Friday, December 28, 2007

Two Appetizers for New Year's Eve: Apple-Thyme Chicken Liver Mousse and Pistachio-Chicken Liver Pâté

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, however you celebrate (or not). I had a fun, relaxing Christmas full of great presents and amazing food. I know I'm incredibly lucky, and now there's even more to look forward to with New Year's coming up. My school's football team, the Boston College Eagles, plays their bowl game tonight, and we're celebrating by trying out a recipe from one of the new cookbooks I got for Christmas. I'm trying to get some work done before another weekend starts, and I have so many recipes I want to post on this blog! I will start with two you may want to make this weekend.

If you are looking for elegant New Year’s Eve appetizers, I’m sending chicken livers to your rescue. If you are already gung-ho over nose-to-tail eating, this is child’s play. If you’re not so sure about chicken livers, consider this: they are so cheap and easy to prepare that you won’t be taking a big risk if you don’t like them. If you’re worried about squeamish friends and family, just call these dishes “country pâtés” and hope they are too embarrassed to ask you to explain exactly what’s in it. After the first bite, they won’t care anymore.

I may have tried pâté a couple times over the years, but I never had any interest in it until Mike and I had the chicken liver toasts at Michael’s Genuine, a restaurant in Miami that has become our new favorite place. If you’ve had foie gras, that’s the closest reference point I can think of for chicken liver. Unlike the geese raised for foie gras however, the chickens don’t get any special treatment, which explains why you can buy a pound of all-natural, hormone-free chicken livers at Whole Foods for about $2.37.

When cooked until just a bit pink inside and whizzed up into a pâté or mousse, the flavor of the livers is densely meaty, like an ultra-concentrated stock. If you make the mousse, you’ll get an airy, spreadable texture, not unlike chocolate mousse. The cold, creamy quality of the whipping cream that is usually associated with sweetness is equally complimentary to the savory flavor of the livers. The thick pâté is better suited to slicing, and you can enjoy the color of the pistachios that way.

We scaled down these recipes and made them at the same time, Mike standing over a skillet of steaming apple chunks, and me sautéing shallots on another burner. Since we never made either a chicken liver mousse or pâté before, it was fun to compare the methods (very similar until the end) and the finished products (totally different, yet complementary). I’m not sure which one I like better, but these recipes have a permanent home with us. Another fancy (and vegetarian) New Year’s Eve favorite is my gruyère gougères, the best cheese puffs ever, especially if you’re drinking Champagne!

Mike's chicken livers cooking with apples and onions for the mousse.

My chicken livers cooking with caramelized shallots and sherry for the pâté.

Chicken Liver-Pistachio Pâté
Adapted from this recipe in Food and Wine magazine, December 2007
This will keep in refrigerator for two weeks. Serve on toasted baguette or ciabatta bread. F & W also suggested stuffing a bit of pâté into brandy-poached prunes--yum!

Makes about 1 1/4 cups. Recipe may be doubled.

4 tbs. unsalted butter, softened (divided use)
1 large shallot, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 lb. chicken livers, rinsed and trimmed of any fat (there won't be much)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry sherry or marsala
2 tbs. chicken broth
1/3 cup plus 1 tbs. salted roasted pistachios, chopped (divided use)
1 tbs. chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbs. unsalted butter, melted

Add 1 tbs. of the softened butter to a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes. Raise heat to medium, add chicken livers, season with salt and pepper, and cook, turning once or twice until firm, about 4 minutes. Add the sherry and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and continue cooking, turning livers a few times, until they are light pink in the center, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer 2 chicken livers to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, chop the 2 livers into tiny pieces, about the size of the chopped pistachios. Set aside.

Transfer the contents of the skillet to a blender or food processor and puree. With the machine running, add the remaining 3 tbs. of softened butter, one tablespoon at a time and blend until completely incorporated. Transfer the puree to a bowl and fold in the reserved chopped livers, 1/3 cup chopped pistachios, the parsley and the thyme. Season with salt and pepper, tasting as you go. Transfer the pâté to a ramekin, mason jar or other serving vessel, smoothing the surface as much as possible. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours.

Pour the melted butter evenly over the surface of the pâté , then sprinkle with the remaining tbs. of chopped pistachios. Cover and refrigerate until butter is firm, or for up to 2 weeks. Served chilled or at room temperature.

Apple-Thyme Chicken Liver Mousse
Adapted from this recipe on, courtesy of Alton Brown

Makes about 2 cups. Recipe may be doubled.

1 tbs. unsalted butter
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped tart apple
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 pound chicken livers, rinsed and trimmed of fat (there won't be much)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tbs. brandy
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter and cook the onion and apple, covered, until apples soften. Remove lid, increase heat to medium, add the livers, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until firm and still pink inside, turning several times, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, about 10 minutes.

Add the contents of the skillet to a food processor along with the brandy and thyme, and puree until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl, cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, whip the heavy cream to medium peaks. Adding about a quarter of the whipped cream at a time to the liver puree, gently fold the cream into the liver. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper. Serve chilled.


Peabody said...

I'm not huge on liver pate but I will eat it. Though I am not an organ meat person in general. I will always try it but there have only been a handful of times I liked it. I can say though I really like the idea of the apple-thyme mousse.

Emiline said...

Oh la la. Sounds very rustic French. If only I could get my family to try it.

Julie said...

Peabody--I know; I never liked it until I had it at this particular restaurant in Miami. Then it was like, wow, this stuff might be amazing.
Emiline--I totally advocate lying to your family in order to broaden their culinary horizons.