Pâte de foie de poulet avec Cognac
(Pureed Chicken Livers with Cognac)
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. It's a fancy name for chopped
chicken liver. This recipe aims to move steadfast slaves to convention
into the ranks of the open minded. This recipe begins with the
simplicity of a humble holiday hors d'oeuvre, and becomes an
avant-garde creation the limitations of which are equivalent only to
those of the chef's imagination.
The goal is to get people to eat chopped liver (in this case a
creation more like a pâte than a traditional mincemeat; it's
smoother and slightly more elegant). The problem is that my humble,
anecdotal experience is that there's no gray area between those who
love chopped liver and those who despise it. This can be a Good Thing
in the event that you enjoy this dish as much as do I but don't want to
go through the trouble of fussing over it. And fuss over it you will.
The chopped-liver-haters will leave plenty for you to enjoy.
Years ago, it seems, that even roadside diners would serve a
lovely version of this dish, scooped onto a lettuce leaf, surrounded by
plastic packets of saltine crackers and perhaps garnished
with a wedge of lemon. These days one must seek it out at
delicatessen restaurants or at food stores which purvey kosher or
WARNING: THIS RECIPE IS NOT KOSHER. It's so treyfish
that if you're a Jew and even consider making this, you probably had scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon
and a side of shrimp cocktail for your breakfast this morning. Okay,
I promise, no more inside jokes.
Now, start by gathering together the ingredients:
- 750 ml. (one bottle) fine Cognac, V.S.O.P. preferred; X.O. if
money's no object. If you've access to the "St. Cyr" brand of French
Brandy (V.S.O.P.) save yourself a fortune and use this 'cause it's a
lot cheaper than true appellation Cognac, and just as good.
- 750 ml. (one bottle) very dry white wine, a Fume Blanc from
Robert Mondavi in Napa would be superb. If you're on
the continent (or have a good wine shop nearby), a blush or
light-hearted rouge from Provence (e.g., Coteau d'Aix en
Provence) would be a satisfactory pairing. The Sauvignon Blanc of Kim
Crawford Vineyards in New Zealand is also quite a good match for this
- 4 jumbo eggs (those inexpensive pullets just won't do;
remember, there are times when size does
matter - there's more of the precious yolk than albumin in Jumbos)
- 2 pounds fresh chicken livers, (Empire brand Kosher or Perdue, in
the U.S.) trimmed of excess gristle, and picked over to remove any
green bits (all I know, lacking a comprehensive knowledge of the
anatomy of poultry, is that this green stuff is not good, whatever
it is, and will lend a bitter taste to one's dish).
- 1 cup milk.
- 1/4 Cup Olive Oil (Can be light or blended; do not use
extra-virgin as it is used herein only for sauteeing).
- 2 giant, sweet onions (not the little yellow ones which come in a
mesh bag; use the big sweet colossal ones used by restaurants;
optimally, "Vidalia" onions).
- A generous pinch of dried Rosemary, crumbled up finely (just
smash it in-between pieces of cellophane with a mallet).
- A tiny pinch of Madras Curry Powder (less than 1/8 tsp.).
- 1/4 tsp. Colman's brand dry mustard - no exceptions - use more if
you dig the piquancy that only this singular stuff can impart.
- 1/2 pound salted butter (or unsalted, if you prefer).
- Salt and cracked black pepper to taste.
- A jar of medium-sized cornichons
- A jar of roasted Italian red sweet peppers
- 2 jars of pickled pearl "cocktail" onions
Open the bottle of wine. Pour a generous (six ounces or more) glass
of wine and contemplate trimming the livers. Once you've consumed
enough wine to deal with the slimy, arduous task of trimming the
livers, go ahead; it's really not a bad chore. The key is not to be too
fussy because after all you're gonna cook 'em up and puree the suckers,
so it's not a big deal if you miss a little membrane here or there.
Place the chicken livers in a bowl and cover with the milk. It's a good
idea to allow at least 1/2 to 1 hour for the livers to sit in the milk.
Place the eggs, preferably at room temperature, in a pot (do not use
aluminum; the yolks will discolor) just large enough to hold them.
Cover with tepid tapwater. Place on a high fire until bubbles appear;
then simmer the eggs for 14 minutes. Have at the ready a large bowl
filled with ice water. Drain the simmering eggs and plunge into the ice
water. Leave them there while you prepare the livers.
Open the bottle of Cognac. Prepare a cutting board and knife with
which to coarsely chop the onions. Pour out four ounces of Cognac. As
you chop the onions, every time the tears stop you in your tracks,
retreat from the place where you're chopping the onions to a place
where there's fresh air. Inhale the bouquet of the Cognac, and drink an
ounce of it, neat, without ice. You can now return to the chore of
chopping the onions. An alternative to chopping the onions yourself is
peeling and cutting the onions into quarters or sixths or eighths-size
wedges that'll fit into the food chute of your Cuisinart. Process
(slice) using the coarsest slicing disc you own. Rinse the bowl and
blade when you're done but no need to use soap and water; you'll need
the regular S-shaped blade to puree the livers and onions later.
