Chicken livers. How can something so good be reviled by so many people? I am convinced that when someone doesn’t like a particular ingredient or dish, it’s just because they have never had it done well. So many chicken livers come out overcooked, grainy, grey, and dry. They really can be gross. If done well, however, they can be amazing.
The best chicken liver I have ever had was at the The Spotted Pig in NY. The livers came out charred and crisp on the outside, but meltingly creamy and foie gras-like on the inside. They were more decadent than I thought humble chicken livers could ever be. The Bordeaux reduction sauce pooling around them may have had something to do with it, but the livers themselves were simply spectacular.
This chicken liver experience, combined with the fact that I love them love them on any regular day, made me crave it with a pang. I took the first opportunity to make chicken liver pate, following a recipe out of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Kitchen.
Here’s the thing about Jamie Oliver. He is all about the Naked Chef thing – simple food, un-fussed with ingredients, simple processes, great results. Turns out that translates into imprecise directions, and weird quantities like “a small bunch” of thyme, a glass full of brandy, and an onion. What do you mean, onion? Large? Small? Jumbo? Come on! I follow protocols. I need precise instructions. There is no “bunch” in my vocabulary. There are strict volumes and weights. I had total irritation.
He also makes everything sounds easy breezy – bang it in there, slap on some of this, bake off for a minute. Whatev. He uses hard core French techniques just like every other big important chef. The recipe called for the prepared pate to be passed through a sieve twice to make it smooth. After spending 20 minutes huffing and puffing over the first sieve pass, I said no more. It was smooth enough for my peasant tastes.
I quit with the sieving I portioned out the pate into eight ramekins, topped with a fried sage leaf, and sealed the top with clarified butter, to prevent gross dried out pate from peaking through the top. As you may be able to tell from the pictures, I didn’t do so well with that part.
I did do very well with the pate consumption, however. I think I ate my body weight in chicken liver pate that evening. Breaking through the clarified butter top to reach the silky pate was deeply satisfying. The pate was not too rich, with a subtle liver flavor. I had hoped for more of the brandy and thyme to come through, but without precise measurements (I am going to blame the directions, not the execution) I think I was slightly off and did not add enough of either.
While the recipe is neither precise nor terribly straight forward, it is still worth a try. I know I will be making it again very soon.
The menu below was adapted from the original. I took out all the annoying “get yourself a frying pan” bits, and made it as precise as I could, while adding in a few of my own modifications. Stop thinking about liver as liver and think iof it as something wonderful. There. That's my last plug for chicken liver.
Chicken Liver Pate
Serves 6 (though I would say 4, depending on the size of your ramekins/serving dishes)
1 ¾ cups softened butter
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1lb chicken livers, trimmed
1 sm bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked ad chopped
1 lg wineglass of brandy
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a few sage leaves
Melt 11 tablespoons of butter over very low heat. Pour off the yellow butter (or ghee), leaving behind the white milky solids. Set aside.
Fry onion and garlic in olive oil over medium low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent. Remove the onion to a bowl, wipe out the pan, turn up the heat to med high, and add more olive oil.
Add chicken livers and thyme (I really should have dried the livers thoroughly before dropping them in the pan. I didn’t, and they steamed instead of frying. Oops). Cook the livers in one layer until they are colored, but still pink in the middle. This is the absolute key – overcooked livers are tough, grainy and chewy. Don’t overcook! I kept poking mine with a knife to see what they look like inside. You don’t want them to be bloody, but never grey.
Pour in the brandy and cook off the alcohol. You can simply wait for the alcohol to burn off, or decide to be a badass and set the pan on fire with a lighter. That was a fun column of flames all the way to the ceiling, tell you what.
Sautee livers with brandy for a minute. Take off the heat and add to a food processor with the onions and garlic. I left all the liquid behind in the pan so as not to thin out the pate.
Puree until smooth, then add the rest of the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Divide into ramekins.
Push through a sieve – once if you’re sane, twice if you’re bored.
Fry sage leaves in olive oil and drain on a paper towel. Place leaves over the pate in whatever artistic fashion strikes your fancy. Pour clarified butter over the top to seal. Let cool in fridge for at least an hour.
Serve with toasted bread and good red wine.