In pre-World War II Brittany, Autumn was the traditional time to slaughter the pig. The celebration was often called a boudinnerie after the blood pudding that might be made or perhaps a gratonnerie if pork cracklings were on the menu. All the parts of the pig were used to make a large variety of dishes which were then washed down with lakes of cider and eau de vie.
When I first found out I would have the opportunity to cook with some very fresh, local pig’s offal, one of the first cookbooks I opened for inspiration was When French Women Cook by Madeleine Kamman. It is a memoir with recipes that really captures the France of the 1930s-1950s. In the introduction Kamman writes, “most of the recipes in this book have never been written down before,” and then she goes on to describe her relationships with the eight women (conveniently from eight different regions of France) who taught her about cooking at various points in her life.
In her description of Breton pig slaughtering traditions Ms. Kamman mentions dishes called cochonnailles or pork delicacies served cold. In honor of the season I decided to use my pork livers and hearts to make Ms. Kamman’s recipe for Grosse Cochonnaille which she translates as Coarse Country Pâté.
Special thanks to Kenny Dahill of MarWin Farm for the very fresh livers and hearts which he provided gratis.
I had never made pâté before and found it relatively easy. The only special equipment you need is a meat grinder. I used the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer and it worked quite well. One technique of pâté making that Kamman does not address in the book is the importance of keeping your equipment and ingredients very very cold. This prevents the fat from separating out of the mixture. Luckily, Ms. Kamman’s book occupies the same shelf in my home as Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, which has lots of detail on this subject.
It’s obvious that Ms. Kamman means this dish to be for a celebration as it serves 12! I wound up with a large 9×13 inch baking pan full of porky, fatty goodness. Even though the pâté is made with liver, it’s mild and rich, not too offally at all. I particularly like the spicing which is the traditional quatre épices or four spice mixture that is often used in baked goods like pain d’épices. Here, the hints of cinnamon and clove lend a certain sweetness to the pâté.
This dish is best served with a bottle of Muscadet, crusty French bread, grainy mustard, and lots of pickles.
(Coarse Country Pork Pâté)
1 pound pork liver (or a mixture of liver and hearts)
2 pounds Boston butt of pork
1 pound unsalted fatback
4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 onions, peeled and chopped in a 1 inch dice
4 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ cup coarsely chopped parsley
4 slices of white bread, crusts removed
½ cup milk
4-½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon quatre épices (see below for recipe)
Freshly ground black pepper
Before beginning, put your meat grinder in the freezer to chill for at least an hour.
Remove the membranes from the liver and cut away the flaps, lobes, gristle and membranes from the hearts (if using), then chop both meats into a 1 inch dice. Cut the Boston butt and the fatback into 1 inch cubes. Toss the chopped meats and fat thoroughly with the garlic, onions, shallots and parsley. Cover this mixture and put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold. You can also use the freezer for this, but if so, don’t allow it to freeze solid.
Tear the bread into 1 inch pieces and soak it in the milk for about 5 minutes. Then break the eggs into the bowl with the bread and milk and add the salt, quatre épices, 6 grinds of pepper from the mill, and a large pinch of cayenne pepper. Use a whisk to beat this mixture together well. Cover the egg and spice mixture and place it in the refrigerator to chill.
Now to grind the meat. It is best to catch the ground meat in a metal bowl as it will retain the cold better. Place the metal bowl inside another bowl filled with ice to prevent the fat from getting too warm during the grinding process.
Remove your grinder from the freezer and set it up. At the last moment bring the meat mixture out of the refrigerator or freezer and grind it as quickly as possible. When finished grinding stir in the cold egg and spice mixture from the refrigerator. Be sure to combine it well so the spices are distributed evenly.
Take a spoonful of the pâté out of the bowl and cover the rest, putting it in the refrigerator so it stays cold. Make a small patty of your spoonful of pâté and cook it in a frying pan. Cool it quickly by putting it in the freezer and taste it cold to check the seasoning of the pâté. Remember that foods served cold need more seasoning than those served hot. Adjust the seasonings and make another test patty if needed. When you are satisfied with the flavors, pour all of the pâté into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes or until it is nice and brown and the internal temperature reaches 150 F on a thermometer. Remove the pâté from the oven and allow it to cool to room temperature. Then cover and chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
4 teaspoons ground coriander
Ironically, Madeleine Kamman’s recipe for quatre épices contains five spices. Use the freshest spices possible, grinding them yourself if you can. Mix them together and store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.