Seductions of Pork

Pork Paté with Port and Hazelnuts 


The meat counter inside the Whole Foods supermarket in New Orleans, Louisiana, is in the back of the store, past the organic vegetables, the bulk spices and the expensive imported cheeses. In front of it a girl is pacing, more than slightly uncomfortable and clearly indecisive about what she wants. She has already waved away two meat counter assistants, telling them she’ll let them know when she’s ready, but to be honest she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be ready – she’s considering dropping her plan entirely and retreating back to the tofu cooler. She sizes up those glistening piles of scarlet animal flesh and wonders what on earth they feel like: are they wet, firm, mushy, cold, slippery? She shudders involuntarily, and then feels her pulse rise. What if I can’t bring myself to actually swallow it? She briefly considers asking one of the counter assistants for advice. It sounds too crazy in her head, though: "what would you recommend for someone who has been a strict vegetarian for so long that she can’t even remember what meat tastes like?" They would laugh, or at least look at her with disdain – it’s one thing to be a confirmed carnivore, but a lapsed vegetarian is something else entirely; it connotes failure. And part of her feels like a failure for giving up on a way of life she has lived happily for so long. Nevertheless, she can’t ignore the signs, which in her case have been coming in strengthening waves, sometimes in the middle of the night as she wakes up from a dream in which she has been eating a plate of sweet, sticky ribs or a big juicy cheeseburger, and sometimes in the middle of dinner where all of a sudden she wishes her soup tasted like ham hocks instead of celery. She finds it ludicrous to think that she is craving something whose taste she can’t even properly remember. But cravings happen for a reason, she tells herself, and that is why she is here – not necessarily to embark on a new, carnivorous life, but just to see what happens if the cravings are fed. And just so she knows what she’s getting herself into, she’s buying and cooking that meat herself, no matter how squeamish she feels. With that thought lingering in mind, her eye catches something. It’s a sausage, a pork sausage. A whole pile of them, actually, shimmering pink and white in the corner of the display. Her eyes light up, and she beckons over the assistant.

"A half-pound of those, please."

The rest, as they say, is history.

I was a vegetarian for nearly ten years, from the age of 12 until just shy of my 22nd birthday. While the last couple of years were marked by the very occasional appearance of fish on my plate, in all that time I consumed not so much as a single bite of land-dwelling animal (or, at least, not to my knowledge). Unlike many other reformed vegetarians I have known, however, when that moment came to make the transition back to carnivore, what helped me along was not the easy bland innocuousness of chicken breasts (though that may have had something to do with a particularly traumatic event in my childhood which involved me, a chicken leg, and a blood-filled vein under my fork which put me off fowl for quite a while), but instead the sweet seductions of pork.

Pork, in my book, is a miracle meat. It may not be as omnipresent as chicken or as sexy as beef, but of all the forms meat takes on this planet some of the most delicious come from the humble pig. Whether it’s a fresh pork sausage for the grill, a whisper-thin slice of prosciutto di Parma, a knobbly, spicy, rock-hard cylinder of salami, showers of crumbled crispy bacon or a thick slice of chunky paté de campagne, pork lends itself to more delicious and varied preparations than any other animal. During those early days of meat-eating, when the sight of a whole steak would still render me weak at the knees, I consumed pork in all of these forms, and to this day, count a meal of barbecued sausage or charcuterie and bread to be one of the most perfect things the universe can deliver. Of course I eat plenty of chicken now too, and am open to just about anything else that happens to walk across my plate, but nothing, absolutely nothing, can take over that little corner of my heart which has been loyal to pork ever since that first bite of Whole Foods sausage passed these lapsed-vegetarian lips so many years ago.

Many thanks to both Kate Hill and Judy Witts for inspiring these memories by organizing the blogosphere’s first Pig Blogging Extravaganza!


