What I had for dinner: Rabbit pâté in kriek aspic
What do beer geeks do when they're going to a party? Cook with beer, naturally.
No cute little story behind this one; when I was a kid I never had a fluffy bunny rabbit that did unspeakable things to my bed of radishes, so this is not an exorcise. Sometimes a pâté is just a pâté.
The first step is to trim the meat from the bones, which is somewhat more intricate than with a chicken. The bones go into a pot with bay leaf, rosemary, black peppercorns, and enough water to cover, and are simmered for several hours until a good broth is obtained. It is filtered through a cloth and set aside.
Most of the meat from the rabbit, an equal amount of veal (or pork), and somewhat less than that of pork fat are cut into small pieces and passed once through a grinder. The less fat the drier the result. The more fat, the better the taste and smoothness.
The rest of the rabbit, about 1/4 of the total is sliced into long thin strips.
A handful of sun-dried cherries are soaked for an hour in 1/2 cup of cherry lambic beer ("Kriek". I used Lindemans; It would be something of a waste to use Cantillon or Boon).
The ground meat, the drained cherries, a teaspoon to a tablespoon of freeze-dried green peppercorns, two crushed cloves of garlic, a generous grating of nutmeg, and some ground clove were well mixed, with a little of the lambic whipped with one egg and salt to taste, until a homogeneous mixture was obtained.
This mixture was layered in a rectangular metal pan (5"x9"x2 1/2") with alternating layers of the reserved rabbit strips, finishing with a layer of ground meat, several bay leaves, and a layer of thin slices of pork fat.
The pan was placed in a large pan of boiling water in a 400F oven, and the pâté was cooked for 2 hours. If possible place a second pan the size of the one containing the pâté over it, and weight it with pie weights to press it down as it cooks.
When the pâté is done, take it cautiously out of the oven (careful with that steam and boiling water!), remove the layer of fat and the bay leaves, and weight it down again to let it cool under pressure.
When it is thoroughly cooled (typically after an overnight in the fridge), take the pâté out of the pan and trim it straight on all six sides. Wrap it in plastic wrap and return it to the fridge.
To prepare the aspic, sprinkle 1 1/2 packages of gelatin over 1 cup of cold water and let it swell thoroughly. Add the reserved rabbit broth, and bring to a boil. Boil gently (overheating can cause the gelatin to burn on the bottom of the pan) until reduced to about 1 cup. Add 2 cups of warm lambic (about 100F) and mix well.
Pour about 1/2 inch of the aspic into the empty, clean pâté pan and place it in the fridge until well set. Keep the rest of the liquid aspic in the pan, covered, in a warm place to prevent it from setting too fast.
When the bottom layer has set, pour carefully the rest of the liquid aspic over it, then add the chilled block of pâté, making sure that it sets in the middle and is just covered. Let chill thoroughly.
To serve, warm briefly the outside of the pan in a bath of warm water, and invert it over a flat dish. Be prepared for some of the melted aspic to drip away, so better do this operation over a sink.
The sourness of the cherry lambic replaces the traditional accompaniment of pickles and capers.
(Note: never boil a sour mixture with gelatin; the acidity causes the gelatin molecules to hydrolyse and it never gels.)