepalooza twitter stream that it’s been a dream challenge for many Charcutepaloozians –Francophiles and many others who are accomplished and experienced in all things meat.
Well, that’s not me. Till this year, I haven’t eaten red meat for more than a decade, and much to my great regret I have yet to visit France. How the hell would I even know if my paté was good or bad?With bacon and pastrami I had a clear vision of the end result. Paté – not so much. I’ve eaten paté, but never been a huge fan. Still, I knew K.M. wouldn’t go near a pork pie.
We moved back to Seattle right after the challenge was announced last month and I found plenty of way to put off the inevitable. Organizing the kitchen, the basement, the office, making pies, flattening cardboard boxes, alphabetizing all our books – I resorted to every domestic task I could come up with, short of ironing.
Suddenly, only one week remained and paté needs a few days to age. I took a deep breath, re-read the relevant chapter in Charcuterie, and then set out to research the subject. Eventually, wanting a recipe that emphasized duck over pork, I settled on Susan Herrmann Loomis’ Paté de Canard, which really is a duck paté campagne, with an inlay of duck breast, from her French Farmhouse Cookbook. I always have great luck with Loomis’ recipes, in spite of my inability to follow directions exactly and my tendency to take shortcuts. If I ever do take my fantasy trip to France, one of Loomis’ cooking classes would be as high on my list as a trip to the Louvre and a Paris food tour with David Lebovitz.
The ingredients were easy to pull together, between the farmer’s market and the sustainable-meat-butcher around the corner. Loomis calls for veal, but I would just use more duck, instead, and since I had no Calvados on hand, I decided to use Cassis. Acting on Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s advice I planned to sear suck breast strips for the main interior garnish. And chopped figs would be my secondary garnish.
It was time to cook. Instead, I watched Julia Child make paté en croute in Meatloaf Masquerade.
Finally with five days till the deadline, I put my paté together. I never found my meat thermometer after our move, but I wasn’t all that worried about it. The average cooking time for a paté this size seemed to be about an hour and a half.
I took it out of the oven, let it cool, left it wrapped and weighed it down. And put it in the refrigerator. For three days, I actively avoided it. With 24 hours left, I forced myself to pull the weights off, remove the foil, the plastic wrap, and the layer of duck skin.
It was raw. And I was screwed. No time to start over, no time to come up with a new plan.
I went to the local food co-op. I bought pheasant paté, so I’d have something to take pictures of for this post should my paté be irretrievable and I bought a meat thermometer. I rewrapped my sad block o’ French duck kitfo, without the exterior foil, stuck the new thermometer in the middle, and put the whole thing back in the oven. Would the three-day rest in the fridge be enough to give us food poisoning? Or would it turn out to be a spectacular new innovation in paté making?
It took a full two and a half hours for the temperature to reach 170°. Time I spent fretting. But it smelled wonderful – that was the duck fat, I think.
When we tasted it, I was disappointed. I don’t think the double baking hurt it – it’s not at all dry, the taste just didn’t do much for me. Maybe I went too far adapting the recipe, buy I don’t think so – I think it’s me. I just don’t love paté. My version is much better that the purchased emergency stand-in paté. But I don’t like it enough to share the recipe. When I wrote the first draft of this post, I had a different ending in mind- all about my new found enthusiasm for all things paté. Not so much, I’m afraid. Still, I’m not sorry I did the challenge – trying new things is what it’s all about, right?
The good news is that the October challenge posted today. I’m going to skip the rilllettes – but I am excited about duck confit – and duck roulade. I’m planning to get started this weekend.