Pork Paté with Port and Hazelnuts

Coarse, country-style patés have always been one of life’s greatest pleasures for me while traveling in France. Most larger French supermarkets make and sell their own versions of paté de campagne which I usually find quite wonderful, though I’ve heard that many French people would never dream of buying a paté from anyone but their local butcher (who naturally guards his recipe like the holy grail). I don’t know how those people would feel about my version, but I’m pretty fond of it with its hint of winy sweetness and toasted hazelnuts studded within the intensely aromatic, moist and almost creamy meat. If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at making your own charcuterie, paté is the perfect place to start. There are no hard-to-find ingredients like sausage casings or special equipment needed; there’s no hanging in the cellar and praying that the weather cooperates. As long as there’s enough fat and salt, very little can go wrong, and believe me, the results will be worth the tiny bit of extra effort involved. Okay, it is quite a bit more effort than ripping open a package from the supermarket, but everyone you serve this to will be mightily impressed that you made it yourself, and surely that must count for something!

Source: this recipe has been heavily adapted from many sources, but the most important part of the instructions – that of the pork – comes from Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for Paté de Campagne in his Les Halles cookbook. I hope he’ll forgive me for my deviations. 
Yield: one 3-lb paté, enough for 10-12 people

1/2 pound (225g) pork liver, diced
1/2 pounds (225g) pork fat, diced
1 pound (450g) pork shoulder, diced
2 1/2 – 3 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon mace
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
2 bay leaves, crumbled
3 tablespoons butter
5 garlic cloves, minced
6-8 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2/3 cup (160ml) port (doesn’t need to be anything pricey)
1 egg
1 cup (100g) whole hazelnuts, blanched and toasted
1/2 pound (225g) bacon (or fatback) slices, for lining mold

In a large bowl, combine the liver, pork fat, pork shoulder, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, pepper, allspice, herbs and cover. Refrigerate this mixture overnight. 

The next day, remove the mixture from the refriger
ator, and pass everything through a meat grinder which you have fitted with a medium blade. The grind size should not be too small (paste) nor too large (chunks). As Anthony says, you’re looking for a grind size about that of meat loaf. If you don’t have a meat grinder, you can either pulse the mixture in your food processor until it is a coarse chunky paste, or dice it into oblivion by hand (which supposedly gives the best texture, but which will give you *quite* a workout). I did a mixture of the two, which seemed to work fine.

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat and gently sauté the shallots and garlic until soft but not colored – about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, and add to the meat along with the port and egg, stirring to combine (don’t put the pan away yet). At this point take a small spoonful of the mixture and fry it in the pan until cooked through. Taste for seasoning – it should be well salted (remember that the saltiness will be muted when the pate is cold). Add the remaining salt to the rest of the meat if necessary, then add the hazelnuts and mix thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C).

Line a terrine mold or loaf pan crosswise with strips of bacon so that they hang over both edges. Fill the terrine with the ground mixture, packing it tightly. Lift the terrine and firmly drop it onto the work surface (easy, don’t go nuts) a few times, to knock out any air pockets. Fold the bacon ends over to neatly cover the paté, adding a couple extra strips down the middle if the ends don’t quite meet. Now cover the whole thing with a double thickness of foil.

Place a deep roasting pan in the preheated oven. Put the filled terrine in the center. Boil some water and pour it into the roasting pan – you want just enough water so that it comes up just below the rim of the terrine. Cook the terrine in the water bath in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the internal temperature is 160°F (70°C).

When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Place a weight on top of the terrine (still wrapped in foil) and refrigerate overnight (a few cans should do the trick). The next day, remove the weight. To unmold the paté, immerse the bottom in a pan of just-boiled water for a couple of minutes. Run a knife around the sides and unmold onto a cutting board. At this point you can run the paté under the broiler to color the bacon a bit, if you want (obviously not on the cutting board, but on a baking sheet of some kind). Return to the refrigerator and chill for another couple of hours before serving. The paté will keep in the refrigerator for at least 5 days. Serve thickly sliced with toasted bread, mustard, cornichons, cheese, butter – or whatever sounds good to you.


