Pâté is a fun word to say through your nose. Paaaaah-TAY. You should practice this often, as it will accompany the finished product well as a signal to the swells that you are one of them. ARE you enJOYing your paaaah-TAY.
Fine and fancy as pâté is thought to be, when unpacked and stripped of its reputation it’s about the most humble thing you can make—a bunch of offal or other discarded animal bits spruced up with cheap aromatics and ground to a literal pulp. In a way, pâté is a perfect salvage job recipe for the squeamish among us, the haters of what’s good. Where certain other cultures turn the rich and relatively less abundant internal parts of animals into delicacies to be enjoyed more or less as they are, we whip ours into a paste that is in most ways completely unidentifiable as organic, and press it into a handy loaf shape. Voilà! Edible grey-brown trapezoidal prism. You can pretend it’s anything!
Still, even if it’s merely the shallow-end entry point for more adventurous eating, a good pâté is a cheap, accessible, delicious, and refined-seeming thing to eat and make, the kind of thing that will impress conceptually, go easy on the wallet, and blow the shoes and socks off of anyone lucky enough to get a bite. Serve it to your in-laws! Your comprehensive knowledge of Outlander book/show deviations has failed to impress—your homemade chicken liver pâté will not. It’s the conveniently spreadable ace up your sleeve. Let’s make it.
You’ve got a pretty easy shopping list, here. You’ll need some chicken livers, and some schmaltz (hang in there), some cheap aromatics, and a bottle of white wine. Go dry or semi-dry on the wine.
Let’s talk about the livers themselves. Well, OK, first, let’s talk about the liver. It’s an organ that sits in the belly of vertebrates and does all kinds of important metabolic stuff. So, like, when you bring stuff into your body—food, drink, medicine, a frankly terrifying daily regimen of Flakka—it is processed at a molecular level by your liver, all while your liver is supporting all your other organs, like a boss. The liver is like a filter. Sort of.
When you intake reasonably and responsibly, your liver’s function and capacity for self-repair stay top-notch and your liver is clean and healthy and, presumably, delicious (no, you should not dig it out of your abdomen and slap it down on a hot grill). When you intake a bunch of terrible shit (alcohol, more alcohol, literal fistfuls of Flakka, I think you’ve got a serious problem) your liver gets overwhelmed and swells and corrodes and otherwise gets jammed up with toxic residue. Your skin turns yellow and your pee darkens and it’s just a real bad scene. Such a liver is not likely to be very delicious (although yours in particular will pack a psychedelic wallop [no, you should not dig it out of your abdomen and slap it down on a hot grill]).
Chickens very often are kept and bred and fed irresponsibly and with no regard whatsoever for quality of life or sustainability or basic cleanliness and sanitation. They’re pumping those anatomically outrageous, bioengineered fowl full of antibiotics and feeding them an unnatural diet, and all of that stuff is swirling around in their livers. What I’m saying here is that this will be one of those times when you will not want to be eating parts of processed chickens from big huge industrial chicken farms. The breast meat of those poor bastards is suspect enough—do you really want to be dining on their toxic puréed filter organs? Hell no.
Get yourself to the Wholiest of Foods and grab, oh, a pound of the rooty-tooty-est organic free-range college educated multilingual and gainfully employed chicken livers you can get your hands on. This will be a good investment for reasons that go beyond whatever terrifying maladies lurk in the bloated organs of miserable techno-chickens: your chicken liver pâté will be chicken-y and iron-y and delicious in exactly the earthy, gamey way good organ meat should be. Deliciousness is our goal, and this will deliver maximum deliciousness.
Take your highfalutin chicken livers home, rinse ‘em off, drop ‘em in a big mixing bowl, and pour several glugs of milk over them. Legend has it milk will take just enough of the iron-y punch out of the livers. This isn’t an essential step, but if this is your first time doing chicken livers, you may thank yourself later. Crawl before you walk, you know? Sock the soaking livers in the fridge and give them an hour to do their thing.
