front view of terrine

How Meat Terrines Work

Most meat preparations take anywhere from a few minutes – think grilled steak – to several hours – a pie or stew – to prepare. But if you have a couple of days, why not get your hands on a more adventurous project? Making a terrine might be right up your alley!

Terrines are loaves of meat, cooked and pressed together. There are countless variations to make. Here, we’ll walk you through the basic ingredients and process steps to get you started but the number of experiments you can do with a terrine is endless.

Meat terrines

Humans have developed countless ways to prepare meat. Both for conservation purposes as well as for developing flavor and taste. Meat terrines are one, traditionally French, way to prepare meat. They’re log-shaped cooked meat products, mostly eaten cold. Terrines are made from a mixture of different kinds of meat with added flavorings as well as texturizers. They’re very versatile, and you can make them from a wide range of ingredients and additions. If you’re into experimenting, this is one for you!

loaf of terrine
A game meat terrine

Terrine is also the name for the dish itself

Keep in mind that the term terrine isn’t very well defined. Terrines, pates, forcemeats, they can all refer to a similar product. To add to the confusion, the word terrine doesn’t necessarily refer to the food itself. It can also refer to the (earthenware) dish that terrines are traditionally cooked in. Additionally, some may call just about any product pressed into a loaf shape a terrine, think ice cream terrines. It all depends on the context. Here, we’ll focus on those made from meat.

Ingredients of meat terrines

The key to making a good terrine is to make one that’s not too dry and flavorless, while also being strong enough to hold itself. You can try just throwing in some meat and spices into a terrine pan and bake it, but it will likely crumble apart and not hold at all. Getting this texture right requires a well-balanced mix of ingredients, with meat being the star player alongside several crucial supporting acts. It’s impossible to discuss all possible ingredients, there are too many, so we’ll focus on some core ingredients, as well as some ingredients that we happen to have used.

Lean meat – provides structure

The core of meat terrines is lean meat. That is, meat with little fat. Lean meats contain a lot of protein. These proteins are crucial for forming the overall firm terrine structure. When heated they denature, that is, they change shape and bind water and fat well.

You’ll often find game meats in a terrine such as venison or wild boar. These meats aren’t just lean, they also have a strong flavor, which helps ensure the terrine itself has a good overall flavor profile. That said, chicken breasts or thighs can be used as part of the mix as well as pork or veal. It is best not to use tough meats that need a long cooking time, such as shanks or necks. These pieces contain a lot of connective tissue which doesn’t necessarily make for a great texture. The cooking process isn’t long enough to break down this connective tissue either.

Liver – adds smoothness

Liver is commonly used in terrines, but it’s not a requirement. Liver can help create a smoother experience since it is broken down quite easily. Also, it contains plenty of proteins that help emulsify the fat and water in the terrine, reducing the amount of water lost during baking. Chicken liver is commonly used, but other types of liver work in a similar way.

prepped liver and bacon for terrine
Chopped chicken liver and pork fat.

Fat – prevents a dry terrine

Bacon, pork fat, or even regular oil are crucial for making a terrine. Without fat, it would turn out dry, in pretty much the same way a sausage without fat would. Using more fat will result in a creamier, smoother terrine, whereas using less fat – the recipe below uses quite a low amount of fat – will make a slightly drier, but meatier terrine. Common sources of fat are fatty parts of pork bacon, as well as ground pork with a high fat content.

Heavy cream – serves a similar function

Heavy cream, which has a fat content of over 30% serves a similar function in the terrine as meat fat does. However, keep in mind that cream also contains a lot of water. As such, it can’t fully replace the pure fats, it would make the terrine too moist. Cream also adds a hint of dairy flavor.

Bacon slices- serve as a ‘container’

Many terrines are wrapped in thin slices of bacon strips. These not only help the terrine stay together once cooked. But they also add extra fat and flavor and protect the outside from drying out during cooking.

Salt – increases firmness

Salt doesn’t just add saltiness to a terrine. As is the case for many meat products, salt has a crucial structural role. It extracts proteins from the meat. These proteins can then form a stronger structure, binding water, resulting in a firmer terrine. The proteins also help hold on to the fat in the terrine. As a result, terrines with salt will lose less fat during cooking.

meat mix for inside of terrine
Our meat mix before it went into the molds.

Eggs – serve as a binder

Whereas you NEED salt, lean and fatty meat to make a terrine, from here on, many ingredients become optional, starting with eggs. Eggs are often used since they help to bind the loaf together. If you’re making a rougher-style terrine, you might run the risk of it falling apart if you don’t ‘glue’ it all together with some egg.

Liquor – adds flavor

Many terrine recipes call for liquor. Again, it’s not a requirement, but it can add a dose of flavor to the terrine to balance the meatiness. Cognac, brandy, as well as port wine are all commonly used. Note that the overall alcohol content will remain very low as you’re only using a few tablespoons for a terrine of over 1 kg.

