There is something magical about the word pate. To the wondering diner it seems a miracle that a chef can construct such intricate patterns with his ingredients and obtain such remarkable flavor. Pates are beautiful and infinitely useful: They are popular as appetizers, make an ideal first course, can become the main course of a luncheon and, at this time of year, are welcome companions on picnics.

All this despite the false mystique that pates are difficult, to make and the numerous crimes committed aagainst culinary standards that manage to give so many pates an unpleasant taste, if not a bad name. (Actually, the name pate itself presents a problem. Originally it meant something enclosed in pastry. But rarely today is that definition held to. "The confusion is so total . . . wrote Richard Olney in "Simple French Food," that "it is not worthwhile even to attempt to respect the terminology.")

A tasting of 20 or so pates purchased from various shops in the Washington area a couple of years was a painful experience. Some were without character; others were overseasoned to the point of making war on the taste buds. Few had pleasing texture. Fewer still had any sense of harmony or grace.

These last words may seem out of place. Often one hears of "country-style" pates with "rough" texture and "strong" flavor. But in translating these terms from the French too many cooks, relatively speaking, shout. A fine pate, like any other successful culinary creation, should be the sum of its part. Care should be exercised in selecting ingredients, adding seasonings and assembling the final product. Dorothy Ivers did timid cooks a service when she titled her book of a few years ago "Pates and Other Marvelous Meat Loafs." There's no need to be scared of them, but they should never be prepared carelessly.

the manufacturers of the various food processors have done cooks a service, too. their machines eliminate much of the tedious labor - chopping, grinding and working various mixtures through a sieve - that led home cooks to avoid any but the most mundane preparations. Even without a processor, making a pate can be a rewarding project. With one it is considerably simplified.

Exempt pates cooked in crusts and those baked in the manner of meat loafs and it is possible to generalize about the construction of most others. A mixture, called forcemeat, is created by grinding or chopping. Ofter several meats are blended together, Veal and pork are bland. Add to them ground or chopped fat for moisture, liver for smoothness and flavor, egg for binding, spices and herbs, onions or shallot and possibly wine or brandy. The simplest pates use only such a mixture. As chunks or strips of meat - usually marinated - are added, plus nuts or truffless, the pate becomes more complex. The composition is surrounded by a thin lining of port fat or bacon in a covered pan or special mold.

The mold is set in a larger pan in the oven. Hot water is poured around it and the pate cooks in moderate heat for some time. Once cooked, it is uncovered and weighted (a cardboard strip and a heavy can or two or a brick will do). The weight forces out some of the liquid fat and causes a firmer texture. After this, it is best to cover the pate well, refrigerate it and wait two or three days. This step, which improves the flavor considerably, is often skipped in busy restaurants or shops. To serve a pate, run a knife around the edge of the mold and dif away the fat at either end (the pate will have shrunk in cooking). Either cut slices directly from the mold or place the mold in hot water for a minute or two, then invert a plate on it and shake the plate loose. The meat jelly is edible too, but the very firm stuff served in restaurants has been hardened with gelatin.

Much the same procedure may be followed with fish, though the pate is not wrapped in fat, is not cooked as long and may be served with a sauce.

Some pates are served hot. In consideration of the season, those that follow are all intended to be served cold. One requires no cooking at all and the cooking for another is entirely on top of the stove.

CHICKEN LIVER PATE (4 to 6 appetizer servings) 1 cup chicken livers, patted dry on paper towels 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot or green onion 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons bacon drippings or oil 1/4 cup clarified butter 2 or 3 sprigs parsley, finely chopped 1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon Salt, freshly ground pepper 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or less to taste (optional)

Melt butter and bacon drippings in a frying pan. Add shallots and cook until soft. Increase heat and add livers. Cook only 3 to 4 minutes, until they are firm but not cooked through.Cream clarified butter with brandy and parsley. Work cooled livers through a sieve, the fine blade of a food mill or in a food processor. Mix butter into liver puree. Add seasonings, taste and adjust as desired. Transfer to a serving bowl or individual small dishes. If not serving for a day or more, cover the surface with a light coating of clarified butter and refrigerate.

ETHEL MILLER'S SALMON PATE (10 to 12 servings) 1 can (15 1/2 ounces) red salmon, drained and mashed 8ounces cream cheese, softened and mashed 1/2 small onion, grated or minced 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 heaping teaspoon red horseradish 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional) 1/3 cup minced pecans 2 tablespoons minced parsley

Mix together thoroughly the salmon, cream cheese, onion, lemon juice, horseradish and liquid smoke. Use plastic wrap to form into a roll. Refrigerate through the day or overnight. Before serving roll log in Mixture of pecans and parsley. Serve with crackers or thinly sliced bread.

