When I decided on a career in food, I was fortunate enough to work full time in a French restaurant at night while attending culinary school during the day. In school, I learned how to do it right; in the restaurant, I learned how to do it in the real world.
The chef, a man with absolutely no personal skills whatsoever, was classically trained, completely focused on what he was doing, and had the most amazing ability to pair one food with another. From him, I learned this classic French recipe for Chicken Liver Pate.
1/2 large onion, peeled, chopped fine 1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1Tbs cubes
4 Tbs canola oil 1 Tsp garlic, minced fine
2 pounds chicken livers, cleaned, rinsed well
3 medium, Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, in small dice
1/2 C Cognac
1 C chicken stock
Mise en place…things in place. Doing all your prep work, getting all your equipment ready in advance, is absolutely essential. You’ll need a good size skillet, 10″-12″ at least, your food processor ready, and containers for the finished product. The classic pate mold has sides that come apart easily, but you can use just about any size and shape container. Keep in mind this recipe will make just about 3 pounds of pate, so plan accordingly. (if you’re thinking about giving pate as a gift, think mini-loaf pans for your containers.)
Prepare your mold by lining with plastic wrap. Make sure you leave enough wrap overhanging the edges to fold over the top, completely covering it with wrap when your done. Also, take the time to smooth as many wrinkles as you can out of the wrap…the fewer wrinkles in the wrap, the smoother the surface of the end product, the more oooooo’s and ahhhhhhhh’s you’ll receive.
The chicken livers must be thoroughly cleaned. Place them in a colander and give then a good rinse. Remove every bit of fiber and fat that you can find. Place the cleaned livers in a bowl under a slow steady stream of cool water. Every few minutes, drain the water out and repeat. You want to get to the point where the water runs clear.
Get a large saute pan, nonstick preferably. Get it ripping hot…as in place it on high heat and don’t touch it for 2 minutes. Add your canola oil, swirl to coat the pan evenly. Add your livers (it will splash a bit) and cook until you get a uniform color with no signs of red. This will take only a few minutes, but don’t rush it. Add your onions and garlic, stir, then add your apples. Stir to combine. Add cognac, touch a match to it…carefully. [It will flame up–high. Don’t lean over the pan, don’t let the kids help with this step. The flame is blue to invisible but VERY hot. You have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, right? ]
Add your chicken stock and use a spatula to scrape the bottom to deglaze the pan (when you deglaze in this fashion, you use the liquid to free all of the burned-on matter on the bottom of the pan – what the French call “fond”. Fond is loaded with flavor and you want it fully incorporated into your dish).
Season with salt and pepper at this point. Continue cooking until almost, but not quite all, the liquid is gone.
Spoon out about 1/3 of the mix into a bowl, add the rest to your food processor. Turn it on and add knobs of butter to the mix…you want to be efficient here, adding more butter when you can’t see the last one any more – a process the French call “mounting”. Adjust your seasoning as necessary. When done, turn out the puree into a bowl and fold in the rest of the chicken livers. Place into your prepared molds, cover completely with the wrap and put in your refridgerator to solidify. I usually do this recipe at least a day in advance.
To serve: If you have a French mold, unhinge it, remove the wrap and carefully turn onto a serving platter. The traditional garnish would be hard boiled eggs, separated, the whites and then the yolks grated and placed around the edge of the pate. This is accented with cornichon…wickied little pickles.
If you have a lot of wrinkles in your pate, try this: using a table knife or the spatula you use to frost a cake, dip it in very hot water and run it over the surface. Repeat until you get it smooth. Cool, huh?
Serve with fancy crackers (no Ritz here, ok?), toasted bread rounds…make it nice. This is a special dish – let your service of it reflect that. If you have leftovers, simply wrap tightly in plastic wrap and put it back in the refrigerator.
Just make me one promise: you won’t eat this with a spoon. OK?