There’s no accounting for taste. This goes double for delicacies. Don’t get me wrong – I like truffles, caviar and champagne just fine, but there’s no rational basis for the abnormally high desirability that drives fish eggs, fungus and fizzy wine to their infamous price tags.
For example, if you’d told me after the first time I’d tried them that chicken livers were an expensive delicacy, I’d easily believe it. And I could construct an explanation that makes sense: the quality most prized in meat seems to be tenderness – cuts like fillet steak and lamb cutlets run much dearer than brisket or shoulder. But in them, tenderness comes at the expense of flavour. Chicken livers, like most types of offal in fact, are both exceptionally tender and have a bold, distinctive flavour of their own. Plus you only get one liver, maybe a couple of ounces, per chicken. So if they taste amazing AND they’re limited availability – it makes perfect sense that they would be a rare delicacy with a price to match. I mean, if you had to pick one word to describe chicken liver pate, it would be “rich”.
But no. Chicken livers are one of the cheapest cuts you can buy. And I don’t understand why. Are they difficult to prepare, or do they take a long time to cook? No, you can fry them and have them on toast with a sherry cream sauce inside of ten minutes – easier than a steak. Is it hard to turn them into something that both looks elegant and tastes luxurious? Nope – the pate recipe here is beautiful and almost dangerously simple. Are they slimy and disgusting to handle when raw? Well, yes, but that hasn’t stopped oysters from entering the echelon of extravagance, they have to be EATEN while they’re slimy, disgusting and raw.
Are chicken livers totally capable of being something completely decadent, a cut fit for a king at a price suitable for a pauper? Yes. I don’t know why they aren’t a delicacy. But I’m taking advantage.
Chicken Liver Pate
- 800g Chicken livers
- 200g butter plus another ~40g (optional) to finish
- 125g (125g) double cream
- 150g (150ml) sherry
- 5-6 shallots or 1 small onion, very finely diced
- 4-5 sprigs of time, picked and finely chopped
- 1 tbsp djion mustard
- 3-4 bay leaves to garnish (optional)
Trim the livers of any connective tissue. Salt generously all over.
Preheat a skillet until very hot. Drop a knob of butter into the pan and wait for it to melt and start to foam. Fry the chicken livers in batches for 1-2 minutes each side – you want them to be well browned on the outside but still pink in the middle (see photo in tips for geeks section). Remove from pan and allow to cool. Deglaze the pan with a dash of sherry after each batch and pour out and reserve the flavourful liquid.
When the final batch of livers is done, saute the shallots/onion with the thyme over a low heat until soft and slightly browned. Deglaze one last time with the rest of the sherry, add all the cream, any butter you haven’t used for frying and the mustard. Simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.
Put the livers in a blender or food processor along with their resting juices pour in the liquid slowly with the motor running. Puree until smooth. Force the pate through a fine sieve into a terrine dish or Kilner jar. Tap the dish/jar to get a smooth surface and put in the fridge overnight or until it sets.
Optional: Heat the finishing butter until it melts and pour over the top of the set pate to a depth of a couple of millimetres. Arrange the bay leaves on top and refrigerate for 30 mins to set.
Serve on hot buttered toast with pickled cucumbers
“But chef,” you say “shopping for all those ingredients has made me hungry right now. I cannot wait for pate to set!”
Chicken Livers on Toast
- About 6 chicken livers
- Butter, for frying
- 25ml sherry
- 75ml cream
- Bread for toasting
Season chicken livers generously with salt and pepper and saute in butter in a very hot pan until well browned on both sides but still a little pink in the middle. Deglaze the pan with the sherry. Add cream and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about five minutes to thicken. Arrange livers on hot buttered toast and drench liberally with sherry cream sauce to serve.
Goes really well with freshly blanched florets of broccoli.
Tips for Geeks
This recipe makes a fairly large portion (about a litre or so). You can make less, but I wouldn’t – I can get through a batch of this pretty damn quickly even without finding inventive things to do (like pate-ing rather than buttering the bread on a steak sandwich or enriching a beef casserole with a big chunk of pate).