TERRINE OF SOLE AND SHRIMP (8 to 10 servings) Vegetable oil 2 1/2 pounds sole fillets, washed and all small bones removed 4 egg whites 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups whipping cream, chilled 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste Cayenne pepper to taste 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste 1 small onion, finely chopped 3 tablespoons butter 1/4 pound mushrooms, finely chopped 1/2 pound sorrel or spinach, trimmed of stems 2 large Spanish shrimps, or about 4 regular shrimps, shelled 1/4 cup or less shelled, blanched and skinned pistachio nuts (optional)

Oil a 1 1/2-quart mold or baking dish, line it with foil and lightly oil the foil. Cut up sole fillets and make a paste of them in a food processor or grinder. Work in egg whites, cream and seasonings. Make a marble-sized ball of the mixture and poach it in simmering water. Taste for seasoning. It should be well flavored as seasoning are less pronounced when chilled. Adjust as desired. If using pistachios, fold them in. Chill over ice or in the freezer.

Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter until it is translucent, add mushrooms and stir and cook until liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and nutmeg. Wilt sorrel or spinach in remaining tablespoon of butter (add 1 teaspoon wine vinegar if using spinach and puree when soft).

Combine mushroom mixture and sorrel.

Line bottom third of mold with fish mousse. Make a bed on top with some of the mushroom and sorrel farce. Lay shrimps end-to-end in a single line down the middle of the mold and cover with remaining mushrooms and sorrel. Fill mold with fish mousse. Cover with oiled foil paper, then cover mold. Place in a baking pan, transfer to a pre-heated, 350-degree oven and pour in hot water to come half way up sides of mold. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until firm.

Remove mold from water bath, weight lightly (with cardboard and a 1-pound can) and refrigerate overnight. To serve, unmold on a serving tray, cut in slices and garnish with watercress.

NOTE: There probably will be some extra fish mousse.Place it in a small, oiled souffle mold and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

ROLAND BOUYAT'S PATE DE CAMPAGNE (8 to 10 servings) 1 pound fresh pork 1/2 pound veal shoulder 1/2 pound pork or chicken livers 1/2 cup diced fat back 1/2 cup diced cooked ham or cooked beef tongue 1 tablespoon flour 1 large egg 1/2 cup whipping cream 1/4 to 1/2 cup madeira or port Salt and black pepper to taste 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice 1/4 teaspoon leaf thyme, crushed 2 or 3 bay leaves Thin pork fat or bacon slices

Grind pork, veal and livers together, not too fine, or have butcher grind meats. Place in a bowl and add fat back, ham, flour, egg, cream, madeira and all seasonings except bay leaves. Mix well, then poach a small ball of pate and taste for seasoning. Adjust as desired.

Line a 1 1/2-quart mold with the port fat or bacon slices, leaving enough draped over sides to cover the top. Fillwith pate mixture, cover with fat or bacon, place bay leaves on top and cover mold. Place in a baking pan and transfer to preheated, 350-degree oven. Pour in hot water to come at least half way up sides of mold. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. remove from water bath, remove cover and wiehgt pate. Refrigerate overnight. Remove weight and cover well with foil. Store for 2 or 3 days before serving.

TERRINE ROYAL HOTEL DE LA POSTE 1/2 duck, thawed and washed 1 pound veal shoulder 1 pound pork shoulder 1/4 pound pork fat 2 chicken livers 3 tablespoons butter or oil 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley Salt and pepper to taste 1 1/2 teaspoons quatre espices or 1&2 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 2 tablespoons cognac 2 truffles and juice Pork fat strips for barding

The day or morning before making the pate, bone the duck half. (As you will be working with a whole duck, either double the recipe and make two terrines or broil the remaining half ro a separate meal.) Cut away fat portion so that meat and skin form a single long strip. Grind 1/3 of the port akdn 1/3 of the veal with the port fat. Grind a second time with the chicken livers and duck liver and heart. Season with salt and pepper. Cut remaining veal and pork into strips about 1/4-inch thick.

Melt butter and cook shallots and parsley until they are softened. Off the heat season with salt, Pepper, quatre epices or alternate spices and several drops of cognac. Separate into 2 large and 1 small portions.

Toss one large portion with pork and veal strips, mix the other into the ground meats. Moisten both with cognac and truffle juice. Spread the smaller portion over the duck meat. Wrap each mixture separately and refrigerate overnight or through the day.

Allow ingredients to lose their chill and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 1 1/2-quart mold with barding, making sure there are no exposed spots. Cut a 1 1/2-inch strip of barding as long as the mold. Cut the truffles into 1/2-inch pieces. Moisten the ground meat again with cognac and spread a thin cushion on bottom and sides of the mold. Line bottom 1/3 of the mold with meat strips, also moistened with cognac. Place the strip of barding atop the strip of duck meat and place the truffles, then wrap duck about barding. Fit into mold, skin side up.

Fill the mold - without overcrowding it - with pork and veal strips. Finish with a layer of the ground meats. Cover pate with barding, top with aluminum foil, then cover mold and place in a baking pan. Transfer to preheated oven and pour in hot water to come half way up sides of the mold. Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Remove from oven, remove cover, weight and cool. Refrigerate well covered for 2 or 3 days before serving.