Sunday, January 31, 2016

Duck Liver Pate




Summer of 2015 was one for the record books!
This summer, Adam and I spent a few weeks biking through France, reveling in the glory of our double-income, no kids existence. The trip was gorgeous and magical and perfect, and the best thing I ate the whole time was an entirely fabulous, delectable mousse de canard (duck mousse), bought in a small town we were biking through in Champagne, made by a shop / person called Pate Johny. Pate Johny himself was a tall, hairy fat man and his shop was full of terrines, pates, sausages, meat-mousses, rolls of boneless ducks, and marinating chops. We bought a sausage and some duck mousse for lunch. And the mousse was honestly among the very most delicious things I have ever eaten in my life. It was a pink square, sliced out of a ceramic terrine, with a bright yellow layer of schmaltz sealing the top. We stopped to eat this under a tree before biking back to Epernay to drink champagne. It was among the best days of my whole life.
That magical mousse de canard from Pate Johny. The smaltz got a bit melted as it sat in our pannier bags on teh pre-lunch ride. 

Another picnic on the trip, between Champagne and Burgundy. Champagne, bread, organ meats and cheese at the edge of a vineyard. Heaven. 
I ordered mousse de canard half a dozen more times in France, and each time it was just as luscious. But, the only time I saw it sealed with fat was in Champagne--everywhere else, it was sealed with a thin, salty-meaty sheet of dark brown aspic, which tasted as though it'd been made from duck bones. The sealing layer on the mousse serves to prevent the liver from turning an unattractive gray from contact with oxygen.
As soon as I got back to Denver, I became obsessed with the quest to recreate this myself. I learned that the traditional mousses I had in France are emulsified mixtures of duck liver, pork fat, egg yolks, cream, salt and spices, and brandy. Everything is blended or whipped together, then cooked gently in a terrine sitting in a water bath until it sets.
Well, this preparation--gorgeous and traditional as it was, seemed pretty difficult. I decided, instead of duck liver mousse, to make duck liver pate, using Jacque Pepin's simple Chicken Liver Pate recipe as the base. Whereas a mousse is emulsified and cooked, a pate is merely cooked, blended, and chilled--much easier.
Pro tip for Denver people--you can often find duck livers at Oliver's Meat Marker, sold in 1 pound tubs in the frozen section. This is also the best butcher's in town. And, Denver people, do you want to eat duck liver mousse but don't feel like cooking any? There is a fabulous version at Argyll on 17th. Really, really good.
Or you can make it yourself! It's really not a tough project at all.
Because the livers come in 1 pound tubs, I made a recipe using 1 lb of them.
Ingredients:
1 pound of duck lives, defrosted, patted dry, with the whitish, cartilege-looking membrane thingys cut off
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 tablespoons duck fat, plus 2 more for the fat seal*
2 egg yolks
1 large or 2 small shallot(s), chopped
4 cloves of garlic (fine to leave these whole)
salt
black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of thyme leaves (dried or fresh is fine)
very scant shake of clove
very scant shake of allspice
2 tablespoons brandy

What To Do
Melt one stick of the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and saute for a couple minutes until softened.
Toss the livers into the pan and cook on both sides, but gently. Cook for a minute, then toss, cook for a minute, toss, cook for a minute, toss. Turn off heat and allow the livers to sit in the hot pan for another minute--you want them cooked, but still pink on the inside.
Put the hot livers and everything in the pan (aromatics, butter, everything) into a blender. Add the two egg yolks and begin blending on high. The heat from the livers and butter will gently cook the egg as it blends.
As it blends, add a shake of salt, a shake of black pepper, the thyme leaves, the pinch of clove and allspice, the brandy. It should be blending this whole time. Then, add the remaining butter a tablespoon at a time by dropping it into the top of the blender. Add the 4 tablespoons of duck fat.
Overall, this should be blending for at least five minutes. You want it very very smooth. Blend longer if there are any traces of chunks.
Pour the mixture into ramekins or shallow jars (mine made enough for 2 ramekins, two small jam jars and one medium jam jar).
Then, melt the remaining two tablespoons of duck fat (butter is fine too) in a pan. Very gently and carefully, pour the thinnest possible layer over the top of the pates. Pour gently so it disturbs the tops of the pate as little as possible.
Cover with lids or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving. Serve with toasted bread, and, if you have it, spiced onion jam (will provide recipe for this sometime soon).

Honestly, this was FABULOUS. Several people who had never eaten liver before raved about it. I served some as an appetizer for a dinner party and it was inhaled. This recipe is is infinitely more delicious than the same one made with chicken livers. It's not as bright a pink as the ones I had in France, but the flavor is spot-on. Really, really lovely and delectable. Makes a gorgeous lunch spread on a toasted baguette with a side salad and a glass of white wine. Or a first course for a dinner party (maybe followed by some legs of duck confit and potatoes?) Or snack to have out over cocktails during the holidays. Serve with toasted baguettes, and maybe some small pickles. If you can make some spiced onion jam to go with, do it.

This pate is just really, really killer. And NOBODY makes this sort of thing at home! It's so easy and so delicious--there is no reason not to.

Enjoy!

EPILOGUE 

Well, shortly after Adam and I returned from our fabulous double-income no-kids summer of wine and organ meats, we brought this stage of life to an end, for reasons not entirely clear to either of us, still. Why did we decide to have a kid? Were we sick of free time and extra income? Did we begin to hate sipping scotch and reading after work in perfect peace and quiet? Did I think to myself, why have a nice ski season this winter when, instead, I can get massively fat?
No, not exactly. I am trying to remember our reasons. Mostly, I had a feeling I might regret not having had children later, if I didn't do it now--and Adam thinks babies are cute because they have jowls. That was basically the math.
So we kind of shrugged and were like, "okay, let's try." And, aided by the powers of my meaty-titted Catholic bloodline, I was pregnant shortly thereafter. We are expecting a baby boy in May!

And then I could not stand the sight or smell of duck pate. I made about 3 containers from this recipe. Did Adam eat the other ones? Did he toss them when he generously gave the fridge a deep cleaning because I thought it smelled weird? Cannot remember.
Duck pate is not a foodstuff that agrees with the first trimester of pregnancy.
Delicious.

*Don't have duck fat? Two options. Option 1, you can make some. Get yourself down to the Asian supermarket and purchase a few packages of duck legs. These are available inexpensively from Pacific Ocean Market, if you're in Denver. Make a recipe of cheater's duck confit, and enjoy it for a luxurious dinner, while saving the fat for this recipe and general cooking enhancement (cook potatoes in it, yummmm) Option 2: Use more butter instead.
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