I’ve been reading the lyrical writing of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking this week. Published in 1960, the book describes David’s experience of food in the provinces of France away from the bright lights and big kitchens of Paris. English by birth, David fell in love with the cookery of the countryside in her formative years. She describes the post-World War II French food scene in lavish detail in each of the provinces she traveled. Here’s a sample of her writing from a morning visit to the market in Rouen, Normandy:
To the traveller as yet unacquainted with Norman cookery an impression that perhaps the inhabitants live on duck pâté and tripes à la mode de Caen might arouse a faint feeling of apprehension as he walks round a big Norman town such as Rouen. Every two yards there seems to be a charcuterie, its windows fairly bursting with all the terrines and galantines, the pâtés and ballotines, all made of duck; and the butchers as well as the charcutiers display earthenware bowls of ready-cooked tripe, very inviting looking in its savoury bronze jelly. But neither duck nor tripe, he feels, is quite the dish for every day. There is no need to worry. Take a look round the market in the morning and the spectacle is thoroughly reassuring. The fish is particularly beautiful in its pale, translucent northern way. Delicate rose pink langoustines lie next to miniature scallops in their red-brown shells; great fierce skate and sleek soles are flanked by striped iridescent mackerel, pearly little smelts, and baskets of very small, very black mussels. Here and there an angry-looking red gurnet waits for a customer near a mass of sprawling crabs and a heap of little grey shrimps. Everywhere there is ice and seaweed and a fresh sea smell.
Passages like this leave my mouth watering and transport me to a faraway place. Such writing fuels my need to create in the kitchen. Being landlocked, exploring the seafood is a challenge, but a pâté is within reach. And so my next project began.
David lists several recipes for pâté in her book, but the ingredients and equipment indigenous to the French countryside pose a challenge for authenticity here in Memphis, Tennessee. For additional guidance here at home I sought help from America’s Test Kitchen with their recipe for Pâté de Campagne.
This recipe calls for ground pork, smoked bacon and chicken livers held together with eggs, cognac (I substituted brandy) and heavy cream and spiced with nutmeg, cloves and ginger.
The mold is sealed in thick strips of smoked bacon and tightly covered in foil before being placed into a baking pan of boiled water, a French method called bain-marie (water bath).
After 2 1/2 hours in the oven, the pâté is pressed with a cast iron skillet weighted down with canned foods to ensure a denser texture and allowed to come to room temperature before chilling for 8 hours overnight.
Out of the fridge, the pâté has contracted within the baking pan making it easy to release.
Our pâté adventure continued with brunch accompaniments of mixed spring greens, Dijon mustard, cornichons, capers and baguettes from La Baguette (local Memphis bakery). We washed it down with Segura Vidura Brut Cava.
A memorable brunch indeed.