Pates and Terrines
After weeks of South American fare and endless versions of fish dishes, here comes the moment I have been waiting for months: Tahiti and its food market! My recollection from 6 years ago was of a vibrant place with stalls brimming with local fruits and vegetables, as well as all kinds of fish on offer. It had been a real treat for us, fans of raw fish, presented with an overwhelming choice: sashimis, carpaccio, poisson cru, tartare, with or without coconut milk, in vanilla sauce, marinated in ginger,…Chinese food features strongly in Tahiti and we enjoyed tasting dishes like Peking duck, maa tinito (pork and red beans), Chinese omelette, chow mein, all served with copious amounts of rice. The kids fell in love with the local snack: “hachis frites” or hamburger patty and French fries in a baguette! At 200f (A$2.50), it was the cheapest meal on the run (if not the healthiest).
This year, Anne and I went one Saturday morning expecting a beehive of activity, and were so disappointed to find that half the market was empty, some stands it seems having fallen victim to high rents: while the tourist shops are still there, half of the food stalls are gone, the remaining ones all displaying the same choice of tomatoes, cucumbers, grapefruits, bananas and papayas…Already well supplied with these exotic ingredients (it says a lot for the quality of the Marquesan products) I walked away with bags of fresh ginger, turmeric and herbs. Not a bad result, but not a great one either, for someone expecting more variety. On the ride home, our cab driver told us that we should have come on weekdays when the town is busy. Well, it was the weekend, and besides food, our crew wanted to shop for clothes, electronics and books. The place to go was to the Puunauia shopping center, conveniently located 5 mn walk from the marina and home to the largest supermarket in French Polynesia. Who would have thought we’d be so glad to find Carrefour?
A quick trip there made us realize why so many of the locals live on a diet of baguettes, fish, pork, root vegetables and tropical fruits. Any imported products would cost you double the price of local items, and for the items with no local equivalent, then the sky’s the limit: American strawberries 800f, NZ steaks 1500f/kg, French champagne 12000f, latest DVD 3500f…We thought that if we’d stick to local products we would not spend so much, but that was counting without the taxes that are levied on nearly everything. You see, there is no income tax in French Polynesia, so while the Territory (as it is known locally) receives substantial subsidies from mainland France, it supplements its finances by imposing fairly hefty taxes on most products (the Polynesian GST!) After a few days, we caught on with the fact that staples (milk, flour, sugar…) were taxed much lower than “non-essential” items, and our grocery excursions then turned into a hunt for “PPN” (Products of primary necessity). Much to Terry’s despair, beer didn’t come under that classification and would still cost 250f (A$3.00) a can.
We resigned ourselves to the high cost of living, on the basis that we were only here for 3 months, and were fortunate to be able to move on. This issue now resolved, I focused on looking for items I knew would be impossible to find anywhere else: duck foie gras, saucissons, French cheese, cote de boeuf, brick pastry (a cross between filo and puff pastry), preserved duck legs… My breadmaker went on shore leave while we indulged on baguettes, croissants and pains au chocoIat. And that is for the French fare. I refilled the pantry with vietnamese and chinese staples unseen since France (dried lily flowers, cloud mushrooms, nems, black bean garlic sauce,…) and quizzed the locals about the use of local concoctions like Taioro, sashimi sauce and the different tuna species. I spent the best part of a week in this supermarket, is that weird?
Terry certainly thought I had lost my mind when he saw me buy a big tub of chicken livers, wondering what my plan was. They are a delicacy in France, and while they were available in the US and Mexico, I never liked the look of the packaging so stayed away from them. Here in Papeete, surrounded by all things French, I had more confidence in the local butcher and decided to try my hand at cooking a chicken liver mousse from scratch. While browsing thru terrines and pates recipes, I stumbled upon a fish terrine (turban de poisson in French) which looked so yummy, I also had to make it. So stocked up with a fridge full of chicken livers, minced fish, eggs and cream, we left Papeete for the island of Moorea, 20nm away, where I busied myself cooking mousse and terrine while the others swam around the boat.
