Throwback Thursday: Liver pâté
Whether a rustic chicken liver pâté or refined into a satiny pâté de foie gras made of goose liver, or a chopped liver pâté in the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, a liver pâté is a fine example of a prized dish made from cheap offal.
Most of us tend to think of French cuisine when talking about a pâté – the fine pâtés and terrines sold in perfect slices in Parisian charcuteries and in food halls such as Harrods and Selfridges in London, where expert staff are trained to present it with impeccable finesse. And they are, in this sense, as French as the Eiffel Tower itself, although much older.
Pâté has its roots in Mediaeval times, and in the countryside of northern and eastern Europe, from France and Poland to Germany and further afield. It evolved as a way to use parts of the animal that might otherwise have been wasted, and it became sought-after and refined over time and ultimately a staple of French cuisine.
But it is not confined to France. In Croatia, leber pašteta is made of liver, dried bacon, onions, boiled eggs, mustard and lard. In Norway, Sweden and Denmark, liver pâté called (variations of) leverpostej is made from pork liver, with lard, as well as onion, flour and egg, and is baked in the oven. French terrines are also oven-baked, in a bain marie for gentle cooking. In Spain, morteruelo is made from pork liver and other meats such as game birds and wild hare.
In Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, chopped hard-boiled eggs are added to the livers along with plenty of onion and chicken schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), and finely chopped hard-boiled eggs are sprinkled on as a garnish once it’s been set in the fridge. There is usually no cream in chopped liver pâté, hence the eggs. This is the “chopped liver” that is widely talked about in American culture.
Chopped liver pâté is in fact the kind of chicken liver pâté that has long been favoured in my own household, despite us not being Jewish. A recipe came to The Foodie’s Wife from a colleague some decades ago and it became a favourite. It is made with chopped eggs before it is blended, with no cream used.
I however have taken to using cream and butter rather than eggs when I make a chicken liver pâté, being the indulgent cook that I am, so today’s recipe is more from the French tradition. It’s a simple, unfussy pâté, however, and not from the high end of the French pâté tradition. (A third alternative to a pâté or terrine is a mousse, which is a more refined version.)
An alcohol such as sherry or brandy is often used in a pâté. I used brandy.
This is one to whip up for friends; just allow enough time for it to cook and set in the fridge.
(Makes 3 ramekins)
100 g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
500 g chicken livers
Brandy (you be the judge)
200 ml cream
A couple of gratings of nutmeg (optional)
½ tsp mustard (optional)
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Additional melted butter for topping the pâté in ramekins (optional)
Clean the livers by cutting away the connective tissue and discarding it. Here’s more on cleaning livers.
Melt the butter in a pan with the garlic and simmer gently until softened but not coloured.
Add the livers and cook them, moving them about and turning them over with a wooden spoon, until they are cooked nearly through but a bit pink in the middle.
Add the brandy and deglaze on a high heat. Or, if you’re feeling brave, put a flame to the brandy as soon as you add it, but be careful that you don’t burn yourself or anything while it is flaming.
Add the cream, bring it to a simmer, then stir in the mustard and add the nutmeg if using. Season with salt and black pepper. Simmer for a few minutes for the liquids to dissipate somewhat.
Turn off the heat and leave to cool.
Blend in a food processor or with a handheld blender. Spoon into ramekins. If you intend to keep them for later use, you can melt a little more butter and pour it on top. Refrigerate until set. DM
Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.
Served on an elegant black platter by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.