I’m writing this in the majestic reading room in the NY public library: the guardian lions, gold leaf, crumbling texts requiring special gloves, donors names etched in stone. Oh yeah, and homeless shelter, or at least weirdo magnet. Here, in this august place, I’ve been ripped off and yelled at by guys who’ve taken a med holiday. Right now, a creep in a Mets hat, with an overstuffed Duane Reade bag, is staring at me with crazy eyes. But back to food, and, oddly, given the circumstances, terrines.
For whatever reason, terrines are sort of intimidating, but an old culinary instructor told us to think of it as fancy meatloaf, which it is, so maybe that helps. On the other hand, another teacher called terrine day a “war of attrition” and nearly lunged at me with a cleaver after seeing the blades of the giant meat grinder, choked with sinew from my poorly trimmed lamb shoulder. But ever since I insulted his pizza making skills he had it in for me, so it’s best to ignore that little terrine episode.
In fact, terrines are relatively simple, though less so than meatloaf: often layered, bound or topped with gelatin, wrapped in cured meats, etc. Most of all, you have to pay attention to ratios of liquid to meat, so you attain the desired texture. I like a rough, country style, and so tend to chop rather than grin the meat, and use eggs, booze, and pork fat instead of cream.
For a starter terrine, you can go vegetarian. Take a bunch of stuff, press it together or bind with gelatin, chill and eat. They look pretty, but you come up against the surprisingly frequent food issue of taste versus beauty. Minus the gelatin, the one below is a delicious salad of lentils, poached cod, roasted garlic, red onion and tarragon. Ruth Reichl would call it redolent of cool Provencal breezes and the shade under a robin’s wing. But back on planet Earth, I call it a damn tasty salad.
Is it better as a terrine, or simply kind of cool looking? In this case, unlike cobbling together a tricked out Hummer from a field of cool parts, it’s worth the extra effort. Eventually, you move on in the world of terrines, filling your porcelain mold with bits of squab and pork belly; it’s like stepping out the brass doors of the library onto Fifth Avenue and into the summer sun. Away from the creeps.
Haddock and Lentil Terrine (from Terrine)
7oz haddock fillet
3 garlic cloves
1 ¼ cups milk
½ cup French lentils
3 sprigs thyme
5 tablespoons white wine
1 ¼ cups vegetable stock
½ red onion, chopped finely
1 bunch tarragon, chopped
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
½ cup olive oil
3 gelatine leaves (or about 2/3 of 1 packet)
salt and pepper
- Add milk and garlic to a pan and simmer 8-10 minutes until flesh flakes. Remove fish, flake into a bowl and mash garlic to a puree in separate bowl.
- Cook the lentils: combine carrot and thyme with lentils, cover with water and simmer until done but not mushy-slightly underdone, actually. Drain, remove carrot and thyme and add to bowl with the fish. Stir in red onion, tarragon. Mix mustard with the olive oil and garlic puree and stir in. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon into individual ramekins.
- In a small pot, boil the wine down by half, add the stock. In a small bowl add a little bit of water and sprinkle over the gelatine, let sit until firm, about 5-10 minutes. Bring stock mixture to a boil, whisk in gelatin. Pour the stock into the ramekins just until you see a bit of the liquid, but don’t drown it. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate 3 hours. Serve.