Creamy French-Style Pâté

It’s time to get serious.  For the most part, I’ve been keeping things light and breezy with salads and pancakes and roasted vegetables.  From time to time, I’ve increased the intensity a bit with a little heat, a crema, a braise, and a fruit soup.  But now it’s time for offal, those ill-used animal parts, at least in the United States, that often stand as underlings in the shadow of their brawny kin: the chicken breast, the filet mignon, the pork tenderloin.  Yes, I’m talking about brain, kidney, feet, tongue, tripe (stomach lining), sweetbreads (thymus glands), and liver.  Some people call these “variety meats,” but I’m not one for euphemisms.   Still with me?  Good, because you are about to cross the threshold of head-to-tail eating via an affable pâté of chicken liver, the gateway offal.  And in doing so, your palate will smirk all the while, knowing your mind has finally caught up to it.

At the outset, I invite you to think of liver as uranium, not for its weaponry-making capacity, but for its density.  Take beloved kale.  And then think of folate, which obstetricians and Daisy Funetes love to tell pregnant women to gorge on to prevent neurological defects in their babies.  Leafy greens, they preach.  But it would take 47 cups of cooked kale to get the same amount folate in a cup of liver.  The same amount has more than 400 percent of the suggested daily intake of vitamin B12, which protects fertility and neurological health.  In fact, some surmise that the pâté, sauteed calves’ liver, and sweetbreads so customary in classic Gallic fare explains the French Paradox—eat volumes of saturated fat, get less heart disease—because B12 moderates homocysteine. (1)  You would have to eat an infinite amount of carrots (the body can only absorb B12 from animal sources) or four cups of flank steak to get the same amount.  No wonder traditional foraging cultures left muscle meat for other animals to eat and kept the organs and fat when hunting was plentiful.  And my beloved chicken liver has nearly seven times as much vitamin C as an apple.  It accounts for nearly all the daily recommended intake of iron (which is why liver is an excellent first food, given that breastfed babies can become anemic between six and 12 months) and has a boatload of phosphorus, copper, vitamin B2, and B6.  All of this in just a generous handful of liver.

While nutrition may compel you to eat liver straight-up when you otherwise wouldn’t, pâté needs no such justification.  While I love to eat liver unadorned,  I can understand why some people are turned off: the texture (typically overcooked), the flavor (a hint of sulfur), its best-known function (processing toxins, but it also stores most of the nutrients absorbed from food).  (Over time, I hope to subvert these notions—liver straight-up is nothing short of exquisite when prepared thoughtfully.)  But with this elegant pâté, which ushers us into the season of brisk breezes and crisp leaves, these concerns are absent.  It’s velvety and gently suffused with autumnal spices.  Butter and cream confer a welcome richness, and it is an unexpected dusty rose in color.  Plus, you can add a little party to your pâté with a whisper of booze.  Even better, it couldn’t be simpler to make ahead.

So don’t be lily-livered.  Eat up.

(1) See, e.g., Kilmer McCully, as cited in Nina Planck, Real Food: What to Eat and Why, page 265 (Bloomsbury 2006).

Creamy French-Style Pâté
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe

Note that because one of the liver’s functions is to process toxins, it’s essential to buy organic to avoid residual chemicals from the chickens’ feed and also to buy from pasture-raised chickens, who feed on grass and insects and, consequently, get many more nutrients than the standard diet of corn and soy provide.  You know you’ve found liver from a pasture-raised bird when it’s a little scarlet jewel; organic and non-organic livers are respectively lighter shades.  To find pasture-raised chicken livers, contact a farmer who raises pasture-raised chickens.  (Surprise!)  Start by looking to farmers markets, Local Harvest, or the local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

10 to 15 peppercorns
2 allspice berries
1 clove
4 coriander seeds
1/2 cup butter, preferably raw and organic
1 onion, chopped
1 pound chicken livers, preferably pasture-raised, rinsed and patted dry
Unrefined sea salt
1/3 cup cream or crème fraîche, preferably raw and organic
1 to 2 tablespoons brandy or cognac (optional; great for parties)

Yield: starter for a group of eight to 10

C O O K .

  • Grind spices. In a spice grinder or suribachi, combine and finely grind the spices.  Set aside.
  • Cook the onion and liver. Heat a skillet to medium-high heat.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter, add onion and cook until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add livers to pan and dust with salt.  Turn livers when they begin to brown, about 2 minutes, then flip . Be sure to keep heat relatively high so that the outside of livers sears and inside stays pink, about 2 minutes more.
  • Blend or mash. Put onion, livers, and pan juices into a food processor or blender with remaining butter, the cream, spices and, if using, brandy. Purée until smooth.  Or mash the solid ingredients together while still warm and press through a fine sieve, then add the remaining ingredients.  Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Mold. Put pâté in a terrine or bowl, smooth top and put in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours or until no longer soupy and fully set.

E A T  A N D  D R I N K . Add it to the standard cheese and charcuterie plate.  Eat with bread or crackers and sip an off-dry Riesling or a demi-sec Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.

V A R Y .

  • Hello, Normandy. Omit all but 1 tablespoon of the onion.  Add one apple, peeled, cored, and diced in 1/4″ cubes.  Replace all spices with generous pinch of freshly ground allspice.  Substitute Calvados for the brandy.
  • Fresh herbs. Omit the spices and and finely mince a few sprigs of fresh herbs, such as sage, rosemary, and thyme.  Add a clove of minced garlic.  Substitute white wine for the brandy.

L I T T L E  E A T S . Elinor loves liver and has a little bit of the nutritional juggernaut every night for dinner.  It’s particularly easy for little people to digest because of its minimal connective tissue.  And even if she gets only a few pieces of it in her mouth, I’m happy that she’ll benefit, given its nutrient density.  Pâté is easy to eat even for the youngest of eaters.  However, it’s rich, so you might omit the spices, and, of course, the alcohol.

Text and photo © Blue Egg Kitchen 2010

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  • Alana - Kudos to you for tackling a not so popular but vital food!!! I grew up having liver and onions, but have never made a pate-something new to try! Your writing is witty, interesting and filled with bits of humor!!! Keep posting-I look forward to your next one!September 25, 2010 – 9:33 amReplyCancel

  • Apres Fete - Your case for liver is both impressive and convincing (witty too!). I agree that a pate is the perfect introduction to this mild offal. Plenty of butter and cream is key. My boyfriend doesn’t like the texture of pates or mousses, so I look forward to more liver posts as I hope to entice him with variations. I love your balance of ‘intensity'; we all need pancakes and greens, but are also grateful when you challenge our palates and techniques.September 27, 2010 – 8:55 pmReplyCancel

  • Big Papa - chicken liver is certainly a gateway… I would compare it to street crack found in the allies of San Francisco itself. Nevertheless, the gate it opens culminates in the disintegrating nirvana known as goose liver…
    ps- i also have a recipe for tripe stew/gulash…but you need hungarian paprika- and not the stuff oozing into the danube as this is written.October 12, 2010 – 8:07 pmReplyCancel

    • Erin - Big Papa, bring the tripe recipe; I can find the Hungarian paprika. I’m still lusting over that goulash your mom made in T.O. in 2000. Can you send that recipe too?October 12, 2010 – 8:11 pmReplyCancel

  • Sarah - As I type this I am eating some chicken liver pate that I bought (I was enjoying it so much I thought I should learn how to make it) and my boyfriend and I were delighted to learn how good the liver is for us :POctober 2, 2011 – 1:38 amReplyCancel

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