So it turns out I make a mean pâté.
The kitchen is a place for experimenting. I spent hours in the kitchen as a kid, shucking corn, snapping the ends off of string beans, and stirring sauces as an aid to my mother. I watched and learned from her as she experimented with new or familiar dishes, adding perhaps one different ingredient, or altering the cooking method.
As I got older, I started experimenting on my own. I used to make “fancy” sandwiches for my brother and sister, using the broiler to melt cheese on bread and layering slices of meat and red onion on top. Then I started taking on homemade mac n’ cheese, cooking butter and flour before incorporating milk and then handfuls of grated cheese. As a kid, kitchen experiments were simple and fun. As an adult, they are getting a little more difficult, but even more fun!
Every now and then I get a bee in my bonnet about making something that I’ve never made before, challenging or not. Over the last year or so doing this blog, I’ve taken on: gumbo, red flannel hash, mochi (which didn’t turn out so well) and of course, there was birthday cake.
Pâtés are one of those things that are seemingly intimidating, but actually quite easy to make; and yet for some reason, I kept putting off making one. Then a week or two ago, I got that bee in my bonnet to make some pâté – driven mostly be my desire to pickle cherries, which are now in delicious abundance.
I am completely obsessed with charcuterie. I wasn’t always this way; in fact I the first pâté I ever tried, I hated. But then I tried a good one, a really good one, and then I tried rillette, and other delectable, meaty treats and I was hooked. My ideal lunch would be a good baguette, a little wedge of stinky cheese, and a little charcuterie. And then, the other night, while dining at the newly opened Campo Fina, I had an awesome pâté, and so I finally decided this week, its number was up.
Despite my family’s ancestry, I believe there must be a bit of French in me. Not the haughty, cigarette-smoking kind, but more the rosé-sipping, pâté-eating type. If you asked me if I could be anywhere in the world right now, there’s a good chance that I would answer in the south of France, sipping drinking rosé, and eating bouillabaisse on a beach; followed by sipping on pastis and soaking up the sun.
But alas, I am not in France. So instead, I thought I would bring a piece of France to Healdsburg.
With a little guidance from friend, Chef Peter Brown, I woke up Tuesday morning and headed to the market for chicken livers and duck fat. Unlike most of life’s little luxuries, chicken livers are still incredibly cheap. Seven ounces of rendered duck fat however, not as cheap; but when making pâté, its important to cut it with something unctuously fatty, and what better than duck fat?
The experimental kid inside me was disgusted as I trimmed the sinew and blood away from the slippery, burgundy organs. The experimental grown-up loved every second of meticulous dissection. The payoff: delicious, creamy pâté. I took it with me to share with friends during our weekly Tuesday on the Plaza shindig. There was much swooning, and several people told me it was the best pâté they’ve ever had. Even Mom strolled down to hang out for a bit and gave me what I can only describe as the motherly look of approval: as she chomped away at her first bite, her eyes began to twinkle, and it’s almost as if her knees went week as she bends and chews slower, with a growing grin. I’d chalk this one up to a success.
Creamy pâté with pickled cherries
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 pound chicken livers
1/3 cup cream
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon
Trim livers of sinew and blood spots and transfer to a plate with paper towels to let some of the moisture soak up before cooking.
Melt 2 tablespoons duck fat in a skillet over medium-high heat; add shallots and cook until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add livers to pan and sprinkle with salt and add chopped garlic; cook livers on one side until they begin to brown, about 2 minutes, then flip them and cook the other side. Be sure to keep heat relatively high so that the outside of livers sears and inside stays pink.
Put shallots, livers and their juices into a food processor or blender with butter, cream, spices, and bourbon. Purée mixture until it is smooth; taste and adjust seasoning.
Pickled Cherries (adapted from Bon Appétit June 2011)
3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Bring first 5 ingredients and 3/4 cup water to a boil in a medium stainless-steel saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 5 minutes. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain into a medium bowl; return liquid to pan. Add cherries and thyme to saucepan. Simmer until cherries are tender, 3–5 minutes. Transfer cherries and rosemary to a 1 quart mason jar. Pour in enough pickling liquid to cover cherries. Cover and chill.