I may have been waiting my whole life to make a terrine like this. As a matter of fact, I made it the day after Penny (Jeroxie.com) announced the International Incident Party theme for this month, which is Terrine. I had never really understood the hype surrounding this layered dish but couldn't wait any longer to create it and see for myself. It was a very long time ago that I ate my last terrine...was it in France? I am so ancient now, and I really can't remember.
So anyway, I dreamt about my terrine. That was how much it wouldn't leave me alone the first night. When I woke up, I immediately scribbled everything down on a scrap piece of paper. I wanted to hold on to the details and somehow turn it into something tangible, edible even, for this party. Luckily, it wasn't a convoluted series of images I ended up with because that's the way dreams oftentimes occur. Otherwise, my terrine would look some kind of bizarre....although, now that I think about it, my bizarre may be different from yours :-).
It all started with a dream and a scribble...
I wanted a savory terrine filled with vegetables and I also envisaged some sort of 'wall' to hold the terrine contents in. I toyed between using gelatin or agar agar as the setting agent, but in the end decided to use agar. It sets quicker and holds everything together firmer. So, the wall. Since asparagus was still in abundance, I figured why not make an asparagus fortress? At that point, I had no idea what this fortress would contain or what flavor it would take on. The dream didn't reveal everything, and alas, it didn't impart a recipe nor a set of instructions. I was just going to have to wing it.
At moments like this, I realize why I am a scientist and not an architect. If you think about it, few recipes yield a more architectural outcome than a terrine, with its layers of ingredients compressed into a mold, making it perfect for slicing. Making this terrine felt to me like a feat of engineering. Gastroengineering. And eating it, taking it apart, was a lesson in materials and construction.
Layering the terrine
I could have very well made this a vegetarian terrine but I wanted a taste of the sea in it, so I threw in a few baby shrimps and boiled the agar with shrimp broth. Then began the layering process. First, the peas. Then, the asparagus spears, held in place by the peas (oh, how I wished I had an extra pair of hands while doing this!). This was followed by the carrots, shrimps and whole cherry tomatoes. When everything was packed snugly in place, the hot agar was poured in to work its magic and bind the terrine.
Once set, the terrine turned out willingly, and the asparagus wall stood sturdy thanks to the agar. It took a while to bring myself to slice this beauty up...I wanted to savor the intact fortress for just that minute longer. Of course, once I cut into it, the cross-section view of the terrine was equally entrancing.
At the end of it all, here's the lesson for me - terrines are indeed pretty but they are still not my thing and I probably won't be making a terrine again unless pressed...haha, sorry, can't help it. My inner cook and inner architect have decided to part company here, despite their one enjoyable date. I'm not sure if they'll ever get back together again, but I've learnt that one should never say never (thank you, James Bond)...so maybe someday.
For a range of terrine experience, why not check out what the other IIP participants brought along to the party? Click on the thumbnails below to find out.
10 asparagus stems
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 small carrot, sliced into strips
5-6 cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup baby shrimps, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon agar agar
2 cups water
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Line the bottom of a wide-mouth glass with a round piece of foil, this helps release the terrine once it sets.
2. Microwave the peas on high in 1/2 cup water for 2 minutes, drain and set aside.
3. Boil the baby shrimps in the 2 cups water for 2 minutes, then scoop out the shrimps and set aside.
4. Trim the asparagus to a length of 5-inches from the top and slice the stems lengthwise into two. Blanch the stems in the shrimp broth for 30 seconds and fish them out carefully. Set aside.
5. Blanch the carrot sticks next in the shrimp broth for 2 minutes (until soft) and drain the water into another small pot. Set the carrots aside. You should have about 1 cup of broth left.
6. Dissolve the agar agar in the remaining hot broth, stir, bring to a quick boil and then remove from heat. Season the broth with salt and pepper.
7. Now it's time to arrange the layers forming the terrine:
1st layer: spoon the peas into the bottom of the glass.
Fortress: arrange the blanched asparagus stems around inside edge of the glass, sliced side outwards. Use the peas to help the stems stay in place and a toothpick or skewer to move and rearrange the stems and peas around.
2nd layer: spoon the cooked sliced carrots on top of the peas
3rd layer: spoon the cooked shrimps on top of the carrots
4th layer: arrange the cherry tomatoes on top of the carrots, covering it completely.
Final step: spoon the hot agar solution slowly into the glass, making sure to coat all the vegetables right down to the bottom.
8. Let the terrine cool down to room temperature, then place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes until set. Run a thin knife around the edge of the glass to release the asparagus stems, then carefully turn the terrine out onto a serving plate. The bottom should release quite easily as it's lined with foil. Serve immediately as a side-dish with some meat or fish.