32 thoughts on “Seductions of Pork

  1. Ah, pork for ex-vegetarians. A good friend of mine was a veggievore for a number of years. She said that her return to meat eating started with pepperoni. A friend of hers convinced her that pepperoni was actually a type of pepper… It’s a big, red pod that grows on a small bush, before it gets sliced and put on pizza…About the recipe, I was all enthusiastic until I saw the first ingredient — pork liver! I can’t stand liver, even mild chicken livers. Is there a reasonable substitute? More pork shoulder? Something else?

  2. Pork & apple sausages, house-made country pate, duck confit… these are what pulled me off the wagon after 16 years of blissful vegetarianism. I’m still mostly veg, but with what I refer to as "artistic license" – if it’s lovingly made by hand, from local ingredients, and a particularly tempting/unusual recipe, I’m in. Keep your anaemic boneless/skinless chicken boobs… I want real steak & kidney pie.

  3. Honest-to-gawd heard-w-my-own-ears at Whole Foods last weekend. Standing before meat counter with his parents is a maybe 10-year old boy. Kid: "That juice in that meat pan looks like blood." Mom, looking at Dad w desperate-what-do-I-say-now eyes: "That’s not blood, honey." Kid: "Oh. Well it looks like blood." Mom, looking at Dad with I’m-such-a-bad-Mom eyes: "Well, not really blood." Kid: "What is it then, if it’s not blood?" Mom, avoiding Dad’s menacing we-don’t-lie-to-our-children look, "Well, it’s kinda blood but not really." Kid: "YUCK. I’m not eating blood. NO WAY."

  4. Funny! I posted in my Ode to the Pig: "Ah, the pig. For how many has bacon become the cure for vegetarianism?"Come and stick a pin in the Food Bloggers Global Map…over three hundred are there so far!: D

  5. This looks superb! Great work! I could not help but smile Melissa when I read your story. I was myself a vegetarian for over 8 years, and the first meat I ate again was "rabbit" as that was the only meat I could remember "liking" and knowing how to cook as odd as it seems! I can only tell you how funny it felt cooking and seeing those tiny legs stick out of my pot!

  6. Ok, lemme get this straight. You take pork fat, butter, port wine, pork shoulder, sautéed shallots, pork liver, and roasted hazelnuts, then wrap the whole she-bang in smoky bacon and seductively cook it to perfection? Melissa…you’ve gone hog-wild on us!

  7. Melissa, even after pigging out as I have doing research for the whole hog blog.. this makes me want to go out and get more!Thanks for coming to our party!

  8. hi melissa, beautiful pate! speaking as a lapsed vegetarian (i can now say this with perverse pride rather than shame) – i lasted all of 5 years – i totally identify…although in my case, it was the intoxicating scent of frying bacon (someone else’s frying bacon at that) that made me realize i really was a carnivore in vegetarian clothing (literally – i even had a pair of pleather boots, can you believe that?)…

  9. Melissa,My compliments to the chef! I had a delicious pate de campagne at Bouchon in St. Helena in the Napa Valley this past summer. I’ve been thinking about it since.You have made the idea of making pate very "doable". While it’s not something I would have considered previously, I shall have to put it on my list of foods to try and prepare in 2006.Thank you for the inspiration … and the recipe!

  10. Melissa, gorgeous! If you need some help with the leftovers, I’m there. Strangely enough it was a can of tuna that did me in and ended my 6 years as a vegetarian, but just like you, when the craving hit, it consumed my every waking thought until I finally gave in. Strange how that happens, isn’t it! The recipe looks fantastic!

  11. I’m not a vegetarian in theory, but I almost never eat meat. To me it is impossible to understand what people like about meat. The taste is always in the sauce, vegetables, seasoning and so on. You are kidding yourself if you say something else. Meat is practically tasteless in itself. Yes, it might taste fatty. But that is about it. The only reason I eat meat is to get my dose of proteins. This post had my stomach turn, sorry! It was very well written though so don’t take it personal, it’s just a matter of taste. But I wonder, honestly do people think the taste is in the meat? Then I would say you are blinded by habits and ignorance. Anyone who actually know what they are chewing down on would think it is disgusting and not think the texture (cause it must be all about texture) is worth it. Just like the kid mentioned above when he found out it was blood.

