To go with these olive oil crackers I shared yesterday, here is something deeply savory and controversial: chicken liver mousse. Whether you hate liver or like it, I’m hoping you’ll give it a try. In my experience, taste preferences evolve, especially with repeated exposure.
Speaking of evolution, I remember the first time I ever tasted liver. My dad took the gizzards and liver out of a chicken (or was it a turkey?) and fried it up in a pan with some oil. Despite his warnings, I remember liking it and wondering what all the fuss was about…then I noticed an unpleasant after taste. It was a memorable experience. One that I brought with me on my journey to becoming a chef.
In culinary school, we were encouraged to deconstruct the whole chicken and find practical uses for the entire animal. There were many firsts for me, as I learned how to butcher a chicken, how to make stock, and how to use what many throw into the garbage. That’s how I discovered the extraordinary genius of pate.
In the spirit of resourcefulness, I am sharing 5 tips for working with chicken livers in order to prove a point. A great cook aspires to use their tongue to make the most of whatever ingredient they’re given. When handled properly and seasoned in a balanced way, chicken livers aren’t so controversial after-all.
At Annisa, I prepared 1,000s of chicken liver amuse-bouche for guests as a way to welcome and signal the fine dining experience. Served with white raisin and pickled mustard seeds inside of a tiny fried cracker cup, I never saw 1 returned.
While previous generations suffered through entire dinners of liver and onions, I realize that liver is not an ingredient to consume in large quantities. It’s enough to simply taste – as in a small bite for its profoundly fatty, savory qualities. Introducing acid in the form of vinegar or pickles reduces some of the bitterness that I experienced as an “after taste” as a child.
With that said, I’ll tell you everything I know about chicken liver mousse – otherwise known as pate.
Tip #1: Buy Fresh Livers
As a rule with organ meat, try to obtain the freshest, highest quality livers. I typically look for healthy, bright red livers sold fresh in the butcher section. You can often buy an entire pound for $1.
Tip #2: Soak in Milk
To remove impurities, I was taught to soak the livers for about 20 minutes in milk. You can even add about 1 tsp of vinegar to help draw out toxins that give liver a bitter taste.
Tip #3: Rinse the Livers
After soaking in milk, rinse the livers under running water for a few seconds.
Tip #4: Sweat an Onion
Most home cooks from the Greatest Generation know that liver and onions are affinities. I grew up hearing stories from my parents about how frequently they “had to eat” liver and onions. Remember, we are just trying to offer a bite to people – not force feed them a plateful of liver and onions; too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
Tip #5: Add Something Sour
Liver is quite 1-dimensional. By itself, it’s the very definition of savory, even a tad bitter. When a chef serves foie gras or chicken liver mousse, they’re never serving it by its lonesome. There’s always an element of acidity and something crunchy to absorb all that fat. I add vinegar directly to my chicken liver mousse, but I also suggest serving it with a little something sour too. Here are some suggestions:
- pickled mustard seeds
- pickled onion
- a slice of cornichons (dill pickle)
- pickled white raisins
Then, consider a wee garnish of dill. Or don’t. Just promise me this? You won’t serve it by itself.
I recommend storing the paste inside of a piping bag fitted with a star attachment for easy serving. If your mousse is very thick, you can run the bag under some warm water to soften it a bit (just hold the ends closed as best you can). Chicken liver mousse must be used within 3 days and then tossed.
I hope you try working with chicken livers. I’m inspired by other cultures who regularly consume organ meat, and this is an exceptionally easy make-ahead appetizer for special occasions.
Chicken Liver Mousse
- 1 pound chicken livers
- 1 shallot, 1/3 cup chopped
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- black pepper
- 1 tsp sherry vinegar
- Add the chicken livers to a small bowl and cover with water. Soak for 20 minutes to remove impurities.
- In a small skillet over medium heat, warm the oil and add the onion with the salt. Sweat for 3 minutes to soften and encourage onion to release juices without browning. Turn off the heat and stir.
- Drain the livers and rinse with water, removing any pieces of fat. Add the livers to the skillet with the onions and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring to cook evenly. Season very generously with freshly ground black pepper. Turn off heat and add 1 tsp sherry vinegar.
- Transfer livers and juices to a food processor and puree for 1 minute to form a smooth paste. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star tip or pour into a seal-able container. The mousse needs to chill completely for a luscious texture.
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