Heat a dry sauté pan large
enough to accommodate the onions and the livers. Once it's hot, put the
olive oil and then the onions in the pan. Add the rosemary and curry
and cook the onions on very high heat until the outsides are slightly
browned but the insides of the pieces remain firm. This necessitates a
lot of stirring. Lift most of the onions out of the pan with a tongs or
a slotted spoon and reserve on a plate. Now place the thoroughly
drained livers in the pan and turn the heat down a bit to medium-high.
Sauté the livers, stirring
constantly. Douse the livers with about 1/4 cup of the Cognac. Feel
free to light the Cognac on fire; this does little for the flavor but
what the heck, if you like fire, then go ahead. While
you're at it, pour yourself another healthy dose of Cognac. You'll see
the livers become nice and plump when they're reaching doneness; if cut
in two, the inside should have only the slightest hint of pink, if any
(never fear; they'll cook the rest of the way sitting in the pan). So,
there you go, have at some more Cognac once you've removed the livers
from the heat. Set them aside and place the cooked onions back in the
pan. Still off the heat, add the curry and stir the mixture to
facilitate blending of flavors and speed up cooling..
Let the livers cool to just below room temperature. There's nothing
wrong with speeding this process up by placing the uncovered sauté pan in the refrigerator.
Now we must peel the eggs. Remove the cooled eggs from the ice-water
bath. Place each egg on the counter and apply pressure with your palm
just until the shell cracks. Continue rolling with your palm and
cracking the shell. The shell should come off with ease in two pieces.
Rinse off any bits. Should the shells not easily come away from the
cooked, chilled eggs, drink at least two more shots of Cognac and
telephone the store which sold you the eggs. Complain that you were
sold eggs which weren't strictly fresh and tell them you'll never shop
there again. Hang up, then quarter each egg and set aside.
Lest we turn our livers into baby food, we'll modify our alcohol
intake, re-visiting the wine. Pour another glass of wine and do as
follows: place the S-shaped chopping blade onto the spindle of the
Cuisinart after attaching the bowl. Place the livers and the onions in
the bowl of the Cuisinart. Process by pulsing for about 5 seconds,
scraping the larger bits down the sides of the bowl, sipping your wine,
and repeat until the onions and the livers are a firm paste.
Now you can add a bit of an extra touch that makes this dish your very own creation. A small
bottle of thoroughly drained nonpareil capers may be added to
the mixture at this time. A quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley is an
alternative (try not to increase the moisture level too much). Between
a half-ounce and an ounce of potent marijuana, cleansed of seeds and
stems, may also be added at this time. Just be certain that none of the
party guests are either a) subject to random drug testing or b) members
of a Federal, state or local law enforcement agency nor sworn officers
of the court. You must also be careful that the host/hostess's
significant other nor any of their family has just returned from a
treatment center lest the
poor soul relapse and therefore require another protocol of
treatment, which is usually quite expensive and extremely time
Cut the butter into very coarse cubes. Place the eggs, butter and a
modicum of pepper in the basket of the Cuisinart (add salt also if
you've used sweet butter) . Then pulse the butter and the pureed
livers, stopping to scrape the bowl, again using care merely to
incorporate the butter and not cause it to melt. Conversely, avoid
leaving lumps of butter/egg larger than about the size of half a pea.
Check your seasoning during this process, keeping in mind that after
the puree is refrigerated it will taste ever-so-slightly less salty
than when in semi-liquid state.
Scoop the livers out of the bowl of the Cuisinart with a spatula,
into your choice of loaf pan large enough to accommodate them. It helps
to line the loaf pan with plastic wrap, because then the whole loaf
pops out after it's chilled in the refrigerator until hardened through,
at least 2 hours.
Turn the loaf out onto a platter lined with lettuce leaves. Decorate
one side of the loaf with an array of cornichons, cut
across so as to make little circles. Cut jarred roasted red peppers
into tiny cubes and press them into the other half of the loaf. If
you've the patience, cut 2 jars of pickled cocktail onions into halves,
and press these into the paste in-between the green cornichon side and
the red pepper side.
Find mild crackers such as melba toasts or some other favorite which
is relatively plain in taste and of a pleasing texture to match such a
soft, buttery concoction. Hand these to your host/hostess along with
the finished liver upon your arrival and ask that their household help
arrange the crackers artfully around the loaf.
Now, finish your wine and admire your handiwork. Save the rest of
the cognac to console yourself in the event that you show up at the
party with your carefully-prepared hors d'oeuvre only to discover that
all the others in attendance are vegetarian, or worse, vegan.