With the approach of the holiday party season, I am always on the lookout for make-ahead appetizers that are a little different from the usual spread of cheeses, meats and crudite. Chicken liver pâté doesn't enjoy the popularity it had when Julia Child was queen, but this elegant yet economical hors d'oeuvre is due for a comeback. Cooked down with apple, shallots, fresh herbs and brandy, lowly liver transforms into an umami-rich spread that can be made up to one week ahead and will have even those hesitant about liver reaching for more.
My mom loves liver, which means I grew up hating it — the smell, the texture, the bitter iron taste — though the affordable price of even fancy free-range chicken livers made me wish I felt differently. But a particularly tempting chicken liver mousse at a restaurant changed my feelings forever; it was rich, complex and luxurious, and served in a cute little jar. I couldn't think of a better appetizer to make at home for a party, especially when I learned that sealing the top with clarified butter keeps the pâté fresh for up to two weeks.
Liver is also exceptionally nutritious, with one ounce providing almost a day's worth of vitamins A and B12, along with hefty amounts of essential nutrients like folate and iron. (In addition to storing nutrients, the liver's function is to process toxins, so seek out the highest quality, organic chicken livers you can find. They will still be quite inexpensive.) Of course, your guests won't be eating it for the vitamins and minerals; they'll be eating it because it tastes good. Slightly sweet with apple and shallot, flavored with sage and thyme, and cut with a creamy layer of clarified butter, this pâté tastes more like a complex, long-aged cheese than anything my mother fried up with onions.
The recipe makes enough for one large party, or two smaller gatherings. Although it is good straight out of the food processor, the flavor improves after sitting overnight in the fridge, so this is one appetizer that not only can be made ahead, but should be. It's my goal this year to change a few minds about chicken liver — maybe you'll join me?
Chicken Liver Pâté with Sage, Apple and Thyme
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
1 pound chicken livers
6 tablespoons butter at room temperature, divided
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped shallots (about 4 small shallots)
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon sage, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup apple brandy or bourbon
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons - 1/4 cup clarified butter, melted (optional)
Thyme and sage sprigs (optional)
Sliced baguette, crackers or mini toasts, for serving
Trim the livers of any excess fat and tough connective tissue. Set aside in the refrigerator.
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges are just beginning to brown. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are soft and browning at the edges. Add the livers, apple, sage and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the livers are just barely pink inside when cut and the apple pieces are soft.
Transfer the liver mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Pour the brandy into the skillet and bring to a boil over low heat, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil for about 1 minute to reduce slightly, then pour over the liver mixture. Add the salt. Process until mixture is very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Transfer mixture to a bowl and mix thoroughly with the remaining 4 tablespoons of softened butter. Add pepper to taste. Pack into small jars or ramekins and smooth tops with a spatula or knife. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing wrap against the surface of pâté. For longer storage, pour enough clarified butter to cover the top of each ramekin and add a decorative herb sprig. Chill until butter is firm and cover with plastic wrap or a lid. For best flavor, refrigerate at least overnight before serving.
Let soften at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving with crackers or baguette slices. Pâté will keep refrigerated for up to one week, or up to two weeks with the clarified butter seal.
• To give the livers a milder flavor, place in a bowl and cover with milk. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight, drain and proceed with recipe.
• For a very smooth pâté, press the mixture through a medium sieve before mixing with the softened butter.
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)