Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Culinary Training Wheels: Forester's Pâté

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I want to start today's post with a thank you to one of our readers, a one Miss Caroline C., of Toronto, Canada. She had contacted us following our last post, expressing interest in the eggplant salad featured there.

She was nice enough to pass along a handy cooking technique --a quick way to steam eggplant in the microwave.

According to Caroline, the eggplant should be cut into rounds one inch in width, brushed with olive oil, dusted with salt and pepper, covered, and then microwaved on high for six minutes. She also suggests the same technique for cooking garlic! Good to know! We here at Burning Pasta liked the idea (and the convenience of it) that we decided it was too good not to pass along. Besides, for those of you who don't already own a bamboo steamer, Caroline just saved you 12 dollars.

To Miss Caroline C.: Thanks for the tip...and for your readership!


"Oh, yeah, I eat everything."

Many epicures who have spoken these words, were, in fact, lying.

Almost everyone's got a food or two that they can't abide. Some are tripped up by ingredients as common as an acrid, raw onion. Others can't handle the sourness of tamarind, or the saltiness of preserved fish. For myself, sad to say, it's always been cottage cheese. I have no idea why, but it makes my skin crawl. So be it.

The problem is, by turning our noses up at different foods, we each miss out on many inventive, and, sometimes, eye-opening culinary experiences. By attuning our palates to food that we fear, and gaining an appreciation for it, we gain a greater understanding and perspective on the foods we already know we like. We can combine these new flavors in our heads, and think of inventive ways to do what cooking has always done best: Take the unappealing, and make it divine.

As easily as some people can be convinced, some foods have attained such a pejorative reputation that even those who haven't tried them before often shun away from them without reason. The group of foods that seems to draw out this "ick" factor for the majority people is organ meat. Kidneys, glands, tripe, and, of course, liver.

Now, some of you are saying, "But I love liver! Jewish chopped liver with egg, British liver pie, even liver and onions!" And, to the rest of you who may find the idea fantastical, yes, there are people out there who crave nothing more than a big, iron-filled, purple-black piece of liver.

I'm not one of these people, but I do enjoy a well-cooked piece of liver on occasion, and I have a very weak spot for the traditional French meal of cornishons, buttered radishes, and, of course, pâté.

Oooh, yeah. Silky, rich, full of flavor, the perfect foil to spicy radishes and sour, briny pickles. I recognize that it's not for everyone. But what if it was? That's where today's recipe comes in.

Today, we're making pâté from scratch. Well, it's what's loosely considered a Pâté de Campagne -- a spreadable dish in which liver, while a significant element, shares the stage with other meat products, savory vegetables and herbs. Additionally, unlike other pâté recipes, mine doesn't need to be wrapped in fat and baked all afternoon -- it's a one pan recipe. Pâté with training wheels, if you will. Let's get started.

The first thing you need to do is pick out your liver. I suggest chicken livers for the first-timers out there -- its taste is less...well...liver-y than most other animals. In a pinch, calves liver is nice too. Those among you who are more hard-core, go for the pig liver. It's strong, but good stuff. You're going to need a half-pound.

A few hours before you're going to start cooking (or, better yet, the night before), place your livers (or a single cubed liver, if you're using a larger animal's organ) in a container and fill it up with whole milk, covering the livers.

Note the milk-filled container. Yes, the milk will turn pink. No, don't drink it. The process helps draw out the blood from the organ while tenderizing its flesh at the same time. What remains is a more mellow, savory meat.

Enough! Let's get cooking!

Start with a pan over warm heat, enough olive oil to grease the bottom, and a quarter-pound of thick-cut bacon. If the skin on your bacon is particularly tough, cut it off before frying. You don't want bits of rubbery stuff in your final product.

See? Bacon! You love bacon, right? Things are already starting out on the right foot. Cook the bacon until it's firm, but just short of crispy. Place these to the side, let cool, and chop into rough pieces. Meanwhile, turn down the heat, but keep the leftover oil in the pan.

Next, take your liver, drain the milk from it, and pat them dry with paper towels. I know, it still looks pretty grim at this point.

While you're drying your livers off, chop up one good sized Vidalia onion, and crush a large clove of garlic with the back of your knife. Toss both into the delicious bacon fat, and cook on medium heat. Oh, yeah.

After the onions turn nice and brown, add in a quarter cup of Madeira wine. This semi-sweet tipple was a favorite of Benjamin Franklin's, and makes a pleasant after-dinner drink all on its own. Cooking the onions the onions in it brings in some nice roundness and caramelized elements into play. Cook it down until it's glaze-like, and the onions have a nice, deep color.

When you're satisfied that you've reached the appropriate stage of caramelization, place the onions, along with the previously cooked bacon, into a food processor.

Well, we're here. Time to cook the livers. Take a healthy knob of butter and about a tablespoon of minced fresh rosemary, and add them to the pan. Cook until the butter just begins to brown.

At this point, add in your livers, and cook for about three minutes on each side, or just until cooked through. If you're having problems telling when this is, just cut a few open with a knife. You want just the smallest hint of pink in the center, with a surrounding of brown. Overcooking the liver will result in bad things-- think the taste and smell of burning tires. No good. Err on the side of "medium," rather than "rare" or "well done."

Add the livers to the food processor. Add a cup of chopped mushrooms to the pan, another quarter cup of Madeira, scrape up all that good brown stuff at the bottom of the pan (the fond, if you want to be technical), and cook until the mushrooms are cooked and the wine is reduced, about 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms to everything else in the food processor.

Attach the top, and start pulsing the blades, one or two short bursts at a time. Keep checking the consistency. You want it spreadable, but not a total paste. A little texture is good.

And that's it! Place into a bowl, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and let chill. It'll be good in a few hours, and fantastic in two days. It should keep, well wrapped, for about a week or so. The final product:

I really do hope you do try the recipe. Maybe it turns out that you like liver after all. And, by the way, feel free to send along your cottage cheese recipes. I'm always willing to try that, too.

Music: Original Dixieland Jazz Band -- "Livery Stable Blues":

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