Rich & Famous: Classic terrines are so right now

According to Julia Child, “If you can make a meatloaf, you can make a pâté.” But can you make a terrine? Certainly, for a terrine and a pâté are nearly one and the same. Terrines are typically prepared and served in a ceramic baking dish called a terrine, while the same is not necessarily true of a pâté. And, the ingredients of the former are usually not as finely ground as those of the latter. To quote the wise Julia once more, “It’s as simple as that.”

While you could heed Julia’s advice and attempt your own terrine at home, you certainly don’t have to. The centuries-old French dish has experienced a real renaissance and is featured on restaurant menus all around the city. “Terrines are so old-fashioned that they’re new again,” said Mike Roberts, chef at Atlas Restaurant in the Central West End. “They’re a great way to showcase technique and ingredients.”

At The Shaved Duck in the Tower Grove East neighborhood, executive chef Brendan Noonan said: “People tried to back away from the traditional-style terrine and make it hipper and healthier, but now they just want real food again. It’s basically just a meat pie or a vegetable pie.” Noonan said that while terrines are somewhat labor-intensive, they are also practical: “We use everything that comes in the door, every bit of every animal.”

Terrines can essentially be made from anything: finely ground or coarsely chopped meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, cheese or vegetables. They can also be flavored with virtually anything: herbs, spices, wine and brandy. The preparation technique is standard. The mixture is placed into a covered terrine dish, which is then placed into a bain marie. This hot water bath evenly cooks the meats without browning them, and a jelly full of flavor forms in the dish once cooled. Next, the wine and herbs are added as a marinade, the dish is pressed to release any air pockets and placed in the refrigerator for a few days. Then it is cooked, cooled and pressed again.

With such freedom when it comes to ingredients, what are chefs around town putting in their “pies”? Some stick to the traditional French-style terrine made with ground meat, herbs and wine and some put their own spins on the classic. “What we put in our terrines depends on what’s in season and how we’re feeling that day,” Noonan said. “Sometimes I like to go old-school and sometimes I go a little out there.” Whether he sticks to tradition or not, though, he limits the number of ingredients he uses. “We try to accent the pure, simple flavors of the food itself,” he said. “Although the ingredients are few, we generously season everything that goes in to them.” The Shaved Duck recently featured a terrine of rabbit and duck with blueberry and pistachio, which “flew out the door,” Noonan said.

Bryan Carr, co-owner and chef at Pomme and Pomme Café & Wine Bar in Clayton, prefers not to experiment too much with his terrine ingredients. Instead, he said: “I try to learn from cooks who went before us and do them better. The best thing about terrines is that they are traditional.” So, what’s in his? “Pork, duck and chicken are the ingredients I use the most. We make a pork pâté wrapped with prosciutto, which is served at both restaurants.” He continued, “And, in the café, we have a mix of charcuterie that uses a few different meats: duck, pork and a pork liver mousse.” Carr assured that terrines “are not a new trend. They’re old-fashioned and have always been in vogue.” Spoken like a true French traditionalist chef!

Roberts also leans toward a traditional preparation. “Maybe it’s my generation,” he said, laughing. The terrine currently on the menu at Atlas is a house-made country terrine with toasted hazelnuts made from locally sourced ingredients. “Once you go local, you can’t go back,” he said. “Modern food production has flung to one end and gone away from taste and quality, but the pendulum is swinging back.” (See accompanying recipe to try your hand at Roberts’ terrine of choice.)

Terrines are so versatile because you use anything that you have on hand, Roberts said. He did admit that in spite of their versatility, if you’re buying all the ingredients retail, it could be a little more challenging. “If you’re a butcher, farmer or chef, then you have access to a large volume of meat.” True, but they don’t always have to be made from meat. “You can also make vegetable terrines,” Roberts said. “It may take a little technique to hold them together, but they can still be very tasty.”

Terrines might seem like something that only professional chefs should get involved with, but it isn’t so. “Making a terrine is actually very straightforward,” Carr said. “It may require some patience and practice, but there is nothing fancy about it.”