Chicken Liver Pâté

Pate on Brioche

Pâté, brioche, and champagne. A ménage à trois made in gastronomic Paradise. The quintessence of snobbery and hoity-toityness the world over. That savory and spicy mousse that separates the geese from, well, the chickens. Fois gras is traditionally made with goose livers, and right around a hundred buck a pound, this high-falutin’ ingredient is probably beyond many of our wallets and boggles the sensibilities as an “experimental” ingredient. For less than a hundredth of that cost, we can pick up a 20-ounce container of chicken livers to hone our pâté-making skills.

First and foremost, prepping the chicken livers is vitally important. The livers should first be rinsed with cold water in a sieve. There will be quite a bit of liquid in the container with the livers. Many livers have parts of the alimentary canal still attached, and all livers are very vascular. All those vessels, fatty deposits and extraneous innards need to be removed. Livers can also range in color from very light buff-colored, to very dark maroon-brown. Any greenish spots, or other discolorations need to be removed as well.

The livers will still be quite juicy, so it helps to let them rest for a few minutes on a paper towel while the rest of the ingredients are prepped. The livers can be seasoned with crushed salt and fresh ground black pepper while they rest on the paper towel, with the salt helping to draw out a bit more liquid.

Cooking the livers to the correct doneness is also very important. Because this pâté is a mousse consistency, overcooking the livers would be disastrous. The pâté would have hard bits of seared livers. Undercooking will create pâté that “weeps.” The livers should be cooked slowly until the centers are still pink, with only a small amount of liquid coming out of them when pressed. Usually about 3 minutes a side is adequate.

You’ll also be igniting the contents of the skillet. This can be a bit daunting for novice cooks. If you’re afraid to tip the pan towards the gas burner, or if you are using electric range, an Aim-n-Flame works just fine. Remember, alcohol burns at a significantly lower temperature than natural gas, and won’t singe your eyebrows or burn your hand. It is quite showy, however. Semi dry or sweet fortified wines don’t ignite well, if at all. You can either simmer the livers until most of the liquid has evaporated, or add a tablespoon of brandy as an accelerant.

This is a savory pâté recipe that tastes even better after a day or two of refrigeration. The pâté that is exposed to air will oxidize and turn slightly brownish-grey. The pâté underneath will still be pink. While the different colors may look unappetizing, they taste the same. Many pâtés are covered in clarified butter before a night in the refrigerator setting up. Feel free to cover this pâté if you are so inclined.

This garlicy and aromatic pâté is quick to cook and delicious to eat. If you have any brioche left, this pâté is perfect spread atop brioche toast points. If you’re up to setting your food aflame, here’s what you’ll need.

Chicken Liver Pâté

  • 20 ounce container of chicken livers, cleaned and cored
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • ½ cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed, more if you really like garlic
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme (half that amount if you’re using dried)
  • ¼ cup dry Madeira or marsala + 1 tablespoon brandy to help ignition if need be
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream

Rinse and clean the livers, draining them on a platter covered with a layer or two of paper towels. With the livers still on the paper, season one side with the salt and pepper. Set aside. Prep the remaining ingredients. In a medium skillet over medium low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Slowly cook half the livers in the butter, turning once after 3 minutes. Do not overcook the livers. Transfer the livers to the workbowl of a food processor, leaving the cooking juices in the pan. Cook the rest of the livers slowly, turning once. With this half the livers still in the pan, pour in the alcohol and ignite it. Allow the flames to subside and then pour the livers and the liquid in the food processor workbowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet. Sauté the shallots and garlic over low heat. When they are fragrant, add the spices and sauté for an additional minute. Transfer everything in the pan using a heat-proof spatula and add the heavy cream to the food processor workbowl. Process the pâté until it’s smooth.

Transfer the pâté to a small covered casserole dish or other covered serving dish. Optionally, you can cover the top of the pâté with a layer of melted clarified butter. Allow the pâté to refrigerate overnight for the flavors to blend and mellow.