Happy New Decade, Now Pass the Pâté

Rustic Chicken Liver Pâ

Well hello, and happy new year. Or happy new decade, actually. Has it sunk in for you yet? It hasn’t for me, that’s for sure. I just can’t figure out where the last one escaped to. I remember my stepdad telling me when I was young that the older I got, the quicker time would seem to pass. Isn’t that the truth! Every time I think about that it kind of scares me, since I’m not that old, yet the years already seem to be flying by faster than I can keep track of them. But ready or not, here we are in the tens, or teens, or whatever they’re going to end up being called, and despite the fact that I don’t know where the past decade went, there is something undeniably exciting about facing the totally clean slate of a new one and contemplating its endless possibilities.

And particularly so, since many of those possibilities are meals! By my count, at three meals per day minus a few weekend days when breakfast happens too late to fit in lunch, there are about 10,400 meals to look forward to in the next ten years. That’s a lot of food, but quantity alone doesn’t even begin to tell the story. How many of those ten thousand meals will involve the discovery of a new favorite dish? How many will happen in a favorite new restaurant? How many will involve deciphering the menu in an unfamiliar language on unfamiliar shores? How many will be shared with people who haven’t yet come into our lives? How many will be eaten in bed, scattering crumbs into all the crevices of the sheets, and how many will happen on a blanket in the grass, the hot sun glinting off glasses filled with warm champagne?

Hopefully many, and then some.

While I may not know the specifics, I do know is that regardless of where, how and with whom these meals take place, I’m planning on enjoying them all to the fullest. Maybe not three-course affairs every time, but meals that are as memorable, meaningful and delicious as I can make them. And on the topic of delicious, I’m also planning to make sure that quite a few of them include chicken liver pâté. Though not just any chicken liver pâté, mind you, this chicken liver pâté. I made it as an appetizer for the Italian-themed meal we hosted on Christmas and honestly, words can’t describe how much we loved it. Creamy, meaty and complex, it needs no mustard, pickles, or compote-of-this-and-that to come into its own – its subtle sweetness and hint of tang balance the richness from within. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say it’s in the top two or three pâté/terrine/mousse-type things I’ve ever eaten, including those made with truffles, foie gras and other regrettably expensive luxuries. It was so good we ended up rationing the leftovers, all but marking the level on the side of the dish to discourage midnight nibblers from secretly depleting the stash. When we ran out, I made a second batch, and I’m already contemplating a third.

Now, I know this doesn’t fall under most people’s idea of ‘January food’, what with the post-holiday scale nudging alarmingly upward, but the way I see it is that it’s important to set the tone for the new decade. In other words, leave the dieting for later. As of today, we have 10,340 or so meals left to work with before this decade comes to a close, and I, for one, am already plotting how many of them might be improved with a generous slab of pâté.

Rustic Chicken Liver Pâ

I have Portland chef Tommy Habetz to thank for this recipe, though I do have one bone to pick with him about it. He calls it a ‘mousse’, which in my book it most certainly is not – that is, unless you’d also consider liverwurst a mousse. Whatever you call it, though, it’s incredibly delicious, and though it boasts a few more ingredients than your average liver pâté, none of the flavors are superfluous. In fact, I found the recipe so perfect that the only change I made was to substitute Madeira for the sweet vermouth, since that’s what I had on hand. I imagine Port would also be delicious, or you could try your favorite sweet fortified wine. The only other change I might make next time is to skip the marination step for the livers, and just add the brandy, bay leaves and extra garlic to the pan as they cook. Since everything ends up blended anyway, I can’t see this making much of a difference.
Serves: 8-10 as an hors d’oeuvre
Source: Adapted from Tommy Habetz in Food and Wine

1 pound (450g) chicken livers
1/4 cup (60ml) brandy
2 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, 2 crushed, 2 thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, minced
4 ounces (100g) thinly sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
1 anchovy filet, chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup (125ml) madeira, sweet vermouth or port
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 teaspoon chopped sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons (60g) unsalted butter, to seal (optional)

In a medium bowl, toss the chicken livers with the brandy, bay leaves and crushed garlic; let marinate at room temperature for 2 hours or refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Drain the livers and pat dry; discard the bay leaves and garlic.

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion, pancetta, anchovy and sliced garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the onion and garlic are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the chicken livers. Add the vinegar and cook until nearly evaporated. Add the madeira, vermouth or port and cook until nearly evaporated and the livers are just pink within, about 3 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a food processor; let cool slightly.

Add the cream, thyme and sage to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the cream is reduced to 1/2 cup (125ml), about 8 minutes. Pour into the food processor and puree. Press the mixture through a fine sieve set over a large bowl, working through as much of it as you can. Season with salt and pepper (don’t be shy with the salt; it should taste very well-seasoned – test a little on bread if you’re not sure). Scrape the sieved mixture into a terrine or other serving dish (at least 2-cup/500ml capacity). Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and pour over the top of the pâté to seal (for decoration, top with a bay leaf before pouring on the butter). Refrigerate until chilled and firm. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices.