Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Pâté en Croûte ... and it's vegan

Years ago, my first "fancy" culinary job was as the garde manger in a French-American restaurant, which was perhaps a bit ironic for a vegetarian but really good training in the "how not to be bothered by all sorts of innards" part of cooking for a living. Charcuterie seems to be one of those newly sexy culinary trends, but it wasn't so popular then, which might be why I got the job. I made lots of sausages and lots of terrines and lots of pâtés. Anything that called for forcemeat and a cornichon or three for garnish, well, there I was.

Those aren't dishes I've regularly thought about since then. Oh, veggie sausages are yummy and useful, but most veggie pâtés bore me. They always seem to be made from cannellini beans or red lentils that have been pureed with some herbs. They're good ... they're just not exciting to me. Plus, they're really not what I think of as "pâté." They tend more towards the hummus/bean dip side of the scale; they are to pâté what the lentil loaf of yesteryear's health food store vegetarian meal was to beef wellington.

Then the other day I discovered, some months after the fact, that PETA held a contest for the best vegan version of foie gras, with a prize of $10K. I rather wish I'd known about this *before* the contest ended, but at any rate, it started me thinking about the possibilities for vegetarian forcemeats. I decided that I wanted to make a traditional-yet-vegetarian pâté en croûte, no lentils involved.

As it happens, I needed a dish for a gathering with friends, so despite the fact that I should be cleaning the house and baking an enormous number of Christmas cookies for various destinations, I spent the morning making this, instead:

Now, one of my friends is vegan, so this pâté en croûte is vegan, not simply vegetarian. The only real difference, however, is that I used Earth Balance shortening (which, by the way, reminds me a lot of lard) instead of butter in the pâte brisée and for sautéing. You could use either one; I'd probably use butter myself, but that's just my taste.

This was a first attempt, so it needs a bit more work. It tasted good, but didn't turn out exactly as I wanted, that is, exactly like a meaty pâté en croûte. Next time, I'm going to use puff pastry rather than pie dough, and add more aspic to bind the filling. I've no earthly idea what to make for Christmas dinner, so perhaps I'll give this idea another go and post the changes next week. At any rate, this was a good starting point, so here 'tis:


1 c "chicken" stock
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 vegetarian duck breast
4 T butter or shortening, divided
2 large shallots, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c marsala wine, divided
1 1/2 lb mixed mushrooms (I used oyster and cremini, since that's what I had), chopped
1/4 c chopped curly leaf parsley
3 T fresh thyme
3 T fresh rosemary, minced
1/3 c panko breadcrumbs
the juice from one large lemon
salt and ground black pepper

1 recipe pâte brisée (or puff pastry)

1 c "chicken" stock
1 t agar

* Bring the first cup of stock to a boil and add the porcini. Set aside to soak about 20-30 minutes.

* Chop the duck breast and toss in a bowl with 1/4 cup wine. Set aside.

* Melt 2 T butter or shortening over medium heat; add shallots and garlic, sautéing till soft and slightly colored, about 5 minutes. Remove to a large bowl. Wipe out pan and add remaining butter or shortening. When it's melted, add fresh mushrooms. Lower heat to low-medium and sweat them about 8-10 minutes. Turn heat up to high, add remaining wine and cook till dry (only maybe 2 minutes). Remove from heat.

* After cooling slightly, put the mushrooms in a food processor and whirl till very fine. Add to bowl with shallot mixture. Add the marinated duck breast, the herbs, panko, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

* Set oven to 350 F. Meanwhile, combine second cup of stock and the agar in a small sauce pan. Let it rest about five minutes, then bring to the boil. Lower heat and simmer another five minutes. Then, add to the mushroom-duck mixture, combining well. [Note: I did not use the entire cup, but I wish I had.]

* Line a pâte mold with the pastry dough, overlapping the sides a little bit and saving a piece for the top. Add filling, making sure it's even, then replace top piece of pastry and turn the edges over to seal. If you're feeling artsy, decorate it with additional pieces of dough. [I didn't have enough leftover, but really - it makes the whole thing look so much better.]

* Bake for 50 minutes and chill for a few hours before serving. Don't forget the cornichons!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pollo Fritto alla Toscana

Pollo Fritto alla Toscana!

First of all, I realize I really need to change the description of this blog. Seitan, I love you so, but I've been cheating on you with other vegetarian meats ... It began innocently enough, with a little TVP here and a little tofu there, but lately, I must admit, I've been seeing a lot of (gulp) store bought veggie meats. I'm sorry; sometimes, you're just too time-consuming. And sometimes, I'm out of ingredients.

And it happened again last night, again with the Mah Wah veggie chicken legs. I really, really adore those things. They're great barbecued and make absolutely divine Southern fried chicken, both vegan and vegetarian versions. (I made a vegan version for a party some months ago; the meat-eating guests couldn't believe they weren't real chicken!) At some point soon, I'm going to have to try them in a stew. And I will have to ... I've got a freezer in my basement that's full of them. But, yesterday being Sunday, which often means Italian for dinner, I decided to try them fried in a slightly different style, namely Tuscan.

Everyone loves fried chicken, right? It's not a dish we Americans generally associate with Italian cuisine, but maybe we should consider it. There are a few versions I've come across, the main difference being that some use breadcrumbs and others don't. And the main difference between the American and Italian versions seems to be the marinade. And time.

It's time-consuming. Well, in terms of the marinade. If you want something NOW, go for Southern fried chicken (unless, of course, you're one of those people who marinate the chicken in buttermilk overnight ... but seeing as this isn't *real* chicken, you don't need to do that).

But, these were lovely - a nice change and seemed to be a good bit less greasy. And, as I'm currently finding out, just as good served cold for the next day's lunch. Better, actually.

The marinade gives it a light, fresh flavor. I probably should have made these in the summer, something to take to a picnic in the park along with a cannellini bean salad and a bottle of Chianti. But, as I sit here and look out at the trees, bare in the 25 degree weather, I can plan that picnic and enjoy this practice run.

Chicken resting in the marinade ... don't they look creepily like real chicken?


3/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 T each: minced parsley, oregano, rosemary
2 T minced garlic
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper


12 May Wah chicken legs or enough seitan for four people
all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 t salt
1/2 t ground white pepper
vegetable oil for frying

Prepare marinade and add chicken. Let it rest, turning pieces regularly, in a large bowl or casserole dish, for at least two hours.

Prepare batter: flour with salt and pepper in one dish, beaten eggs in another. Let excess marinade drip off each piece before adding it to first the flour, then shake off the excess and dip the piece in the egg. Meanwhile, allow oil to come to temperature (about 350) in a large frying pan - you'll want about a 1/2 inch depth. Carefully add the pieces to the hot oil, cooking for a few minutes on each side. Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil and serve.