By Katie Walsh
I spent some time in Houston with my dad On A Meat Mission, to learn about meat and how it’s cooked. Over the next several weeks we’ll be sharing recipes and tales from our meaty adventures.
Up to my elbows in bits of raw venison, trimming away pieces of membrane and feeding chunks of clean meat into the sausage grinder, my adventures with meat had reached their peak. It was pâté day.
My friends crinkle their noses when I recall that afternoon on the back porch (where Dad and I had preemptively banished ourselves to contain the mess), and my fellow veggie-heads seem downright bewildered that I describe it with excitement and not trauma.
But raw meat don’t give me no willies; in fact I got some sort of primal pleasure out of handling the flesh and bones myself, and especially out of creating something from an animal I’d all but known personally. This deer and I had travelled great lengths together.
When I told my Uncle Dave that I was heading to Houston to cook meat with Dad, he promptly began arranging to send me down with some of the spoils of his latest hunting trip. As I’d dragged my luggage up to the Megabus in Austin, the cargo guy raised his eyebrows at me.
“What’s in the cooler?” he asked.
“Deer meat,” I said simply.
“Any water or ice?” he asked. I lifted the top so he could peer in. “Go ahead then.” I’d just picked a seat and started to get comfy when a voice came over the loudspeaker.
“Passenger with the deer meet, passenger with the deer meat, please see the driver.”
I couldn’t quite tell if it was pride or embarrassment (or both) that flushed my cheeks as I stood back up. After a brief moment of panic I was reassured my deer would indeed accompany me to Houston, the driver just needed to know which stop he’d be getting off at.
And now here we were, co-creating something delicious. Call me Moonbeam Starchild, but I really felt that deer right there with me on the porch. It wasn’t disgust or squeamishness or indifference that I felt while separating the muscles of his haunch; it was an overwhelming sense of gratitude, as though he’d gifted me this experience.
As I worked with the meat, Dad roasted the bones, which we’d boil down into a stock, and then gradually a beautiful, thick consumé. They were so massive, he had to use pruning shears to cut through them so they’d fit in the pot (“Well don’t show them that!” he says. Sorry Pops, we keepin’ it REAL!).
A splash of gin, a handful of juniper berries and chile pequin; some fatty pork and a pint of chicken livers; salt, pepper, and lots of fresh rosemary and thyme from the driveway herb garden. These are the makings of a badass country pâté.
Running all of the ingredients indiscriminately through the grinder gets them all chopped up and broken down, but we batched the mixture through the Kitchen Aid as well to make sure everything got stirred up proper.
Line you up a couple of loaf pans with bacon (we went with peppered), fill ‘em halfway with the meat mixture, and then add a healthy layer of pistachio meats. Top it off, bake in a water bath, and weight it down a while to push the liquid out as it cools. It’s a commitment, especially if you’re grinding your own meat, but I found it worth every ounce of effort.
There was no guessing whether this meat had been humanely raised or factory farmed. I never had to worry about the deer’s diet or whether it had been pumped full of antibiotics. I spent zero time reading labels or researching what unsavory fillers might be mixed into the loaf. Just me, the buck, and the grinder. So what’s a little gunk under the fingernails?
Walsh Family Venison Pâté
Adapted from Charleston Magazine
Yield: 3 (9×5) loaf pans
Cook time: 2 hours, plus time to cool and chill
4 pounds venison
2 pounds fatty pork
1 pint chicken livers
4 green onions
8 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon juniper berries
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons ground allspice
1 tablespoon dried chile pequin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces gin
1 1/2 pounds bacon
1/2 cup pistachios, shelled
In a food processor or sausage grinder, process venison, pork, chicken livers, onions, garlic and spices into a purée, working in batches if necessary.
Run the puree through a stand mixer with the eggs and gin, again working in batches, until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Preheat the oven to 300º F. Line three 9×5 loaf pans with bacon on all sides, trimming as needed. Fill each pan halfway with the ground meat mixture, packing down with your hands as you go.
Distribute the pistachios evenly among the pans, pressing them into the meat slightly. Top each pan off with remaining meat, shaping into a smooth dome (pans should be overfilled). Cover with remaining bacon and aluminum foil.
Place covered pans in a deep baking dish and fill with a water bath until pans are about halfway submerged. Baking dish will be very heavy. Bake for 35 minutes, then another 25 minutes without foil. Check temperature; pâté is done when a meat thermometer reads 160ºF and juices run clear.
Drain water from baking dish and recover loaf pans with fresh foil. Place pans back into empty baking dish to catch spills. Lay a dish towel and then cutting board or other flat surface across all three pans and weight down with at least one half pound (we used a few heavy books). Let the pâté cool while weighted on the counter.
Once cooled, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and preferably three days, to bring out flavors and spice. Serve at room temperature or cold with hearty crackers, French bread, and mustard. Pâté can be kept tightly covered for up to three weeks in the refrigerator.