Sherried Chicken Liver Pate
When Mike and I first started the Choosy Beggars, one of our mantras was to provide gourmet food on a busboy’s budget. Over time, the coconut and tuna tartares eventually gave way to things like Buffalo chicken sushi studded with Doritos and Tandoori chicken fingers with masala ketchup, but you’re still more likely to find flank steak in my kitchen than a fancy and high priced beef tenderloin (unless it’s paid for by someone else, of course). We’ve always held fast to the idea that you don’t need a ton of money or a kitchen full of fancy appliances to make fabulous food, and I think that perhaps one of the best examples of this has got to be pate.
I’ve eaten rich and rustic country pates, deliciously smooth and indulgent crème pates, and even the occasional horror story pate (if the mere thought of pate has you cringing and staring balefully at a cat food tin right now, I see that we’ve tried the same one). However, my all time favorite is a simple sherried chicken liver pate which is creamy without being overwhelming, and has a silky mouthfeel. A good chicken liver pate always just smacks of decadence to me, and there is nothing that I appreciate more than rich and fancy fare with a pared down price tag. I mean sure, you could spend $6 and buy a small amount of mediocre pate at the grocery store, vacuum sealed and crowned with a ghoulish and jiggly gelatin, or you can spend a couple of dollars on a pound of chicken livers and make it yourself from scratch. It takes little time, the cost is negligible, and oh the bountiful rewards of luscious homemade pate!
Yes, I wax poetic over pureed liver.
No, I will not apologize for that fact.
What I will apologize for, however, is the fact that in almost 3 years of writing this blog, I have never once shared with you my recipe for sherried chicken liver pate. Because really, what kind of a suspect monster am I to keep this to myself? I would much rather be a pate eating monster that shares, so here is my tried and true recipe for a French classic to be eaten with friends in the comfort of your kitchen.
Sherried Chicken Liver Pate
- 500 g (1.2 lb) chicken livers
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, divided
- 4-5 shallots (1 cup chopped)
- 1 large garlic clove
- 3/4 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground ginger
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup sherry *
- 3 tbsp heavy cream
- salt and white pepper, to taste
* Opt for a dry or semi-dry sherry that you would drink. Under no circumstances should you consider using cooking sherry, which tastes like salty rubbing alcohol mixed with cherry Koolaid. Also, don’t ask me how I know what that tastes like. Some stories from my school days are better left untold.
Melt 1/4 cup of butter (half a stick) in a large heavy bottomed skillet set over medium high heat. Chop the onions fairly finely and add them the pan and let them cook, stirring intermittently, until they start to turn translucent.
Mince the garlic and add it to the pan along with the dried spices and bay leaf. Continue to saute the aromatics until the onion is golden, which will take about 7-10 minutes.
In the mean time, rinse the chicken livers thoroughly under cold running water. Pat the meat dry and season liberally with salt and pepper on all sides.
Add the chicken livers to the skillet to brown for about 2 minutes per side. When the chicken livers are browned but still pink and tender in the center, deglaze the pan by pouring in the sherry and scraping vigorously at the bottom of the pan to detach any delectable brown bits. Let the chicken livers simmer in the sherry for another minute or two until they are almost -but not entirely- cooked through.
You want to be careful not to overcook the chicken livers because a bit of tenderness is what gives good pate that sublime and silky texture. Overcooked (browned straight through) livers will make a heavier pate that is almost grainy on the tongue and far less appealing.
Remove the bay leaf from the pan and carefully pour the contents into a food processor. Cut the remaining 1/4 cup (half stick) of butter up into chunks. Puree the hot liver mixture and add the butter a chunk at a time while the motor is running. Drizzle in the cream and continue to puree until the mixture is smooth and uniform.
Give the liver a quick taste and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.
To make your pate extra smooth and luxurious, pass it through a wire fine mesh strainer. Set the mesh over a medium to large bowl and pour the liver pate into it. The mixture is thick and will not immediately pass through, which is a good thing, so stir it around with a spoon, pressing and scraping at the sides of the strainer until all of the mixture has passed through and all you have left are the sparse bits of herb which were too thick to pass.
That’s it! The liver pate is done, man. Spoon the mixture into whatever sort of ramekin or dish that you like and chill it until you’re ready to serve. However, before you do, be sure to either cover the pate completely with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface or cover with a fat cap to prevent discoloration.
As pate oxidizes, it turns a strange and unappealing greyish green color (it’s not poison, just a normal chemical reaction that will make your guests less likely to give it a go). To mitigate this, a fat cap or aspic (gelatin) is often poured over top of the pate to effectively seal it away from the ravages of the air we breathe, and keep the color and texture as intended. You can pour a whick of clarified butter on top of the smoothed surface of your pate, but leftover bacon fat works just as well. To be extra fancy, feel free to float a bay leaf and a couple of bayberries or peppercorns on top which will set right into the fat in a mysterious and mottled way.
The best way to serve pate is, of course, with thick warm slices of baguette, a bit of jam or chutney, twee little pickled things and a bucket or so of rich and peppery red wine.
This just has ‘Picnic in Lyon’ written all over it.
When each slather of the knife costs only a measly couple of cents, I recommend that you spread this pate thick and eat it greedily and often. After all, if you can’t treat yourself to a bit of cheap decadence once in a while, what’s the point of life?