A night in the fridge later, I had the perfect finger food for sundowners on the boat. Served with slices of fresh baguettes, the family loved it, so did our guests.
Chicken liver pate
This pate has a very soft and smooth texture, perfect for spreading on toast or French baguette.
Serves 15-20, in 2 terrines
700g chicken livers, fresh
200 ml milk
200 ml water
4 pinches pf salt
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp butter
15g maizena (corn flour)
50ml Grand Marnier (or cognac, port, Armagnac, all ok)
100ml chicken stock
150g duck fat (or melted butter)
200ml pouring cream
1. Trim the livers off any sinewy parts. Place in a large bowl, add milk, water and salt. Leave to soak for 3 hours. Drain well
2. In a small saucepan, melt butter on low heat without letting it colour. Add chopped garlic and onion, cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. In a blender, puree the chicken livers for 30 seconds, add the cooked garlic and onion, eggs, salt, thyme, maizena, pepper and Grand Marnier. Blend for a further 3-4 minutes until silky smooth. With the machine still running, gradually pour in the lukewarm chicken stock, duck fat and cream (i.e not hot nor cold).
4. Pour the mixture in a terrine mould (I have a perfect Le Creuset lidded terrine at home, unfortunately too heavy and cumbersome for the boat, so I use a silicon bread pan onboard). Wrap the terrine (or bread pan) in 2 layers of clingfilm, then 2 layers of aluminium foil.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 150 C. Place the terrine in a deep roasting dish. Pour boiling water in the dish, until it reaches 2/3 of the way up the sides of the terrine. Cook for 1 hour.
6. Remove from the oven and let cool. For a fancy presentation, you can pour 150g melted butter over the top, but I don’t bother with it.
7. Place in the fridge for at least 1 day (the flavour deepens with time) and eat within 10 days.
8. Serve for lunch with fresh bread, and gherkins. Also excellent finger food, spread on crackers with a dab of chutney. Enjoy!
French Polynesian supermarket shelves are full of already prepared farce de poisson, minced fish (typically reef fish) seasoned with garlic, shallots and salt. The locals use it for fritters or as vegetable stuffing. I found it perfect for fish terrine, mixing it with pate a choux, choux pastry, which gives the whole dish incredible lightness.
700g minced fish (cod, parrot fish, grouper….)
2 pinch white pepper
2 pinch nutmeg
150g choux pastry
300ml sour cream (very cold)
1 cup of fresh herbs (parsley, green shallots, chives,…)
Butter for the mould
1. For the choux pastry: place 1 cup of water and ½ cup of butter in a large saucepan, bring to the boil. Add 1 cup plain flour all at once and stir over medium heat until the mixture leaves the side of the pan and forms a ball. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Add 4 medium eggs unbeaten one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reserve 150g for the fish terrine, keep the rest in the fridge for another use.
2. In a large bowl, mix thoroughly minced fish, salt, pepper and nutmeg with la wooden spoon, incorporating a 1/3 of the choux pastry and 100ml of sour cream. Let rest in the fridge for 20 minutes. Repeat twice.
3. Test the terrine by cooking a small dumpling in simmering water. Adjust seasoning if necessary, add 1 or 2 tbsp sour cream if too firm. Finally, add the chopped fresh herbs.
4. Transfer the fish mixture into a terrine mould. Wrap the terrine in 2 layers of clingfilm, then 2 layers of aluminium foil.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 160 C. Place the terrine in a deep roasting dish. Pour boiling water in the dish, until it reaches 2/3 of the way up the sides of the terrine. Cook for 1 hour 15, or until the inserted tip of knife comes out hot and dry.
6. Remove from the oven and let cool for several hours or overnight in the fridge.
7. Serve as a starter, in slices with vegetables and a well-seasoned mayonnaise. Also great finger food, cut in small cubes. Enjoy!