Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chicken Liver Pâté

The thought didn't just pop out of no where, "I want to eat chicken livers," bam! It slowly emerged with the idea to learn to cook meat in the first place. Last February, when I started going to that Naturopathic doctor (and realized I was reactive hypoglycemic), I began buying a whole chicken from the farmers' market every Saturday. I would roast it or boil it whole, pick it apart, save the bones for stock, and use the meat for lunches throughout the week. I did this not because I was so attached to boiling or roasting or to the whole animal, but because all I knew how to do was roast or boil a whole chicken.

Fast forward to last month when I realized all of the sudden I felt comfortable (if not confident) cooking chicken. Now I can not only roast and boil it, but also cut it up and fry it in a pan, or bake it in the oven, and most of the time it is tasty and moist, not overcooked and dry like it used to be. I noted that unlike a year ago, I know how to cook pork too, and a bit of beef. Bacon may seem simple to everyone else, but it was scary for me. And Crock-Pot pulled pork or shredded beef is not exactly a culinary feat, but I still do a little dance when I open the lid and I see Dinner instead of a hunk of inedible, tough, grey muscle. After I processed how much I must have learned this year I had another realization: I was ready to move on--to the rest of the animal.

Since the last February I have tinkered timidly. I have fried up the few giblets left inside some of the poultry we have gotten (the duck I procured from a farm down the street, the Thanksgiving turkey, and the random just-for-fun guinea fowl). I ate the livers seared on toast and the hearts plain and browned (like meat candy, if that makes sense), and it all felt like success. But, as I've said, I was ready for more.

I finally took the plunge a few weeks ago. I bought a small tub of frozen chicken livers from the lady who sells me my chickens (and rabbit and guinea fowl and roosters) with a plan to make Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Rich Liver Pâté". It looked like a tasty, straightforward way to step into the land of offal cookery--boozed with port, softened with minced pork, and covered with bacon. I felt proud and completely resourceful, aware that I was finally going to eat the whole animal. I could already see Cedar and his future sibling(s) clapping their hands at the liver-smeared toast I would make them, and I imagined their little bodies bursting with health because of it.

After finding Tamar Adler's book I opted to try her pan-fry and blend method rather than Hugh's blend raw and water bath bake method, because I felt lazy. Well, someone was out to teach me a lesson! Tamar's recipe is simple and quick--if you have a quarter cup of thyme leaves lying around. I spent over an hour picking those blasted little stipules off their not-so-sturdy sprigs. But I wanted to make it exactly how she said, just in case.

But then I swapped out some port (Hugh's influence) for Tamar's wine/sherry/bourbon/Scotch/Cognac/brandy options and left out the leek entirely because I didn't feel like going to the store. And then, just to tip the scales, when I packed up the leftover pâté that I didn't eat, I wrapped it in plastic instead of letting it sit in its own perfect dish covered in a layer of melted butter. So much for following the recipe. 

No matter. It turned out to be lovely, if you can call this odd-colored brick of butter and liver lovely. (Note, if you treat the pâté properly--with the melted butter to seal it in, the color isn't as weird. In fact, it is a certifiably soothing pink.) At least it tasted lovely.

Cedar liked it as I hoped he would, and I did too. Thus I have inched my way into the foreign world of edible innards. I have a huge hunk of spread now, wrapped well and stashed in the freezer for when I have guests or want to make a bird-influenced banh mi or try my hand at beef wellington again.  In the meantime I have found my favorite way to eat it just as Tamar and everyone else suggests--spread thinnish on toast with or without random bits of veggies laid on top. I have heard that some eat it from a spoon straight out of the dish. I'm not there yet. But you never know, this is my first try.

Chicken Liver Pâté (slightly adapted from Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace--tasty inspirations also from The River Cottage Meat Book)

This is my first time with pâté, but from what I've read, the spices, herbs, and booze are the fun part to tamper with. I would not spend an hour picking thyme leaves next time. I'd try just the sage and port, like Hugh says, or stick with the spices and try the brandy, or some other such frivolity. I encourage you to do likewise and tweak to taste. And even though Tamar calls for chicken livers, Hugh says his recipe is good with all kinds of liver. And I'll bet what would work there would work here. Have fun!

1 pound chicken livers
salt and fresh cracked pepper
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (one of the sticks cut into pieces)
4 tablespoons port (or white wine, sherry, bourbon, Scotch, Cognac, or brandy)
1 large shallot, finely minced
1/2 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons water
a pinch ground mace
a tiny pinch of ground cloves
half that amount ground cinnamon
a few sage leaves
1/8 bay leaf, finely minced
1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, finely minced

Clean any connective membranes from the livers and season them with salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a pan. When the pan is hot, add some of the livers. Leave a bit of space around each liver. Let each liver get browned on one side. Flip and brown them on the other side.

Take the livers out of the pan and put them on a plate. Add 1 tablespoon wine or liquor to the pan and deglaze. Add more of the booze if needed (I needed). Pour the liquid over the cooked livers. Wipe the pan out with a paper tower. Repeat with the rest of the livers without adding the remaining wine or spirits. Once all the livers are cooked and removed, add the shallot and garlic to the pan along with the rest of the liquor and 2 tablespoons water. Cook over medium-low heat (dousing with more water if necessary) until the vegetables are completely tender.

When they are, combine them and the remaining ingredients, the cooked shallot mixture, and their liquid to the food processor. Blend well. Taste. Add more salt as needed. Pour into a small casserole dish or bowl and let cool at least a half hour.

This should be made at least a half hour in advance. It may seem loose, perhaps almost liquidy, but it will cool and tighten to a smooth, spreadable consistency after a little time refrigerated. Serve it spread on little toasts, with a few leaves of fresh thyme on top. Cover the remainder with melted butter and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for much longer.

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