Now, let’s talk schmaltz. Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat, and it is the best fat to use in just about any chicken liver recipe—or, hell, any chicken recipe at all. And it’s easy as hell to make—you can skim it off the top of your homemade chicken stock, for example, or remove it in hockey puck form if your finished stock is refrigerated without any skimming. That’s a super-easy way of doing it.
Here’s a slightly less easy way—still easy! still very easy—you can take on while your livers hang out in a bowl of milk: cut and slice and in all ways collect the skin and fat from some uncooked chicken thighs, dice it, and chuck it into a saucepan over medium low heat, along with a splash of water. Keep an eye on this little pile of fatty chicken deliciousness—it will need, oh, an hour or so—and adjust the heat so it never rises much above a low simmer. The fat will render and the skin will eventually turn golden brown—at this stage you can add some diced onion and/or chopped garlic if you want. Let this mixture continue to simmer until the skin turns brown and crunchy (use it like bacon bits, yo), then use a slotted spoon and/or a fine sieve to separate the liquid fat from the solids. The liquid part is schmaltz. You have done it. You have made schmaltz.
If you wanna skip the schmaltz, BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, but also it will be okay to use clarified butter or a pad of unsalted butter and a glug or two of olive oil. You bore. You wimp.
So, here’s what you’re gonna do: you’re gonna lay that schmaltz back into a hot pan and drop into it a couple of smashed garlic cloves, two or three anchovy filets, a couple of diced shallots, and a tablespoon or two of capers. Flavor town! Hoo boy somebody’s breath is gonna be a hot sword. While that stuff browns, drop your livers into a colander and rinse off the milk with cold water.
Now, once the breath weaponizer stuff is good and brown, scoop it out of the schmaltz and into a bowl, and chuck your livers into the hot schmaltz. Move those strange alien fetus looking things around on the hot pan until they’re evenly browned, then pour two or three glugs of a dry white wine into the pan. We’re reducing the wine, here, and aiming for livers that are still slightly pink in the very middle. This will take a couple minutes. Once the liquid has reduced by half or more, go ahead and cut one of the livers open in the pan. Is it a very light pink color in the middle? Perfect. Remove the pan from the heat. And turn off the heat. What the fuck, guy.
Okay, so, into the food processor! All of it—the livers, the reduced wine, the stinky stuff. Turn that fucker on full blast and purée the absolute bejeezus out of all of it. It’s all soft and loose and will very quickly turn into a tan colored whip the texture of wet plaster. Season with salt as you go, tasting between pulse cycles until you get it where you want it. Go ahead and use a little olive oil to loosen it up if it’s too plaster-like. And if a grind or two of black pepper should make its way in there, what the hell.
There. Pâté. Done.
You can eat your pâté right away, warm and soft, or you can smush it into a well-greased mold or even just a ramekin and refrigerate it to a pleasing firmness. You could paint it across your upper lip like a bushy mustache and prance around your home doing an Inspector Clouseau impersonation for all I care.
A great thing to do with your pâté is swipe it thickly across some grilled bread. It’s delicious just like that! If you’ve got some time to caramelize some french-cut yellow onions for some balancing sweetness, go for it. If you’re feeling particularly bold, stuff your pâté into a greased pâté mold, sock it into the freezer just long enough for it to get cold and set, then de-mold it, cut it into thick slices, and sear it in a hot pan. This can be the meat of a delicious sandwich, or just a thing to eat with a fork.
What you’ve done, here, is taken the oft-discarded parts of a livestock animal—organs, skin, fat—and rendered them into a wonderful, delicious, versatile composition. The dark, iron flavor of the livers, the bold pungency of the aromatics, the unmistakable umami of the schmaltz, the rich, smooth texture—this is good food. Impressive food. The sort of refined-seeming gourmet foodstuff that wouldn’t be out of place wearing a monocle if it weren’t also a foodstuff. Also, easy as hell, cheap, un-fuck-up-able food, in the end. Good job.
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