Last week I needed to make a terrine for my wine tasting class, something to go with red wines. Something sturdy, but with plenty of moelleux. Now there’s a word that has no real equivalent in English, and it’s used all the time in French, to mean melting, mellow, creamy, soft, or even sweet. It’s a delicious word, and I wanted to make an especially delicious terrine.
There was a recipe I’d been saving for ages, a terrine of lièvre, or hare, and it looked perfect. There was just one problem: unless you’re a hunter, there’s no hare to be had at this time of year. Actually there were two and a half problems, since the recipe also called for the liver of the hare, similarly unavailable, and pork liver, another thing I seldom see. And a potential problem, the recipe called for pork throat, which sounded obscure and not especially delicious.
I took the recipe down to my butcher and asked him to help me make some substitutions. He had the pork throat and the crépine to line the pan, no problem. Pork throat is something I’ve never really contemplated using, nor had I even seen one. I still haven’t, since he ground it up for me, but I have to confess that it didn’t sound exactly appetizing. For the hare and pork livers he suggested substituting chicken livers, as opposed to veal or lamb liver, since they were the strongest livers he had. And we settled on using pintade, or guinea fowl, instead of the hare. It wasn’t going to be the same as the original recipe, but it was going to be good. We were both optimistic, the butcher and I. And so I went cheerfully home to get started, five days before I wanted to serve the terrine.
Just a note about crépine, in case you haven’t used it before, it’s that lacy layer you can see above, around the finished terrine. It helps to hold the terrine together, and bastes the meat as it cooks. It’s a deeply interior part of the pig, I think we’d call it the omentum in a human, and when you buy it in English you ask for caul fat. It has a peculiar beauty of its own, if you’re not, as I confess to having been the first time I saw one, grossed out by the whole notion.
See what I mean? It’s marvelous and slightly terrifying when raw.
But when I began to assemble the terrine ingredients, for once, my pantry failed me. The night before we’d had company for dinner and I’d used every scrap of chocolate in the house making a fondant au chocolat, a flourless chocolate cake that’s very moelleux. And the terrine recipe definitely called for dark chocolate. And I definitely did not want to go out again.
That’s when my devilish cook’s brain started whispering “you know, you could toss the leftover cake into the terrine and it would be just as good.” I mean really, how lazy am I? It’s four minutes on foot to the store and I’m thinking about putting cake in there with the pork throat? “But wait. The cake is made of 70% chocolate, eggs, butter, and sugar. Not too much sugar at that. Why wouldn’t it slip secretly into the terrine, nestle up with the pintade that’s not a lièvre, and make something surprisingly good?” I swear, the devil-chef that lives under my hat made me do it: I dropped the leftover fondant au chocolat into the bowl and squished it out of sight.
The terrine was wildly delicious and much acclaimed. Its was a perfect partner for an earthy Cornas syrah, which, if it didn’t cost 29 Euros a bottle, would become a house favorite. Then one of my classmates asked for the recipe, and I realized that the jig was up. I was going to have to confess to recycling dessert . Ok world, now I’ve said it. You can have your cake and eat it too, if you’re eating my cooking.
You can make this terrine and thank me later. You could use duck if you can’t get either hare or guinea hen. You are allowed to use just plain squares of a good chocolate. You don’t actually have to make a flourless chocolate cake the night before, but I won’t discourage you. Just play with your food.
Abra’s Devil’s Food Terrine*
500 gms boneless guinea hen, hare, or duck meat
300 gms chicken livers
500 gms pork throat meat
150 gms chestnuts, canned are fine
20 cl heavy cream
80 gms flourless chocolate cake, or 40 gms dark chocolate
2 cloves garlic
8 sprigs Italian parsley
50 gms shelled pistachios
1 bay leaf
2 large pinches piment d’Espelette, or a bit of cayenne
1 large pinch of fresh thyme
22 gms fine salt
10 gms freshly ground pepper
Have your butcher grind the pork throat, guinea hen, and chicken livers together, using a coarse grind as for chili.
Peel the onion and garlic and dice them very fine. Pick the leaves off the parsley and chop fine. Crumble the chestnuts with your fingers. Gently melt the chocolate, if you’re not using cake. And really, why not use cake?
In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients together except for the pistachios and the bay leaf. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day remove the terrine mixture from the fridge, let it come up to room temperature for about an hour, then add in the pistachios. Meanwhile, soak your caul fat in running cold water for a few minutes, then disentangle it and line a large terrine mold with it, leaving enough overhang all around to completely enclose the terrine.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Pack the terrine mixture into the mold, heaping it up well, wrap the caul fat over the top, and trim the excess. Set the bay leaf on top of it all and cover the pan tightly.
Set the terrine mold in a bain marie of water that reaches halfway up the side of the mold and bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. I cooked mine to 74°C/165°F in the center and thought that was just right.
Remove the terrine from the oven and immediately put heavy weights on top of it. I do this by having a foil-covered piece of cardboard that just fits into the mold and placing some cans on top of that. I also lean on it all pretty hard for a couple of minutes when it comes out of the oven to encourage the juices to emerge. You should set the mold in a pan that will catch the juices that spill out of the terrine, and save them for addition to a soup or sauce at a later time. When the terrine cools to room temperature cover the whole thing, weights and all, and put it in the fridge for at least three and preferably five or six days before serving to allow the flavors to develop.
Serve with a wine that has lots of tannins and not too much fruit. And you could always serve chocolate cake for dessert, if you happen to have any left over.
*Based on a recipe by Pascale Mosnier that appeared in the magazine Cuisine et Vin