Spices, aromats and more – add flavor

There are all sorts of additional flavorants you can add. Traditionally, spices such as nutmeg, black pepper, and juniper berries are used, as well as bay leaves and thyme. However, you can use whatever you think works best with your choice of meat. Additionally, you can add glazed onions and garlic, but also condiments such as chili oil or Worcestershire sauce. The options truly are endless. Since most of these ingredients are only used in small quantities, they won’t significantly impact texture. It is important to cut ingredients such as onions finely, or you’ll find chunks back in the final terrine.

How to make meat terrine

In its simplest form, making a terrine is all about grinding and mixing the ingredients, before baking them in the oven. Just like there are ample variations possible for choosing your ingredients, the same goes for the process itself. It’s why it’s such a great product to experiment with! We’ll just discuss those steps that can have a big impact on the overall appearance of the terrine. For an overview of all steps, have a closer look at the recipe below.

Choosing the fineness of the meat mince

The first step you’ll take is grinding the meat. A good terrine tends to contain at least a portion of ground meat. It is also possible to add small pieces of meat in the center of the terrine, but, they won’t make a firm enough structure to hold on by themselves. It’s why you need ground meat to create a firm structure.

You can decide to finely grind your meat, or do so more roughly. A very fine grind will make a very smooth terrine. But most terrines tend to be a little rougher in texture, so aren’t ground as finely. It is easiest to grind the meat with a meat grinder. However, you can also use a food processor, though you may run the risk of grinding some parts too much and other parts not enough, so keep a close eye on it!

ground meat for terrine
Our choice of fineness for the terrine. Grind the fat and lean meat together so they get mixed through properly.

Resting the meat mixture

After mixing the ground meat with all other ingredients it’s best to test your patience and have it rest in the fridge for a couple of hours, or overnight. The resting period serves a few functions. First, flavors get a chance to spread and mellow, reducing the chances of some very unevenly distributed flavors. Second, and even more importantly, the salt gets a chance to do its job. Salt will start to extract those proteins. This helps to make a firm terrine with less loss of fat and moisture.

Cooking au bain marie

It is crucial that terrines are heated. Without this step, you’d just be eating raw ground meat. This isn’t just very unappetizing, it also serves as a health risk due to contamination with microorganisms. Terrines are heated in the oven, using an au bain marie. That is, you place the loaf pan or tin in a bath of hot boiling water and place that in the oven. The hot water won’t get warmer than its boiling point (100°C / 212°F). As such, the outside of the terrine doesn’t get very hot and you don’t run the risk of browning or even burning the outside of your terrine since the meat browns easily. Since it can take a long time for the inside to cook, you need to temper the cooking speed of the outside.

It is crucial that the terrine is protected from the moisture in the water bath. It’s why most recipes call for wrapping the terrine in aluminum foil before placing it in the tray.

terrines baking in the oven
Terrines cooking in the oven, one contains a thermometer to keep track of the temperature inside.

Pressing terrines

But wait, the terrine is not done when it comes out of the oven! First, give it a chance to cool dow, and then it’s time to press the terrine. Don’t press the terrine while it’s still hot. It will be quite delicate and you might ruin the texture. Also, you might inadvertently press back out a lot of the moisture and fat.

Press the terrine by placing a heavy weight, such as a brick, or some other heavy product on top of the terrine. No need to overdo it, it just needs a gentle push down. By pressing any air pockets are compressed again. Pressing also helps the moisture and proteins to form a tight network and sturdy structure.

Storing and eating!

A few days later your terrine will be ready to eat. Slice it carefully and eat it with some contrasting sweet or sour flavors such as some fruit jam. If you’re not planning on serving the terrine to a large group, you likely won’t be able to finish it in one go. Terrines can be stored in the freezer without any major negative impact! Wrap it tightly to prevent freezer burn and take out of the freezer a few hours before you plan on eating it so it has time to thaw.

front view of terrine

Game Meat Terrine

Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 3 hours
Additional Time: 5 days
Total Time: 5 days 5 hours

A terrine with game meat, for a punch of flavor. As taught by the mother of a good friend of ours! You will need a meat grinder for this terrine. You can also use a kitchen processor, but the texture will likely be different.

Note that you need 2 days to make the terrine and then at least another 3-4 days for resting, so best make it in advance.

Ingredients

Meat mix

  • 250g pork fat, or very fatty bacon
  • 200g chicken liver
  • 200g chicken thigh meat
  • 250g minced pork meat
  • 500g wild boar meat
  • 300g venison

Aromats

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 7 shallots
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf

Spices

  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 10 juniper berries

Other

  • 3 tbsp cognac
  • 5 tbsp port wine
  • 100ml heavy cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Worchestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp chili oil (optional, to taste)
  • 1 tbsp chili flakes
  • 1 tsp salt (add more to taste)

Lining the pan

  • 500g thinly sliced bacon
  • few sage leafs (optional)
  • few sprigs of thyme (optional)

Instructions

Meat

  1. It's easiest to start with partially thawed meat. Take the meat from the freezer approximately 1,5 hours before starting. By the time you start it should still be firm, but soft enough to slice through relatively easily.cut meat for terrine
  2. Cut all the meats into small pieces, this will help to grind it in the next step. It's very hard to grind up large pieces.
  3. Using a meat grinder, finely grind the liver and bacon fat. Roughly grind the other meats.ground meat for terrine
  4. Set aside while prepping the other components.

