Part of the fun of holiday events is getting to share foods and traditions with the people that you love. Sometimes that involves creativity, but often it means making exactly the same dish every holiday that people demand, look forward to, and love to eat. Every so often, you find that one dish that surprises people and gets their eyes to roll back in their heads just that little bit that lets you know that you’ve discovered an unexpected hit. This chicken liver pate is exactly that kind of surprise favorite.
The only request I get every single fall/winter holiday and event that I am absolutely not allowed to say no to is this chicken liver pate. It’s actually really unexpected! We’re not a pate family and, though we like liver, we don’t go out of our way to eat it very often. People trying it for the first time who don’t like pate at all have been known to say that they really like this one, which they tell me means that it must be one incredible recipe. It’s not fancy or complicated, it was something that I made one year because I didn’t have enough time to create anything elaborate. It’s just dead simple and crazy yummy.
Not much to look at, this dish is all about the flavor. How you plate it is up to you. (I went ahead and had a little fun putting together this picture.) You can chill it in a rectangular container (using a layer of plastic wrap sprayed with oil between the container and the chicken liver pate to keep it from sticking) and then remove it from the wrap and slice it, or just chill this in the dish you want to serve it in. You do not need the blueberries, mustard seeds, or herbs. Give it a sprinkle of crunchy salt and you’re good to go! Serve it with crackers or crostini, and you’ll have a serious hit on your hands.
Because I always just serve it in the tupperware it’s prepared in (and realized far too late for this batch that my poor little tupperware is decidedly not photogenic), I decided to have a little fun with my plating here. If you aren’t comfortable with quenelles, by all means, leave your pate in the container and top it with the blueberries and mustard seeds (sprinkling the fried herbs around) or serve them on the side, with the fried herbs on top of the pate. If you put everything on top, it will look a little too crowded.
Go easy on the mustard seeds! They pack a punch! You could boil them several times in changes of water to get rid of the slight bitterness that these have, but the way that bitterness cuts the fat in the pate, plus the way they work with the sweet and acidic pickled blueberries works so well with a rich pate that it really doesn’t make sense to go to all of that extra effort.
For this dish, I use the exact same pickling liquid for the blueberries and the mustard seeds. The flavors tie together perfectly that way and it really simplifies preparation! There’s no end of ways you can customize this liquid though, from trying different vinegars to adding bay leaves, chili flakes, peppercorns, or whatever you have in mind!
It’s a tried and true method to coat the top of your chicken liver pate with a thin layer of clarified butter to keep the liver from oxidizing, but if you need to skip that step, make sure you store your pate in the fridge with a layer of plastic wrap directly against the pate, pressed against the entire surface to keep the air off. This will help your pate from developing a nasty color and skin. If you use the butter, try to stick to a thin layer. The pate is rich enough on its own without several tablespoons of extra butter getting mixed by the first few people to try your pate!
There are a number of traditional recipes that call for port, cognac, or sherry, but I made this recipe to share with my sister, who is allergic to all things red wine. This recipe uses calvados and a little rice wine vinegar to get the sweetness and that touch of acidity that make it sing.
The one complaint people usually have with pate is that it sometimes winds up with a grainy texture. I avoid that by blending my livers almost to a mousse and also by incorporating the secret ingredient; cream cheese. I know I’m not the first person to add cream cheese to my pate (there are dozens of recipes like this one and this one), but I can tell you that this is the one ingredient that will set your chicken liver pate apart from all others. There’s some kind of magic happening there!
(That white stuff is what you want to remove and throw away)
Here it is! The recipe for
Melt-In-Your-Mouth Chicken Liver Pate with Pickled Blueberries, Fried Herbs, and Mustard Seed “Caviar”
- 1.5# chicken livers
- 3 ea small shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 Tbs thyme, picked and chopped
- 6 Tbs + 4 Tbs butter
- 1/4 cup calvados
- 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
- Salt, pepper
- 2-3 sprigs herbs (I used thyme and rosemary)
- 1/4 cup neutral oil, like safflower
- 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/4 cup yellow or brown mustard seeds
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup salt
- Crackers or crostini
- Crunchy salt, like Maldon
- Heat all of the ingredients except the blueberries in a sauce pot until boiling.
- Wait 10 minutes to allow the liquid to cool slightly.
- Pour the liquid over the blueberries and allow to stand at least 3 hours
- Heat all of the ingredients until boiling and reduce to a low simmer.
- Allow to cook until the mustard seeds are tender on the inside and "pop" when you bite into them, about 1 hour.
- Heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering.
- Carefully add the herbs (they will spit at you)
- If large, flip or stir after 2-3 seconds
- Fry until crispy - probably a total of about 8-10 seconds.
- Dry on paper towels, sprinkle with salt.
- Gently melt 4 Tbs butter in a small pan over low heat.
- Skim all of the solids (the white stuff) off the top until you have a very clear and yellow butter.
- Allow to cool slightly.
- Clean the liver: remove all of the tough membranes.
- Heat 2 Tbs butter over low heat in a pan large enough to hold the liver in a single layer (or plan to do more than one batch.)
- When the butter starts to foam, add the shallots and thyme and cook slowly until very soft.
- Raise the heat to medium-high and carefully add the calvados
- Reduce the calvados to almost a syrup.
- Season the livers well with salt and pepper.
- Add the rest of the butter and when it's melted, add the livers.
- Allow to cook undisturbed until they begin to color slightly.
- Flip over and cook briefly. You want the livers to be cooked on the outside and rare on the inside.
- Put all of the contents of your pan into a food processor with the cream cheese and the vinegar.
- Blend and taste.
- You will probably want to add more salt and pepper, but it depends on how well you seasoned your livers before cooking them.
- Continue blending until the mixture starts to get light and fluffy. Taste frequently! You want it to feel smooth in your mouth.
- Place in the container of your choice and smooth out the top with a spatula.
- If using, pour a thin layer of clarified butter over the top. If not, place a layer of plastic wrap directly against the top of the pate.
- Refrigerate before serving, at least one day. The flavor is better after one day and better still after two.
- Serve with crostini or crackers and a sprinkle of good salt!