What Is Pâté?

How Pâté Is Made and Its Origins

Pot of pâté next to bread topped with pâté

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Pâté, like caviar, is a dish associated with wealth, but some people don't even know what it is. Mention pâté to those in the know and what comes to mind first will either be expensive gourmet duck liver or chopped liver. Both are correct, of course, but pâté is not limited to poultry. It can be as fancy as you like, suitable for the grandest occasion, or an inexpensive but rave-drawing appetizer at a dinner party. Most pâtés are much simpler to prepare than you might expect. It can be served hot or cold but chilling it for a few days will enrich its flavor.

What Is It?

Pâté (pronounced pah-TAY) is French for "paste." It is traditionally served baked in a crust (en croûte) or molded as a terrine. The crust of the en croûte version, interestingly enough, was not originally intended to be eaten. The original purpose of the crust was actually to hold the pâté together.

Today, the terms pâté and terrine are often used interchangeably. Pâté is simply a mixture of seasoned ground seafood, poultry, meat, or vegetables, and often a combination of several different base ingredients. Beef, pork, liver, ham, seafood, wild game, poultry, and vegetables are all candidates for pâté. The grind can be smooth and creamy or on the chunky side. It may be served hot or cold, molded or unmolded.


Pâté is most associated with French cuisine, but variations on this dish can be found all over the world. It's possible that Americans who are unfamiliar with pâté are fans of liverwurst, unaware that the dishes are essentially the same. Liverwurst, especially in sliced form, is a common sandwich filler for many. 

The Spruce / Lara Antal.