We arrived at Amiens railway station, crossed onto the paved Rue de Noyon along to the five-sided square, slipped down Rue Allart into Rue de Jacobins, followed our noses and found ourselves outside Table & Saveurs on Rue de Beauvais, where we were told we would find the best duck pâté in the world.
Such hyperbole can be an exaggeration. We entered and there it was on the shelf among other specialities of the region, pâté de canard d’Amiens – Amiens duck pâté. We came looking for a pâté and found an artisanal gem.
One third duck, pork, chicken liver, rabbit, onion, mushroom, egg and seasoning – all the ingredients of a traditional duck pâté. The artisan is Saint Christophe Conserverie from the tiny village of Petit Chemin near the coast, just over half an hour from Amiens by car.
First, some history. A pork butcher named Degaud is responsible for the original recipe, a deboned whole duck stuffed with rabbit tenderloin, mushrooms and lard, oven-baked in a pastry crust from the 1640s. It became known as pâté en croute, a speciality of Picardy and over the years it developed exquisite tastes – brandy, foie gras, pistachios, truffles, veal and it changed shape. It became a terrine, albeit topped with a thick pastry crust to keep with tradition. Now it is usual to find it as a coarse duck pâté preserved in typical glass pots sealed with a rubber ring.
If duck pâté is forever associated with the historical region of Picardy and no longer thought of as a terrine, the authentic terrine is a conundrum. Terrines, long deep earthenware dishes containing meat of different types and various flavourings, were once products of the French countryside.
They epitomised a rustic food tradition that utilised everything in the wild and discarded nothing from the domestic. Gradually the terrine dishes were filled with mixed cuts from chicken, pork and veal. Modern terrines tended to be made with fish, particularly shellfish, with duck, fruit, veal and contain chicken liver, foie gras, mushrooms, pork belly and truffles but they are no longer wrapped in stretched streaky bacon or in pork caul. Now they are prepared in vessels and sold in those rubber-ringed glass pots and look just like a pâté.
Terrines at Saint Christophe Conserverie include chicken liver, mussel, sheep and samphire, smoked salmon, smoked trout and whelk. The mussels and whelk are prepared in an enriched flour panade of butter, crème fraîche, egg and milk, the smoked fish in crème fraîche, egg, parsley and lemon zest.