Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bourbon Chicken Liver Pate

A year or two ago, the host of one of our ethnic dinners chose French cooking as a theme and assigned me a liver pate recipe. I'd never given much thought to how pate is made and certainly never thought it would be so easy! Now, it's become my favorite default recipe when I have leftover fresh herbs, onions, shallots, garlic, or whatever. Just add an inexpensive pound of chicken livers and you have an economical and sharp looking gift or appetizer for a party or dinner.

I'm not kidding when I say, it's *so* simple! Here's the base recipe (from Gourmet Entertains and available on and as you make it a few times, you'll learn where it's more forgiving and where you can experiment some. It takes 30-45 minutes and you'll need a food processor and ramekins or crocks. This recipe makes between 2 and 3 cups of finished pate and should be made 1-2 days ahead if possible to allow the flavors to meld.

Bourbon Chicken Liver Pate

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cups) unsalted butter. (Make this 2 sticks)
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp minced fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
1 tsp minced fresh marjoram or 1/4 tsp dried
1 tsp minced fresh sage or 1/4 tsp dried
(whether you use fresh or dried, use a generous tsp or 1/4 tsp)
3/4 tsp salt (I used fumee de sel -- oak smoked chardonnay salt)
1/4 tsp black pepper (I didn't measure, just ground the pepper mill over it)
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 lb chicken livers, trimmed (available at Marsh by the fresh chicken in a tub of slightly over a pound)
2 tbsp Bourbon (I use 3 for a little additional moisture.)

1) Melt a stick of butter in a big skillet or heavy bottomed pan on the stove. Use medium low heat. Then add your onions and garlic. Yesterday, I used four shallots instead of the onion and they were great! Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

2) In the meantime, rinse your livers. Drain the chicken juice (this is the nastiest part) and rinse them under cold water. I don't usually do any trimming but if something looks stringy or weird, just trim it off. Once your chicken livers have drained, add them to the onion and butter in your pan. Also, add the fresh or dried herbs, fresh ground pepper, salt, and allspice. (I had some fresh sage and thyme in the fridge on its last leg and used dried marjoram. You can have fun with other fresh herbs or try going heavy on the sage or black pepper. And don't leave out the allspice -- it's amazing what a difference it makes with the liver. You can also try various salts here. I used fumee de sel, a smoked salt, and it was very good! Feel free to add salt to your own taste.

3) Saute the chicken livers, herbs, and spices over med to med-low heat until they're cooked on the outside and still pink in the middle. (The color will change from deep red to a light brown and the insides will still be pink.) This takes between 5 and 10 minutes. Stir from time to time to keep them cooking evenly.

4) When the livers are done, then add the Bourbon, stir it through, and take the pan off the heat. If you haven't already set up your food processor, now is the time to do it. Use the chopping blade.

5) If you have a full-sized food processor, you can most likely put the entire batch in the bowl at one time. If you've used a fairly low heat, and let it cool for just a minute, then the mixture won't be too hot to handle. Process for 10-15 seconds, then scrape down the sides and continue to process until the mixture is smooth. I process for 30-45 seconds total.

6) Set out your ramekins, crocks, or jars. (I just put a batch in a small bale jar and two small Apilco ramekins.) Spoon the mixture in, then smooth the tops. (I use a cracker -- drag it around the top and it creates a nice flat finish.) If you have fresh herbs, take a leaf (say, like sage) and press it into the top as a garnish. Wipe the sides and edges of the dish with a clean, damp towel. Cover with plastic wrap.

7) Melt the remaining butter (you'll probably need the entire stick) in a small sauce pan over med to med-low heat. Once the butter is melted, set the pan off the stove for a few minutes to let the solids settle. Take a spoon and skim the foam off the top. (Get as much as you can.) Then carefully, spoon the clear butter from the pan to the tops of the ramekins/crocks/jars. (I have a small pan I use only for melting butter than has a pour spout that really helps with this sort of thing.) Try to avoid getting any foam specks in there. I'm not a total pro at this and I balance time versus skill. Cover the entire top of the pate and your garnish -- this butter acts as your seal. And guess what, if you don't clarify your butter? Don't worry about it. Unclarified, melted butter works just as well.

Carefully put the dishes with the butter in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Once it's solid, then cover the ramekins and crocks with plastic wrap. (I love Glad's Press and Seal for this.) The pate will keep sealed for about 2 weeks in the fridge. To serve, remove the butter top and serve with warm baguettes or crackers.

And it's perfect for the random existential crisis. I came home last night from drinks with friend, broke out a crock, a baguette, and a jar of cornichon and ate in front of the television while watching re-runs of Sex in the City. I don't know if it's sadder that I was watching the re-cut and dubbed show on cable or that I actually had cornichons and a fresh baguette on hand.

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