Rendered duck fat gets a lot of play here in Maine, and for good reason. There are few better fats that you can use for frying impossibly rich, golden brown potatoes (just ask the good folks at Portland’s Duckfat), but it’s also fantastic in pie crusts or rubbed on the outside of a chicken prior to roasting. It’s marginally better for you than most hydrogenated oils, and it keeps practically forever in the refrigerator or freezer. If you suddenly find yourself with an abundance of duck fat around, you lucky dog, you can also use it to lend structure to a light chicken liver mousse pâté.
To be fair, chicken liver pâté may not be for everyone, but I think it represents a painless introduction to the wonderful world of organ meat spreads and terrines. Unlike its chunkier, bacon-wrapped, country-style cousin (which we’ll also be tackling on this site in the future), the smooth, silken texture of this pâté is a little easier for the uninitiated to approach. It was certainly the first pâté I tried as a kid, thanks to a mother who has what can only be considered an addiction to the stuff, spread on crackers with plenty of capers and lemon juice. It’s the anchor point to any self-respecting charcuterie board, and it’s remarkably easy to make yourself at home using inexpensive ingredients (though the duck fat may require a trip to a specialty grocery store).
If you have any lingering squeamishness about working with cooked and pureed chicken livers, it will be gone by the time you finish making this recipe for the first time, since the process for some reason seems to require the mixture getting on dozens more dishes and spoons then you planned on using, as well as many paper towels, your hands, and maybe even the baby. After chilling for a few hours in the fridge, we top ours with a port wine gelatin (though, as David Lebovitz points out with regard to gelatins and aspics, “People get weird about things that are jellied, so it’s optional”) to give the pâté a finished look and a touch of sweetness to offset its richness. Once set, the pâté will keep for a few days in the fridge, developing even more flavor the second day. Serve it spread on a crusty slice of baguette or cracker, with a squeeze of lemon, capers, and a few cornichons on the side.
Chicken Liver Pâté
Makes about two cups; Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz.
For the pâté:
- 3/4 cup melted duck fat
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 1 pound chicken livers
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 3 large hard-boiled eggs
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon bourbon
- Pinch cayenne powder
For the port wine gelatin:
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons port wine
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin granules
- Pinch of ground allspice
For the pâté:
In a large skillet over low heat, cook the onions with 1/4 cup of the duck fat, stirring often, until onions begin to brown and caramelize, about 20 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer onion to drain on paper towels.
Increase heat to medium-high, and add chicken livers, salt, pepper, and cayenne to pan. Cook, stirring often, until chicken livers are just cooked through but still pink in the middle, about 4-5 minutes.
Transfer chicken liver mixture plus pan drippings to the bowl of a food processor. Add hard boiled eggs, vinegar, bourbon, caramelized onions, and remaining duck fat. Puree until completely smooth. Transfer mixture to a small mold (mini loaf pans work well here) or bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for a few hours until set.
For the port wine gelatin:
Combine water and two tablespoons of the port in a small bowl. Sprinkle with powdered gelatin and let rest for five minutes.
Meanwhile, warm remaining 1/2 cup of port, sugar, and allspice in a small saucepan over medium heat. When mixture begins to simmer, pour over the softened gelatin, stirring until gelatin is dissolved. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then pour in a thin layer over the chilled pâté. Return to refrigerator until gelatin is set.