It's a craft that makes latte art look like child's play and keeps chefs up at night. It's French classic pâté en croute and it's becoming increasingly popular in Australia.
"Pâté en croute is the dish I love making the most," says Cyprien Picard, who specialises in charcuterie at luxe Woollahra butcher Victor Churchill. "Whatever you want to create, you can do it. You can make something new every week, whether you're changing the filling or pastry design or both."
Pâté en croute is a brick-shaped pie of various meats inside a pastry crust, often elaborately decorated. It's usually served in slices, cold, to reveal the pretty layers within.
"It's starting to become famous now," says Picard. "More people are asking about pâté en croute in the store, and I'm noticing more photographs of it on Instagram – usually featuring versions chefs have made for their own restaurant."
One of those Instagram accounts belongs to chef Khanh Nguyen. Victoria's lockdown has led Nguyen to cook the dish he has spent five years thinking about but never mustered the courage to attempt.
"I thought it was way beyond my skill level and I didn't want to let myself down," he says.
He was also too busy to devote time to the task: running Melbourne's Sunda restaurant "six or seven days a week" and working in hatted Sydney kitchens prior including Cirrus, Mr Wong and Red Lantern.
But the pandemic brought an extended slow period. Nguyen shifted Sunda's takeaway business to the Windsor Hotel, which has the same owners, alongside classically trained former Quay chef Rob Kabboord. Finally, it was time to play.
"Rob said he could show me," says Nguyen, who shared his idea for a pâté en croute that recalled Vietnamese baguette banh mi, and included chicken liver pâté, meat jelly and his mum's meatloaf flavoured with lemongrass and chilli.
Kabboord oversaw the first attempt and went home while it was in the oven. Nguyen was supposed to let it cool overnight but impatiently unmoulded his creation while it was warm. "It crumbled so badly," he says.
"I had already been at work 12 hours but I had to make another one or I would hate myself and wouldn't be able to sleep." He made it, baked it and left it in the tin. "The next day I pulled it out and I was very happy with it."
Nguyen posted his banh mi pâté en croute on Instagram and interest surged immediately.
Bánh mì pate en croute The mince component is made from my mum’s recipe of pork meatballs that consists of hand chopped pork shoulder, spring onion, asian shallots and black pepper. This meatball recipe first made it on our menu as part of the ‘Sunda Family Meals Greatest Hits’ which was when we cooked a different dish per day during the first lockdown as part of our home dining offering. It’s then made its way to the @sunda_exp menu as a permanent dish. We’ve recently adjusted the recipe to make dumplings, and now it’s made it’s way into this banh mi pâté en croûte, that’s how much I love this recipe You’ll find most of the bits you’d have in a traditional banh mi. In the centre there is a soft chicken and pork liver pate which I’ve emulsified with mayonnaise and butter to give it an even richer and creamier texture. What makes Vietnamese pate so delicious is that when we cook the livers, we aren’t really concerned about keeping it pink, we just try to caramelise it as much as possible for that extra depth of flavour. The addition of toasted spices brings the pate to a different dimension. There’s also slow cooked pork cheek, cha lua (steamed Vietnamese pork loaf), spring onions, coriander, wood ear fungus and chilli. The jelly you see right at the top is made from the leftover stock from cooking the pork jowls which we cook with maggi seasoning and rice vinegar We plan to serve pickled radish, carrot and onion on the side if this makes its way on the menu #pateencroute
"I started wondering what else I could wrap in pastry," he says. "I was driving around doing deliveries and had an idea. I bought a mud crab, brought it back and spent the next four hours figuring out how to decorate it."
Since then, he's pastry-wrapped and adorned a chicken stuffed with eggs, coral trout, rack of lamb and beef rib roast – each melding French techniques, Vietnamese flavours and post-colonial flair.
Such Christo-style croutes are yet to be found in Sydney, but plenty of traditional examples can be found at Victor Churchill or made by charcuterie master Romeo Baudouin at Haverick Meats in Banksmeadows.
The dish makes frequent appearances on the larder menu at Bert's Bar and Brasserie, Newport, while Restaurant Hubert in the CBD serves pork pâté en croute with dill pickles. Hubert also offers boeuf en croute with 48 hours notice, featuring one kilogram of beef eye-fillet circled by mushrooms and baked in pastry. Meanwhile, wild kingfish pâté en croute featured on the carte of Paddington seafood restaurant Saint Peter in August.
Saint Peter's seafood pâté en croute. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Picard's croutes can include foie gras, rabbit and pistachio, or perhaps leftovers from his weekly charcuterie production such as saucisson, chorizo and slow-cooked pig's head. "We sell them for around $135 a kilogram, depending on what ingredients are used," he says.
"It takes up to seven hours to create a special one after letting the pastry rest, making the filling and coming up with a design – which can be one of the most challenging but inspired parts. It's like being presented with a blank sheet of paper and told to draw anything you like."
Meanwhile, Melbourne residents keen for more croute on their lives can shop online with the terrine whisperers at Farce. Khanh Nguyen doesn't generally sell his one-off creations but he is conducting a kingfish en croute cooking class September 25 with delivered ingredients and video instructions. Bookings via The Windsor's online gift shop.