  12. Oooh, I am so totally impressed. I am dying to make a terrine (once I can actually face pork again) and this looks delicious. Beautiful posting, too!

  13. pate and a glass or three of rose. the cure for vegetarianism is five seconds spent in the french countryside. divine.thanks so much for this recipe. i, too, was lured to the meat side by a little pork calling after a decade of dining on strange meat imitations made from too many ingredients to list. i love your blog. thanks for sharing.

  14. What a gorgeous terrine. I so want a slice. I tried giving up meat once… went vegeterian because of a woman first and animal rights second right before starting university. Lasted only 2 years thank God!

  15. That pate looks luscious. Thank you for the recipe. Can’t wait to try it.A great weight for pates made in a standard loaf pan is a brick wrapped in several layers of foil. Nice & heavy, cheap and reusable.

  16. HiI went through a vegetarian phase in my late teens, however I succumbed to the transcendental pleasures of the flesh. I regard the consumption of meat by humans as wholly natural. My only objections are when animals are killed inhumanely and with little respect. By the way I love your blog, it is beautifully well written, and looks great.

  17. Hi Harlan – Hmmm, you’ve really thrown me for a loop there. To my knowledge, I have never consumed a French-style pate that did not contain one form of liver or another – I’m guessing it’s probably essential to the consistency. Have you ever tasted one that you liked? If so, you may have been eating liver and didn’t know it. But If you absolutely can’t stand the thought of making something with liver in it, I would probably steer you towards another recipe, perhaps something like Sam’s pork rillettes: Dreska – Thank you!Hi Hayley – Amen! We sound very similar. The upside to being ‘lapsed vegetarians’ is that we are so much more aware of the meat we eat and its provenance, wouldn’t you agree?Hi Kate – Thank you for the fantastic event – I probably would have never gotten around to attempting this sexy pate if it weren’t for you (and San Antonio Abate, of course)!Hi Alanna – Oh dear. No, we don’t want our kids knowing that meat comes from living beings, now do we? Better to let them think it comes into the world already packaged and sealed. I don’t know if I would have been able to resist grabbing them all by the lapels and shaking some sense into them!Hi Tana – Wonderful quote, and very true. I like to think of bacon as the chocolate of the meat world – one taste and you’re probably addicted for life!Hi Bea – Too funny. Amazing how many of us have had similar experiences. I ate rabbit for the first time after giving up vegetarianism, but I still have never cooked it myself! Maybe you’ll have to share some of your favorite recipes :)Hi David – Somehow it gains new connotations when you say it, but yes, that’s about right!Hi Diva – Thanks for throwing it, it was a blast!Hi J – As you can see from the comments above, neither the lapsed vegetarianism nor the fact of bacon being the catalyst is very unusual! Although I thought of myself as a ‘permanent vegetarian’ while I was eating that way, I must say now that deep down I was a carnivore all along. Life’s just too short to pass up on all that good stuff!Hi Ivonne – I hope I’ve given you the push! It’s a very gratifying thing to make, as I discovered after years of trying to convince myself to do it. It’s much more doable than you’d think.Hi Michele – Interesting about the tuna, because in my case, at least during the last two years, I very occasionally ate fish but still considered myself a vegetarian. It never seemed to threaten to push me over the carnivore edge like those cravings for sausages did…Hi you – Of course you’re entitled to your opinion, but I suspect that the real culprit may be that you’ve just never tasted the right meat. I’d be the first to agree that most factory-farmed supermarket meat hardly has enough taste to justify eating. But I hope that someday a taste of organic, well-bred meat will make you realize that it’s not just ‘habits and ignorance’ that make most of us love it.Hi Luisa – I wonder if you could use some of your gorgeous leftover bacon in one? Or how about this: you send me some, I’ll experiment a bit and tell you if it’s possible! ;)Hi Adele – So true about the meat imitations. It always seemed like such a bizarre concept, to make things look and taste as much like meat as possible. I remained a vegetarian the first time I went to France, and I was miserable. I think I planned my second trip there just to eat all the meat I’d missed!Hi Chubby Hubby – Thank you, and well done for sticking it out for two years! Even if it was because of a woman… ;)Hi Freda – Excellent suggestion, I’ll have to keep that in mind! I ended up using several cans and a cast-iron pan that threatened to topple off every time I opened the fridge… Hi Gastro Chick – Thank you 🙂 I have an outlook now pretty much like yours. Being a vegetarian opened my eyes to many of the political and environmental aspects of meat production, so now even though I eat it I try to buy it consciously and have my money at least go to places that produce meat humanely and sustainably.Hi Paz – A year is still quite an achievement. I’ve known people who couldn’t last a week! 🙂

