Here we are in January again. The excitement of Christmas and the New Year celebrations are over and we are all back to work. This time last year I was rather happy at finding a Le Creuset cast iron terrine dish at less than half price. The Bear, of course, was asking if I really needed a terrine dish and, if I had one, would I use it enough to justify even the half price… well, the answer is yes.
I needed mushroom pâté because I had a wonderful loaf of No Knead Bread on the go (ready to be baked the following day) and I had the soft, sweetly savoury and delicious caramelised red onions that would be perfect with the bread and the pâté…. and I also had a large bag of chestnut and shitake mushrooms.
There’s something so rich and tasty about both chestnut and shitake mushrooms. They’re almost meaty in their texture and the flavour is deep and earthy.
Shitake always seem so substantial for a mushroom – you know how some mushrooms seem to disappear when you cook them, becoming small and almost translucent and frail? Shitake don’t. They are firm and lovely and the flavour is perfect for making a pâté with.
I’d been out when I spotted the mushrooms, piles of them, looking gorgeous. I really had no plan at the time to make pâté but it all seemed to come together.
If you see mushrooms in the peak of perfection you really should buy them and think of what to do with them while you walk home with your bag of goodies. When I picked the mushrooms, I just put handfuls into bags – when I weighed them at home (yes, the shop did that but I wasn’t paying attention and the only reason I weighed them again was so I could tell you) there were roughly 25og of chestnut mushroom and half that of shitake and together they cost me £2.40.
I knew I had everything else I would need at home – 250g of butter and the remnants of a pot of cream, maybe 125ml or so.
All a pâté is (and what the literal meaning is) is a paste of something. You need the main ingredient and something to stick it all together. Butter and cream are the logical choices as they melt into whatever you are using then chill down, making a beautiful, spreadable paste.
Back in the kitchen, I chopped them roughly and started to sweat them down with a knob of butter and a pinch of salt.
I had some soft thyme growing in a pot on the windowsill so I tore off the baby fine shoots and added them. If you are using thyme that is growing outside then you must strip the leaves off – an outside hardened plant has very tough stems. When it is as soft and tender as this is, it isn’t a problem.
A couple of finely chopped garlic cloves added at the same time will cook down well making an aromatic layer of flavour. It won’t be overpowering because it will cook long and slowly so the pungency of the garlic softens beautifully.
I knew I had a box of dried wild mushrooms and I decided to add some of them to the mix. I put a handful into a pyrex jug and added boiling water to hydrate them. If you haven’t got any don’t worry… but the funny thing is, people always tend to have a box in the back of the larder. Maybe it is because we all think we will make risottos with them… then go and buy the fresh mushrooms anyway.
By now the fresh mushrooms were softening nicely. Keep them on a gentle heat and keep stirring them every so often.
You want them to be cooked and to have concentrated their flavour. If you are in the mood for it, you can add a splash or so of cognac just to add in yet another layer of flavour. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to, it’s just an option. This is such an easy thing to make that you just change and adapt until it pleases you.
The dried wild mushrooms will have plumped up beautifully by this stage so you can squeeze out the excess water and add them to the mix so they can cook through and absorb the buttery, mushroomy juices.
If you are planning on doing something else with mushrooms the rehydrating water could be used as a stock, but really, there’s not that much there and with dried mushrooms you have to be wary of any little bits of sand or grit that might have been in there. For once, much though I try and make sure there’s no waste in my kitchen, I didn’t see the benefit in saving the water.
An extra knob of butter won’t go amiss….
Look at how they all mix together – that’s not the clearest picture but I kept getting the lens steamed up, so that’s the picture that was taken.
Now then, it’s time to make the pâté.
Put the mushrooms into a processor or, if you are like me and find it just as fast to use a hand blender, put them into a jug with maybe 50g of butter. It’s the butter and cream that hold this together and when it has been chilled in the fridge you end up with a beautifully smooth pâté.
Don’t be afraid of the amount of butter because the amount of pâté you eat in a serving is not that much.
Start whizzing it smooth.
Keep going till you have whizzed all the mushrooms smooth and with each whizzing you have added more butter. Of course if you had bothered to get to the back of the cupboard where the food processor is, you could have done it all in one go….. I didn’t. So I had to keep whizzing in a jug and putting the smooth blend in a bowl.
Look at it…. rich and smooth….
Stir in the cream and make sure it is all blended properly.
You should check the taste of it to see if it is well seasoned – you might need to add in some salt. I put in a pinch or so and stirred it all round.
Then, all you have to do is spoon the thick and rich blend into the terrine dish.
A silicone scraper makes an excellent flexible smoother.
Look how beautifully smooth it is…..
And all you have to do now is to chill it.
The mushrooms were cooked in the pan and the butter and cream were blended in, now the butter needs to set again so the pâté becomes firm and you can slice it.
Put the terrine into the fridge and leave it to set and chill. I usually leave it overnight, unless, of course, I can’t wait.
The next day, I sliced some No Knead bread thinly and baked it for ten minutes in a moderate oven. Not enough to toast it but just enough to to dry it out. This was going to be my Melba toast that I would serve with the pâté and the rest of the caramelised onions that had been waiting patiently in a jar in the fridge.
This was going to be a lovely light meal….
And it was.
It was rich and smooth and made the perfect starter when some friends came round for supper.
It keeps well in the fridge and you can, if necessary, freeze it, if you wrap it tightly in cling film. That’s good news because, as ever, I had made far too much.
I cut it into portions, and wrapped it well. One word of advice though… do remember to label it!
So, two bags of mushrooms, a block of butter and some cream and you end up with possibly the best mushroom pâté you have ever tasted. What more do you need, except a glass of wine and company to share it with?