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Terrine, the mini-skirt of the kitchen

Terrine of chicken liver and smoked chicken breast with sage and baconGet in first. Get in now. Don’t wait for the coiffured madchens of Posh Galore to decree that the terrine has been discovered and that all the best chefs are making them, dahlings, and that if you just follow these five simple tips you too can turn out a perfect terrine while your guests ooh and aah at the minimalist trough.

As with any great culinary tradition that has gone out of fashion, the terrine will be back. The terrine is the mini-skirt of food fashion. It’s just too desirable to be relegated indefinitely to the pages of magazines that once were.

Any day now, Posh Galore will be rifling through its back catalogues for “new ideas” and we will all be swamped with terrine de campagne, terrine de foie gras and terrine nouvelle, the latter being the new recipe that the editors will conjure up for us between the pagination and the preggy announcements at their last but one editorial meeting. There’ll be beetroot in it, or whatever the veggie du jour was that month.

You know how out of fashion a terrine dish is when you have to go to 16 different specialist food stores before you can find one. That’s what happened to me a couple of years ago. I finally found a lovely white ceramic one, snug-fitting lid and all, and it has become one of the prized items in my unfashionable little kitchen.

A slice of a terrine, served as a starter with crusty bread and a dollop of a sweetly spicy relish, is as French as a downturned nose with a garnish of raised eyebrow. Your run-of-the-mill terrine de campagne is first cousin to a chicken liver pate, only there are other meat ingredients, usually pork, and the texture is coarser. And whereas the ingredients for a chicken liver pate will be cooked before being blended, a terrine’s ingredients (but for the onion, in the case of the recipe below) are blended, then mixed, and only then cooked – very slowly, in a bainmarie (a dish of hot water, Daisy).

It’s surprisingly easy to make a decent terrine. It seems to be time-consuming, but most of the time it takes involves doing nothing but wait while the terrine takes care of itself. It’s best made a day ahead, first of all to let the flavours develop, and then for it to press in the fridge overnight, under the weight of a brick, or for that matter weighted by unopened cans (not Coke cans, Daisy – tins of chopped tomatoes or soup will do just fine and yes, yes, baked beans work just as well). This gives your more pretentious foodie friends an excuse next time a friend remarks on the fact that she has tinned food in her pantry. “Oh, they’re just for pressing the terrine, darling.”

Anyway. For this column I flung together a terrine of chicken livers and chicken breast with thyme and bacon, dotted with pistachios.

Saute a chopped onion in butter with plenty of fresh thyme (the tiny leaves plucked from their stems) and set aside. Chop three lean skinless and boneless chicken breasts into small pieces, and pop into the blender. Chop up a packet of bacon and add that to the blender. Don’t blend it continuously – just pulse it 10 to 15 times, briefly. The texture must be coarse.

Shell 40 pistachios and put them in a mixing bowl with the pulsed chicken and bacon. Add the onion. Grease the terrine (you can use a bread loaf tin if you like) and lay bay leaves at the bottom. Line the terrine with rashers of streaky bacon, alongside each other rather than overlapping – let the ends hang over the sides of the dish while you spoon in the terrine mix. Once it’s filled, fold the bacon rashers over the top. Pop it in a roasting dish and fill with water (the roasting dish, Daisy, not the terrine) until halfway up the sides of the terrine. Put in a pre-heated 180degree oven for 90 minutes to two hours. Remove from the oven, allow to cool completely, then place a foil-wrapped brick on top, or cut a piece of cardboard to size and put that on top, topped with those tin cans. Refrigerate overnight for the flavours to develop and to give the weights time to compress the pate.

Many recipes call for two lightly beaten eggs to be added to the mix before it’s cooked. By all means do this, but I find that it works perfectly well without egg. As you can see in the picture, it holds its shape.

This kind of terrine is lovely with a sweet and spicy relish. I used cabernet grape chutney, which I happened to have to hand. A mango, beetroot or sultana chutney would do just fine.

Make your own: simmer spices such as bay leaf, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds (removed from their pods) and mustard seeds in a little butter or ghee until the seeds start to pop. Add finely chopped onion or shallot, simmer for a few minutes, then add a finely chopped chilli, raisins or dried mango or whatever fruit you fancy, sugar to taste, and a small amount of water or wine if too dry. Simmer slowly for 10 minutes. Cool.

Alternatively, buy a couple of relishes or chutneys next time you visit a farm stall, and keep them for when next you make a terrine. Or just use them as the fridge weight.

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