  18. This looks absolutely sumptuous. A gourmand friend of ours is coming to dinner soon, and I think I’ll delight him (and us) with this. I’m sorry I found your blog too late to vote for it, but I am delighted to have found it, full stop. Beautiful presentation. It’s exciting to read such beautifully written text by someone who obviously believes in making the most of one’s culinary life. Cheers!

  19. Melissa, as a fellow former vegetarian who was converted by pork products, AMEN! What an astoundingly beautiful pate – and dear god, with port and hazelnuts too. I was eyeing terrine molds on the second floor of Zabar’s in NYC this past weekend, and now I’m giving myself a good kicking for not buying one. Sniffle, sniffle.

  20. Melissa, this looks like a wonderful recipe. I especially like the addition of toasted hazelnuts. I was a vegetarian for 3 years. The first non-veg food I ate was King salmon that was grilled and smoked over an oak fire at the restaurant Campanile in LA. It was my birthday dinner. I remember every bite like it was yesterday.

  21. When I started having vivid dreams, every night, that I was eating fried chicken in the middle of a dancing elephant party or chowing on crisp bacon with just a hint of supple fat while arguing with Aristotle, I knew it was time to give up my ten years of vegetarianism. My first bite was tandoori chicken at an Indian restaurant on 6th Street in New York. HOwver, there have been many beautiful bites of pork since. This pate, I know, will have to be one of those bites in the future.

  22. I was a vegetarian from the time I was 12 as well, I only lasted until my 18th birthday though, I was leaving for France and I knew it would be impossible. I was right to; in France they don’t even serve a veggie option at their schools. My first step back to sin? Bacon- I had been dreaming about it for years!

  23. Hi phlegmfatale – Aw, thank you! And I love your name :)Molly, thank you, and I have bruises in the same places from kicking myself for not buying one I admired in Paris. But considering how well this turned out using a plain old loaf pan, I think maybe we should give our heels a rest. Not that this will stop me from coveting one – after all, a girl’s gotta have dreams, right?Hi Brett – I must admit I’m so amazed at how many people around here have flirted with vegetarianism. Not that three years is flirting – you lasted quite a while! And that King salmon sounds delicious – definitely a deserving re-entry point to the world of meat.Hi Shaz, sounds delicious. Thanks for the link!Shauna, you don’t just dream about a little meat, you throw a carnival of flesh in your sleep! Fantastic story, and how interesting that we both felt at the end of a decade it was time to throw in the towel. And tandoori chicken sounds like a might fine thing in which to throw it!Hi Katy, I know from living in Spain as a vegetarian how difficult it can be! Somehow, though, I think I thrived on the challenge. Only now do I regret all those fabulously meaty things I missed out on! And bacon has a special place in my heart, too – every time I eat it I think ‘how could I have gone without this for ten whole years?’Hi From Our Kitchen – Ah yes, Emeril’s words of wisdom. Anyone who considers garlic to be its own food group gets my respect!

  24. That looks delicious… And it may just make me buy pork fat and pork livers for the first time! I must taste this. 🙂

  25. This looks amazing! I’m dying to try it. I myself have never been a vegetarian but am closest to being one than ever before. The reason I could never become one is recipes like this ;)Thank you for your lovely blog!

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