What Is Pâté?

Discover how this French dish with humble origins is made.

November 17, 2022

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Photo by: Monkey Business Images/Getty Images

Monkey Business Images/Getty Images

By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

For some, the culinary term paté might conjure up the image of a fancy French dish. But its origins are much humbler. Here, we explore where paté comes from, how it’s made and different types of paté.

What Is Paté?

Paté (pronounced pah-tay) is a French term that loosely translates to paste. Paté is a savory filling of meat and fat that is baked in a terrine (an earthenware vessel) and served hot or cold. Traditionally, paté was baked in pastry, aka paté en croute. A terrine, a mix of ground meats baked in its namesake mold (or similar loaf pan) and served cold, was traditionally considered distinct from paté. Because many types of patés are baked in loaf-style pans sans crust, it technically makes them a terrine. But today, the two terms are often used interchangeably. In the U.S., paté also refers to spreadable chicken liver mousse or chicken liver paté (as pictured below).

Chicken liver pate with ciabatta on the white plate


Chicken liver pate with ciabatta on the white plate

Photo by: AlexPro9500/Getty Images

AlexPro9500/Getty Images

What Is the History of Paté?

Paté’s roots can be traced back to country sides of northern and central Europe, where it was an economical way to use all the parts of slaughtered animals. At its core, paté was a humble peasant dish, but over the years, French chefs experimented with the form by incorporating different ingredients, and eventually, baking it in pastry dough, or what we know as paté en croute (pictured below).

meat pate croute dough pork or beef, chicken french food fresh meal food snack on the table copy space


meat pate croute dough pork or beef, chicken french food fresh meal food snack on the table copy space

Photo by: a-lesa/Getty Images

a-lesa/Getty Images

How Is Paté Made?

Paté is made with forcemeat, which is made by grinding meats that have been marinated with herbs, spices and sometimes wine or liquor, such as Brandy, Cognac or Armagnac. The meat composition often includes pork and pig scraps, though it can also be made with duck, goose, lamb or wild game such as quail, pheasant, venison or wild boar. The meat is ground to the desired texture, either fine or coarse; the fat is ground separately and then worked into the meat, either by hand or in a food processor, until smooth. A shortcut is to grind the fat and meat together and blend them in a food processor. The paté mixture is then incorporated with binding agents such as eggs or panada (a paste made with flour, bread or other starch). Finally, the paté is layered into a loaf pan lined with pastry dough, baked in a water bath and served hot or cold, or molded into a terrine and cooked in a water bath and chilled before being sliced.

Garnishes, such as diced meat, dried fruit or chopped nuts or olives, can be folded into the forecemeat mixture. Sliced meats may also be used as garnishes, either to line the loaf or layered on top of the meat mixture. For example, Michael Symon’s Chicken and Truffle Terrine uses overlapping slices of bacon to line the loaf pan before the mixture is cooked in a water bath.

Common Types of Paté

Country Paté

Traditional country-style paté is defined by its coarse texture and liberal seasoning, which includes onions and garlic and spices and herbs such as pepper, juniper berries and bay leaves.

Paté en Croute

A mold lined with pastry dough is filled with forcemeat and garnish, covered with dough and then baked (with steam holes cut into the dough). Aspic jelly is poured into the steam hole of the baked paté to help fill in the spaces where the paté shrank during cooking.

Chicken Liver Pate with Red Onion Jam as seen on Valerie's Home Cooking Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? episode, season 8.

Chicken Liver Pate with Red Onion Jam as seen on Valerie's Home Cooking Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? episode, season 8.

Photo by: Rob Pryce

Rob Pryce

Liver Paté (or Terrine)

A smooth paté made with a mixture of pureed poultry, pork or veal livers, eggs and a panada that’s then baked in a water bath. The mixture is often processed through a sieve to achieve a super smooth texture. Valerie Bertinelli’s Chicken Liver Paté with Red Onion Jam (pictured above) calls for chicken livers seasoned with coriander, black pepper and allspice.

Foie gras terrine and toast


Foie gras terrine and toast

Photo by: Dave G Kelly/Getty Images

Dave G Kelly/Getty Images

Foie Gras Terrine

This is a liver paté made exclusively with foie gras, or fattened geese or duck livers (pictured above).

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Vegetable Terrine

Vegetables, such as mushrooms, carrots, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower, are pureed and made into a mousse-style paté, layered in a loaf pan, then baked and chilled before slicing. This Winter Vegetable Terrine (pictured above) relies on a gelatin-stock mixture to bind and set a vegetable medley of beets, delicata squash, carrots and leeks.

Seafood Terrine

Fish can also be incorporated into a mixture destined for a terrine or loaf pan. Fresh sardine filets take center stage in chef Daniel Boulud’s Sardine and Red Pepper Terrine, though salmon filets can also be used.

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