A forcemeat is a ground mixtures of meats, poultry, fish or vegetables combined with fats, seasoning and other flavoring ingredients. The mixtures are used in classic charcuterie preparations of pâtés, terrines and galantines. A forcemeat is also used to fill ravioli or wontons, stuffed in in sausage casings, or prepared as quenelle(delicate meat or fish dumplings).
There are a few basic styles that are classic to forcemeat preparation. The campagne or country-style is the most basic and has a rustic texture. The straight forcemeat is smoother and more refined. Gratin forcemeats refer to fully or partially cooking the proteins before processing and are commonly prepared with pork or poultry livers. Mousseline forcemeat is light and delicate being emulsified with egg and cream. 5/4/3 forcemeat refers to the ratio of ingredients, 5 parts lean, four parts fat, and three parts ice used to make emulsified sausages like bologna and frankfurters.
Forcemeats are emulsions produced by combining the correct ratio of lean ground meats and fats. The mixture is sometime bound with eggs or a panada; a paste made with bread, flour, potatoes, or rice. The ratio of ingredients is as important to the final outcome as the correct sequence of preparation steps. The textures can be coarse and rustic like a country style pâté, or smooth or refined like a straight-method forcemeat. They can be light and airy like a mousseline or creamy like a gratin. Forcemeats should have an assertive balance of seasoning which is extremely important as classic pates and terrines are usually presented cold.
Ratio of Ingredients
Getting the correct ratio is important to the structure, flavor and mouth feel of the product. For most forcemeat recipes a ratio of two parts lean to one part fat will give the right balance of flavor, richness, and taste along with a smooth texture that coats the palate and provide a nice finish. The ratios can vary with fats being as high as 50% of the total make up or a 1:1 ratio. Binding agents are sometimes used to absorb the extra fat.
Grinding is an important step in the emulsification process. Progressive grinding is used to mix the emulsion evenly and produce a smooth refined texture. The product is processed through a grinder 2-3 times starting with a large grind, then to a medium, and finally to a fine grind. Sieving the ingredients through a drum sieve, also known as a tamis, will remove any excess gristle or sinew that may detract from the smoothness. Although the campagne and straight forcemeats use a meat grinder, mousseline forcemeats and some gratins commonly use a food processor to create their characteristically light consistency.
Temperature is Crucial
Keep the ingredients as cold as possible to set the emulsion and for sanitation reasons too. Temperatures below 40°F/4°C will keep the fats firm and provide for a smoother texture. If the forcemeat gets too warm the product will take on a loose structure and have a greasy appearance that will affect its overall quality.
Monitor temperatures regularly during the grinding process.
Chill all grinding parts before use.
Partially freeze the meats and fat to keep cold.
Use ice in the emulsion when grinding the forcemeat.
Mixing and Processing
Proper mixing, processing and blending achieve the ultimate structure of the forcemeat and distribute seasonings and flavorings evenly. Mixing can be done by hand but often is done in an electric mixer or a food processor. Care should be taken not to over mix when using a machine. Depending on the amount of product, one to three minutes in an electric mixer at the lowest speed should be sufficient.
Food processors are particularly suited to preparing mousseline forcemeats because the rapid speed can puree the proteins to a fine texture in a short amount of time. Because of the rapid speed of food processor blades, they can create friction and raise the temperature of the product higher than the optimal emulsion temperature of 40°F/4°C.
Testing a Forcemeat
Forcemeats should be tested for taste and texture before assembly and cooking. To test, prepare a quenelle and poach in salted water or stock. Evaluate the seasoning and adjust as needed. For textural correction adjust as follows:
Improve the texture of rubbery forcemeats by the addition of more fat or cream.
A forcemeat that has a loose consistency is firmed by adding egg whites or panada.
Salt & Seasoning
Salt brings out the natural flavors of the forcemeat and should be used at a ratio of 60 to 1 or approximately 0.3 oz. salt per pound/ 20 g salt per kilo. Salt also is important for the formation of the emulsion, drawing out the moisture and helping the fats and proteins bind together.
For Spices and herbs consider ethnic flavor profiles; a classic French quatre epice, Chinese Five Spice blend, Indian garam masala, or Southwest chili combination.
Pink salt (Prague Powder #1 or Insta Cure #1) are added for color and bacterial control. Use at a ratio of ¼ tsp. per 2 lb./1 K of forcemeat.
Dry curing, brining, or marinating the meats adds flavor and seasoning and provides moisture. Use any dry cure, wet brine, or marinade as desired. Marinating with wines and spirits along with aromatic vegetables (shallots and garlic) adds complexity to the forcemeat. Allow, at minimum of 8-12 hours or more for marinating.
Forcemeat Preparation Tips
Keep all surfaces clean and sanitized
Keep all foods cold
Use lean meats trimmed of excess connective tissue
Cure or marinade the meats to add flavor and infuse seasoning
Chill the grinder parts
Partially freeze the ingredients before grinding
Add ice to the meats when grinding to chill the mixture and add moisture to the forcemeat
Use progressive grinding to achieve a fine puree
Sieve forcemeat to remove connective tissue, sinews and gristle
Balance main components with seasoning, aromatics and wine or spirits that will accent and highlight the natural flavors
Since forcemeats are commonly presented as cold pates, terrines and galantines should always be seasoned up
Forcemeats prepared with meats have proteins that are dense enough to hold a proper structure without binding agents. Other forcemeats using delicate ingredients, including fish and seafood, may need a little help in maintaining a good structure. Binding agents are needed when fats in the forcemeat exceed a certain limit, as in a 5/4/3 emulsion, which uses non-fat dried milk as an emulsifier. A thick béchamel sauce or a beurre manie, are examples, as well as other binding agents include eggs, aspic gelatin, and panada are incorporated for this purpose.
A panada is a paste prepared from flour, bread, rice, or other starch product and used as a binding agent in forcemeats, pates, terrines and sausages. A panada gives structure to delicate forcemeats of fish or shellfish when the protein structure is not dense enough to hold together on its own. Panadas are used less in today’s kitchen, where improved technology and equipment have made it possible to create better emulsions. To maintain the proper taste and texture, use a 4:1 ratio of meat to panada by weight.