What Is Pâté, Really?

You might be familiar with the word “pate,” which is a kind of old-timey word that means head. However, if you throw in some accents on the “a” and “e,” you have a different word altogether: pâté. With these accent marks—l’accent circumflex over the “a” and l’accent aigu over the “e,” to be exact—the word pâté is pronounced like “pat-tay” and refers to a type of meat product invented in France. But what is pâté, exactly? How is it made? How should you eat it? Let’s grab some crackers and dig in.

What is pâté?

Pâté is a type of forcemeat made from ground meat and fat. It can be served hot or cold. It is often baked into a pie or other pastry, but it can also be formed into a loaf or a mold and spread on toast or crackers as part of a charcuterie board. The most famous pâté is probably foie gras. 

Unofficially, I might add that pâté is a classic “acquired taste”-type food. For kiddos or neophytes, the meatiness of it may be a tad overpowering, but for those who are old hands, it’s savory and delicious. 

What does pâté mean?

The word “pâté” in French simply means “paste” though it can also mean dough (as in à choux, the dough used to make cream puffs and eclairs). But if you look at pâté, the name makes sense. It is, in fact, a paste made of meat.

What is pâté made of?

If you want to know what is in pâté, the answer is, essentially, meat. Apart from that, you can add fat, spices, herbs, vegetables, and wine. 

Because pâté is a very low tech food to produce (it was invented in Medieval France, after all), many European cultures make their own version of pâté or something similar, and so the exact type of meat and veggies varies considerably. If you can think of an animal that people in Europe eat, it has probably been made into a pâté at one time or another. But the most common pâtés are made out of pork (like you’ll see in a pâté de campagne), poultry liver (like chicken or duck), or game meats such as pheasant, wild boar, and rabbit. 

How is pâté made?

Though pâté is not exactly sausage, it’s in a similar family, and the same rule applies about not necessarily wanting to know how it gets made. But for those brave enough, let’s continue. 

Insanely Good Recipes has a good breakdown of how the pâté gets made. As they note, this is only one recipe—because this foodstuff is so ancient and common, there are more ways to make pâté than we can count—but this is a great place to start. They recommend heating chicken liver, garlic, onion, and salt, letting it all cool, then transferring the mix to a food processor. From there, it’s blended until it looks like paste. Add some brandy or other ingredients, blend a little more, and serve. 

Is pâté raw?

Though some sausage-related products do use raw meat, pâté is generally not one of them. When liver is called for, which it often is, recipes will tell you to cook the liver without overcooking it. Leaving some pink in the middle is ideal, but that’s a far cry from raw. 

How to eat pâté?

If you’ve got a hankering for some French meat paste, how do you go about chowing down? It turns out, there’s really no wrong way to eat pâté. It is a frequent ingredient in French open-faced sandwiches and can also be used in pies and other pastries. However, a very common way to eat it is as a simple spread. If you want to add some luxurious savoriness to your charcuterie plate, add some pâté and enjoy it with crusty French bread or on a cracker. C’est délicieux, non?

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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