Mean comeback for the terrine. A retro French delicacy is popping up on menus again. Becky Sheaves learns the basics.
I’ve noticed lately that terrine seems to be popping up on the menu all over the place these days. A few years back, it seemed hopelessly stuck in the 1970s to cram baking tins with chunks of game, ham, duck and even seafood.
So why is this retro French delicacy suddenly so smart? And, more to the point, how on Earth do you make one? This week I felt it was definitely time I found out more.
My guide was Head Chef Ben Bass of The Old Quay House Hotel and Restaurant in Fowey, South East Cornwall. For me, it was a case of getting back to my roots as my great grandparents came from this lovely harbourside town, a famous smugglers’ haunt back in the day.
But I was there on legitimate business. And Ben is surely the right person to start me off making terrines. After all, he did spend three years begin taught by that most consummately French chef, Raymond Blanc himself.
“Raymond was exactly like he is on television, a tough but fair teacher. Everything had to be perfect,” Ben remembers. “If he liked my cooking he’d leave me alone to get on with my work. If it was a failure in any way, I’d be cleaning spinach or scrubbing mussels all day.”
For my masterclass, Ben, still only 27 – he trained with Raymond from the age of 16 to 19 – chose three dishes. One is a truly classic French duck terrine, and there’s a British version made more simply with ham hock.
I’d asked for advice on a fish terrine but he steered me towards a tian of crab instead, where the ingredients are piled up into a little tower just before serving. “It’s a lighter style which suits seafood better,” he explains.
Ben says the great thing about a terrine – like so much of classic French cuisine – is that it uses cheaper cuts of meat and stretches expensive ingredients. A ham hock costs just a couple of pounds and, in terrine form, will feed six.
The worst of terrines can look like unappetising chunks of meat in jelly, though. So Ben has made sure that all these dishes look appealing by adding colourful elements. There are lightly cooked carrots and handfuls of fresh parsley in the hock terrine.
The duck version has green pistachios, which look fabulously jewel-like once it is sliced. And the crab tian with its rough-chopped guacamole topping is quite simply a thing of great beauty.
He advises I go home and experiment with the recipes. “You can ring the changes in all sorts of ways,” he says. The thing to remember is that the classic French recipe for terrine is that the proportions are always equal – one part meat, one part fat and one part liver.
To my relief, I did not have to go near a sheet of gelatine all day. The ham hock produced enough natural gelatine to set from being cooked first on the bone.
The duck terrine is held together with beaten egg, and a spoonful of mayonnaise provides enough “stick” for the crab dish. I can honestly say that all three of these spectacular dishes aren’t overly tricky in any way. What’s more, I’ve managed to smuggle the recipes out of Fowey – so here they are to delight you, too.
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