Whether you’ve actually tried it or not, you probably already have an opinion about chicken liver. People generally fall into one of two categories: they love it, or… they won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. I’m here to tell you that (a) liver isn’t scary, and (b) it can be damn tasty. Especially when mixed with bourbon!
I was recently pouring over a restaurant menu in preparation for a meal out with a girlfriend. One item caught my eye: a charcuterie platter. Wild boar sopressata, venison pâté, duck prosciutto, and chicken liver mousse. Oh my god, yum. Unfortunately, a lot of cold cuts are off limits while pregnant. Liver, however, is fair game.
Then it occurred to me: I could totally make that at home.
Once the idea was planted, all I needed was the recipe. I came across two that sounded worth the effort, and at the end of the day it was my indecisiveness which lead to our 2013 pâté taste off.
The first is a classic chicken liver mousse. Provided by the great Julia Child, this is a simple, straightforward version featuring liver, shallots, and bourbon. (She recommends cognac, but alas, we were fresh out.)
The second is an amped up pâté with bacon, apples, and fresh sage. How could that be bad?!
Alright, game time.
Before you go thinking that you can’t recreate these at home, let me tell you right now: you can.
If you own a sauté pan and a food processor or blender, you’re golden. I’ll admit that cleaning the livers was the most labor intensive (and least enjoyable) task involved, but in explaining these recipes to John I likened it to cleaning chicken thighs: it’s not hard, but it is time consuming and arduous to make sure you remove all the fatty parts.
After cleaning the livers, pat them dry, place them in a large mixing bowl and cover with milk. I let these sit, covered in the refrigerator, for at least two hours. This process gives the liver a much milder flavor (which a lot of people appreciate).
First up? Julia’s recipe. And it’s crazy simple.
Sauté shallots and liver, turning once, in butter for 2 to 3 minutes.
Combine liver, reduced bourbon (or cognac), cream and herbs in a blender or food processor.
Mix in a little melted butter, then pour into ramekins or jars, cover with plastic wrap (or add optional cognac gelée or clarified butter) and cool.
Seriously, it doesn’t get much simpler than that.
The more modern pâté follows the same guidelines. Sauté a few ingredients in a pan (bacon, shallots, garlic, apples).
Add the livers and cook until rosy on the inside, the same 2 to 3 minutes as before.
Pour everything into a food processor, then add reduced bourbon and softened butter. Pulse until smooth.
Cover, refrigerate, devour.
Best way to pair these? With a giant loaf of raisin challah. Trust me, the sweet and savory combo is perfect.
These are so, so good, guys. You don’t even know.
At the end of the day, we couldn’t pick a clear winner. Both John and I went back-and-forth about which pâté was better (a good problem to have, mind you). My recommendation? Make both varieties and share them with friends and family. After all, there’s no greater way to show you care than through food.
Julia Child’s Chicken Liver Mousse
*Recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
For the mousse:
- 2 cups chicken livers (1 lb)
- 2 tbsp minced shallots
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/3 cup Madeira or cognac (I used bourbon)
- 1/4 cup whipping cream
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp allspice
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- Pinch of thyme
- 1/2 cup melted butter
- Salt and pepper
For the optional cognac gelée:
- 1/2 cup water, separated
- 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 c dry vermouth
- 2 tsp cognac
- Kosher salt and pepper
- For the mousse: Remove any greenish or blackish spots from the livers, as well as any sinew. Cut the livers into 1/2″ pieces. Optional, but recommended: pat livers dry, then place in a large mixing bowl and cover with milk. Cover and let sit in a refrigerator for at least two hours, or overnight.
- Melt butter over medium heat in a sauté pan until foam has subsided. Sauté livers with the shallots in butter for 2 to 3 minutes, until the livers are just stiffened, but still rosy inside. Scrape into the blender jar.
- Pour the wine or cognac into the pan and boil it down rapidly until it has reduced to 3 tablespoons. Scrape it into the blender jar.
- Add the cream and seasonings to the blender jar. Cover and blend at top speed for several seconds until the liver is a smooth paste.
- Add the melted butter and blend several seconds more. Adjust seasoning.
- Pack into the bowl or jar and chill for 2 to 3 hours.
- For the cognac gelée (optional): Place 1/4 cup of warm water in a ramekin, sprinkle unflavored gelatin and let it stand for about 10 minutes.
- In a small saucepan heat wine and sugar over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.
- Once the gelatin has softened, add the other 1/4 cup of hot water to the ramekin and dissolve until mixture becomes clear. Add the gelatin mixture to the warm wine mixture and mix thoroughly.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and add cognac. Let the warm mixture stand until it almost reaches room temperature.
- Once it has cooled, pour over chilled mousse. Return the mousse to the fridge and chill until the gelée has set.
Chicken Liver Pâté with Sage, Apple, and Thyme
*Recipe from The Kitchn.
- 1 lb chicken livers
- 6 tbsp butter at room temperature, divided
- 2 slices bacon, chopped
- 1 cup chopped shallots (about 4 small shallots)
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 tbsp sage, chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 cup apple brandy or bourbon
- 1 tsp salt
- Pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp – 1/4 cup clarified butter, melted (optional)
- Thyme and sage sprigs (optional)
- Sliced baguette, crackers or mini toasts, for serving
- Trim the livers of any excess fat and tough connective tissue. Optional, but recommended: pat livers dry, then place in a large mixing bowl and cover with milk. Cover and let sit in a refrigerator for at least two hours, or overnight.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges are just beginning to brown. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are soft and browning at the edges. Add the livers, apple, sage and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the livers are just barely pink inside when cut and the apple pieces are soft.
- Transfer the liver mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Pour the bourbon into the skillet and bring to a boil over low heat, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil for about 1 minute to reduce slightly, then pour over the liver mixture. Add the salt. Process until mixture is very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Transfer mixture to a bowl and mix thoroughly with the remaining 4 tablespoons of softened butter. Add pepper to taste. Pack into small jars or ramekins and smooth tops with a spatula or knife. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing wrap against the surface of pâté. For longer storage, pour enough clarified butter to cover the top of each ramekin and add a decorative herb sprig. Chill until butter is firm and cover with plastic wrap or a lid. For best flavor, refrigerate at least overnight before serving.
- Let soften at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving with crackers or baguette slices. Pâté will keep refrigerated for up to one week, or up to two weeks with the clarified butter seal.
Unrelated, but noteworthy: this is also an extremely budget-friendly meal. One pound of organic, free range chicken livers will only set you back about $2-3. Win!