I had my very first try of pâté when I was a teenager. A friend of mine at the time used to invite me to Symphony and Opera in the Park with her family. They would unpack the food and there was always pate and water crackers and I would experiment with this unusual spread that I had never eaten before. My parents weren't big offal eaters at all, in fact I don't recall a single offal dish ever gracing our table ever. The first time I tasted it I tasted the strong livery taste as well as that of brandy which was another item that never saw the light our table. I was intrigued but I liked it.
Every year that we went it always rained and we'd sit on the soggy ground underneath raincoats contemplating when was _too _wet so that we could leave or whether it would stop altogether (it never did).We'd never see the end of the operatic performance and instead her frazzled mum would bundle us all into the back of her VW beetle with our legs slick with rain and sandpapery grains of dirt and grass and drive home. I never really paid much attention to what was happening on the screen as we never saw the ending. It was all about the pâté and the food.
A picnic friendly version with a lid
That friendship went in the way of the black hole but after many Operas in the Park liver pate is one of my favourite ways to eat offal. I had no idea it was so easy to make and a quick glance at the A Cook's Guide by Donna Hay showed me how easy it actually was. I wanted to make this for another outdoor event, a picnic, to create some newer memories from those hazy ones from decades ago.
It was almost too easy to make pate but there are a few tips I should share. Chicken livers need to be bought fresh so buy them as close to when you are going to make them. I bought mine the day before (and they were a steal at $1.60 for the whole lot). You also need to trim the livers of the white connective tissue and the bloodlines and any darker patches that can make it bitter-you can see that I went a bit overboard but I wasn't sure how far to trim.
Once trimmed the whole process is very quick and involves light pan frying with onion, garlic and butter finished off with brandy. Everything is then placed in a food processor and then whizzed about with cubes of butter and cream (sorry, yes that's the not so healthy bit) and then strained for a smooth pate. You can top it with clarified butter to seal the pate and it can keep for 5 days. I was delighted when the whole thing looked as though it was coming together. I tasted it after I whizzed it around and the livery taste was there but it was missing something. Oh that's right, seasoning! I added some salt and pepper and it came alive. The pâté was utterly divine and tasted just like the fresh stuff that you buy in the shops.
I do find that the most modest amount of sweetness does help pate along a bit (not that it needs it really) and so I served it with a date and walnut baguette from Sonoma although trickily this is only available from Pyrmont Grower's Market on the first week of every month. But any crusty fruit bread would go well with it. Or for the low carbers, it's also quite good spread on a thin slice of crisp Beurre Bosc pear.
So tell me Dear Reader, are you a fan of offal dishes such as pate? Do you have an offal that you particularly like or dislike? I love eating brains, sweetbread and liver but kidneys and tripe are not my friend!
Chicken Liver Pâté
Adapted from A Cook's Guide by Donna Hay
Makes approximately two cups of pâté
1.5 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 small onion, diced
350g/12 ozs chicken livers
1/4 cup (60ml) brandy
125g cold butter, extra, chopped
1/4 cup (60ml) cream
salt and black pepper
80g (3 ozs) butter
Bread and cornichons to serve
Buyer's tip: buy chicken livers as fresh as possible. They should be glossy and moist and avoid using the dark patches(you can trim them off). Buy these at a chicken speciality store.
Step 1 - Firstly trim the livers. Pull off the connective tissue and any blood lines as these will cause bitterness. You can see I made a bit of a mess of these but the whole thing gets blended up in the end.
Step 2 - Heat a saucepan on medium heat and add the butter to the pain. Saute the onions and garlic for 2-3 minutes until softened. Add the trimmed livers and cook for 2-3 minutes. The inside of the livers should still be pink. Add the brandy and cook for 1 minute.
Step 3 - Place this mixture into the bowl of a food processor with extra cold butter cubes and cream and process until very smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. It should really come together once you add the seasoning.
Sieving the pâté
Step 4 - Press the mixture through a fine sieve. Pour into sterilised jars or containers. I then just put this in the fridge to set a little while I clarified the butter. I didn't throw out the leftover bits in the sieve as they were quite fine and I put them on a sandwich for Mr NQN.
5. Clarified butter is just butter with the milk solids removed (the white milky part that sits at the bottom of melted butter). To clarify the butter, heat it gently over a very low heat without stirring. Remove from heat and allow to stand - as the butter cools the milk solids will separate to the bottom and the liquidy sunshine yellow clarified butter will sit at the top. Spoon this carefully onto the top of the pate to seal it and refrigerate for 2 hours until set.
Copper pot by Mauviel