Prep the other ingredients

  1. Finely chop the onions and garlic, you can use a small processor to do so.
  2. In a frying pan on a medium heat, fry the onion, garlic and sage leaf in some oil and butter until they've softened completely. Leave to cool down to room temperature.
  3. Grind the spices into a fine powder (peppercorns & two types of berries).

Make the mixture

  1. Mix the meat mixture with all the other ingredients, that is, the fried onion mix, the ground spices and the remaining ingredients. It's easiest to do this by hand. The overall consistency will be quite gloopy.
  2. You shouldn't taste the raw mixture, so, instead, take a tablespoon of the mix and shape into a little ball. Cook in the microwave at approx. 600W for one minute until fully cooked through. Taste the little sample. It should be quite strong in flavor, keep in mind that it will mellow down during resting and cooking. Adjust seasoning where necessary.
  3. Once happy with the taste, store overnight, covered in a bowl in the fridge.meat mix for inside of terrine

Cooking

  1. Take a terrine form, or rectangular cake or bread tin. Place a few sage leaves or sprigs of thyme on the bottom for decoration pourposes only.
  2. Then, line the form with strips of bacon. This will form the outside of the terrine. This is easiest if you align them along the short side of the pan. Make sure all sides are covered with bacon and ensure they overlap slightly to prevent any leaks.
  3. Fill the pan with the rested meat mixture. Press down well to push out any air pockets. The meat mix should not come higher than the sides of the pan, that will make pressing in a later step complicated.
  4. Fold the overhanging strips of bacon over the meat mix to close it off completely. If necessary, add an additional strip on top. closed terrine with bacon
  5. If you have meat mix left, take a smaller cake tin or even muffin form and line that with bacon before filling it with the remainder. It's a waste to throw anything out!
  6. Wrap the tins in aluminum foil. It's best to place the tins on the foil and wrap it around from the bottom up. The foil serves to protect the terrine from any incoming moisture during baking.
  7. Take a large deep oven tray and place a cloth on the bottom. Place the prepared raw terrines on top.
  8. Place the tray in the oven while bringing some water to the boil. Add enough water to the tins until they're about halfway under.terrines baking in the oven
  9. Bake in the pre-heated oven at 160°C (325°F) until the internal temperature has reached 75°C (167°F). Depending on the size of your tins this will likely take anywhere between 1 to 3 hours. A cake tester should come out clean when inserted.

Resting & pressing

  1. Leave the terrine to cool down for at least 4 hours. Keep in mind, it takes a long time for a terrine to cool down. The terrine will reabsorb some of the juices that will have come out during this time.
  2. Then, press down on the terrine using a brick or another heavy material you have lying around.
  3. Store in the fridge for 3-4 days before removing the weight and unwrapping the terrine. You might find some gelatin or excess moisture around the terrine. Use these as a basis for a soup or stew!
  4. The terrine itself is ready to enjoy. It's best eaten cold and can be sliced into pieces quite easily. It eats well with a little sweet jam or chutney.loaf of terrine

References

If you really want to get the hang of making terrines and related products, I recommend you head on over to the Forcemeat Academy. It’s a fabulous website with a lot of resources on the topic, covering a lot of the steps we just glanced over here in far more detail.

Also, thank you to Anne-Margreet for showing us how to make these terrines!

Andrea Bassett, Should You Press and Weight Your Pâté or Terrine?, Forcemeat Academy, link

Culinary Pro, Forcemeats, link

EE Morales-Irigoyen, P Severiano-Pe ́rez, ME Rodriguez-Huezo, and A Totosaus, Textural, physicochemical and sensory properties compensation of fat replacing in pork liver pate incorporating emulsified canola oil, Food Science and Technology International 18(4) 413–421, link

Matias A. Via, Mathias Baechle, Alexander Stephan, Thomas A. Vilgis, and Mathias P. Clausen , “Microscopic characterization of fatty liver-based emulsions: Bridging microstructure and texture in foie gras and pâté”, Physics of Fluids 33, 117119 (2021), https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0070998, link

Liselot Steen & Ilse Fraeye & Olivier Goemaere & Laurence Sifre & Bart Goderis & Hubert Paelinck & Imogen Foub, Effect of Salt and Liver/Fat Ratio on Microstructure, Emulsion Stability, Texture and Sensory Mouth Feel of Liver Paste, Food Bioprocess Technol DOI 10.1007/s11947-013-1247-9

What's your challenge?

Struggling with your food product or production process? Not sure where to start and what to do? Or are you struggling to find and maintain the right expertise and knowledge in your food business?

That's where I might be able to help. Fill out a quick form to request a 30 minute discovery call so we can discuss your challenges. By the end, you'll know if, and how I might be able to help.

headshot Annelie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to Recipe