Lots of butchers tend to have frozen rather than fresh chicken livers. This is absolutely fine in my experience. If you want fresh, you may have more luck at Indian or Chinese grocery shops. Failing that, larger supermarkets often have them fresh.
There are a few cuts of offal that are expensive. Calves liver, lamb sweetbreads and of course fois gras tend to run a fair bit pricier. Otherwise, offal in general tends to be very cheap. I can assure you this is NOT because they don’t taste good. I assume it’s because people haven’t learned how to cook offal, or they’re grossed out by it. Surmount those two obstacles and you will open yourself up to some fantastic stuff.
As far as ingredients go, this is a classic good things in, good things out recipe. If you want to add one or two extras like anchovy, ginger, garlic, more herbs, or spices (nutmeg, allspice, mace, white pepper), then go for it.
When I say “trim connective tissue” – I’m talking about any white or bloody-looking bits. Don’t worry about the fine, film-like membrane that encases the livers. Certainly don’t spend two hours trying to remove it from every liver cos you’re making it for the first time and you’re not sure what “connective tissue” means and the fucking cookbook doesn’t fucking explain it properly and you don’t want to screw it up cos it’s going to be a Christmas present for someone and you bought a beautiful new terrine dish specially and you’re up to your wrists in chicken blood now and cursing yourself for deciding to make this.
Deglazing is a technique to practise routinely any time the chance comes up. When you fry something, you’ll usually get a few brown crispy bits stuck to the base of the pan. Before they burn (DO NOT do this if they’re burnt black, they will make everything taste burnt), you can add a splash of liquid (maybe 1/2cm deep in the pan) and gently scrape at the base of the pan to dislodge the browned bits into the sauce and get them dissolving. You can use almost any liquid, sherry in this case, but you can use wine, stock, vinegar, the water you cooked vegetables in, or even just plain water if you have nothing else. Nothing too salty though – the intense heat of the pan will reduce the liquid down and concentrate the salt flavour.
You can also use trimmings, like the connective tissue you cut off when prepping the livers, to build flavour in your sauce. Cut them up small and brown well all over (don’t worry about overcooking). Add the sherry to deglaze, and simmer for a minute or two to infuse the liquid with their flavour, then strain them out.
I’m informed by generally reliable sources (Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, among others) of the importance of burning off the alcohol in wine, sherry etc when you cook with it, usually by flambeing it with a match or off the gas burner. However, the science seems to suggest that not that much alcohol is actually burned off by doing this (you still retain 70% of the alcohol instead of 85% of it). Also, I’ve never myself been able to taste the difference. I’ll advance only a limited claim then: the flavour, and not the alcohol content, is the point of adding wine, sherry, cognac etc. Don’t worry too much either way about burning off the alcohol.
It’s a good idea to let the livers cool before pureeing them because you don’t want residual heat to overcook the livers. In fact, it’s generally a good idea to puree things when they’re at room temperature because otherwise you can get a steam buildup in the blender.
Parsing the pureed livers through a sieve is a step that CAN be ommitted… but I don’t recommend it, as it tends to leave the pate grainy. If you want it to be velvety-smooth (and I do, I really really do) then take a metal sieve, set it over a cold saucepan of approximately the same diameter, and force the pate through with a plastic scraper or the back/edge of a metal spoon. There will be a small amount left over that won’t go through the sieve – discard this.
The layer of finishing butter on top was traditionally added as a barrier against spoilage. Air can’t penetrate the set butter, so the pate will keep longer. I tend to only do this for presentation (ie: for other people).
Also for presentation – if you want to serve the pate turned out on a plate instead of in the dish, then you might do well to cover the inside of your mould with oiled clingfilm. It’s also difficult, though not impossible, to get perfectly neat slices out of the dish. The first slice at least is invariably a writeoff, and the rest a crapshoot. The main issue is with the pate sticking to the bottom of the dish (you can run a knife round the sides to free it) – so you could just line the base with greaseproof paper. Or, don’t worry about it and just embrace its slightly rustic nature.
If you aren’t too pushed for time but fancy the livers on toast anyway, then think about sweating down a diced onion in butter and adding it to the sauce.
- Felicity Cloake: How To Make Perfect Chicken Liver Pate
- Smoke and Thyme: Pickles (and Tips for Geeks)