Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Chicken liver pate

Why does everyone go on about how much they hate January? I love January. It's my favourite month. There are so few expectations of joy and happiness that I, personally, love it. I can be as depressed as I like. No-one invites you out for dinner, or to a party, or anything. It's great!

And I always find the run-up to Christmas a tiny bit like the run-up to the end of the world. Quick, quick, quick... got to get everything done by this looming deadline. And you hold your breath and do it all and sort of expect the sky to fall on your head.  But then January 2 and 3 and 4 roll around in the usual fashion and you feel like you've been given a second chance at life.

My mistake in the past with January has been to leave Christmas decorations up. Now I take them down with great relish - all of them - on January 2. I throw away the cards, put everything else in a cardboard box, stash it away and forget it ever happened. And this year, we bought a living tree so we don't even have that sad throw-out-the-tree-carcass moment. It's just been moved outside in its little pot for next year.

My next move will be to go out and buy a lot of hyacinths, which I will do just after I've finished writing this and just before I go out and get a flu jab. My mother, who usually sounds surprised to hear from me when I ring, like: "Oh yeah! I thought there was another child somewhere. Which one are you again?", has gone mad and rung me every day for the past week asking if I've had my shot yet because she's worried about the baby. Not about ME, you'll notice.

Anyway, hyacinths are a key element to feeling good about January, if for some MENTAL reason you don't already feel good about it. Go and get some with your remaining pennies that you have not spent on cheap tat and mulled wine.

And then cook something frugal! Like this chicken liver pate. Easy peasy and very cheap.

In its most basic form, chicken liver pate is chicken livers cooked and then pulverised with melted butter and seasoned. That's it. (That's why it's always a starter in restaurants, because each serving costs the rezzy 50p to make, max, and then they flog it to you for £7.95).

Any extra seaonings besides salt and pepper are up to personal imagination. Below is a list of the stuff I usually put in my pate, but you can add extra things (mace? MUSTARD?) or leave things out if you don't like them/haven't got them.

1 400g packet chicken livers - I get mine from Waitrose, obviously
About 180g butter
3 shallots, chopped
some thyme - 2 sprigs, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
some brandy, about 2 glugs
some sage - 5 leaves, roughly chopped

1 Wash and sort through your chicken livers for any green or grey bits, which are gall bladder and will make you fucking gag and ruin the whole thing if any gets in your pate. Err on the side of caution and snip out anything that looks even vaguely suspect.

Heat some veg oil in a pan and gently cook your livers for about 4-5 minutes, turning often. You're looking for brown on the outside and pink on the inside - but not red. Snip the livers in half if that makes it more manageable. If you're a bit squeamish about offal, cook them for longer, bearing in mind that the longer you cook them, the more grainy your pate will be.

2 Sling your livers in a food processor and then fry the onions, garlic and any herbs you want together in the same pan on a very low heat for a good 10-15 mins. If you want a really garlicky pate, keep back one garlic clove and chuck it in raw later.

3 While this is happening, melt the butter - about 180g. Yeah, it is quite a lot. I've never really been able to get the hang of clarifying butter, but in theory if you melt it really slowly what ought to happen is that the clear part of the butter floats to the top and the milky part of the butter sinks to the bottom. That much butter takes about 10-15 mins to melt.

4 Once the onions and garlic are done, add them to the livers in the food processor. Then pour about 2 tablespoonfuls of brandy into your pan and turn up the heat to full bongoes. Cook this down and scrape at the bottom of the pan to get all the gack off and swizzle it into the brandy for about 2-3 minutes and then add it to the food mixer. Chase this with about 2 tablespoons of your melted butter. If you want it garlicky, add your raw garlic clove now.

5 Whizz all this up. Taste. Season. You will need quite a lot of salt, about two or three big pinches, and about 8-10 turns of the pepper grinder. It is normal for warm, pulverised chicken livers to smell a bit scary and pungent. You may wonder just what kind of hellish mess I've got you into. Fear not, when chilled this horrifying mixture will be unscary and tasty.

6 I like my pate quite rustic and don't mind the odd corner of onion, but if you'd like yours more of a smooth parfait, pass it through a sieve. This is messy and annoying and quite tough on the old triceps, but it's what you have to do. Decant, seal with a layer of melted butter and chill. If you're feeling artistic, gently press a sage leaf into your clarified butter lid.

My advice is to decant the pate into a number of small ramekins and top each with a layer of butter, rather than putting the whole thing into a large container, so that you can use one small ramekin of pate at a time and still have some fresh in the fridge, rather than feeling under pressure to eat a huge cereal-bowl-sized wodge of pate at one sitting.

Eat with toast and cornichons, while pretending that the letter from the bank about your overdraft that you just threw in the bin in fact got lost in the post.

Keeps for about 10 days (butter-seal unbroken) in the fridge.


  1. God, I LOVE chicken liver pate. But I find I'm in the minority. I made it for 8 people the other day, and only 3 could eat it without gagging. Admittedly 4 of them were under 3 yrs old, but even so, I know they're just the ones who feel able to squeal about it.

  2. ahh... January!...(this post talks volumes) ahh... Hyacinths... (really good call, there's NOTHING that beats the smell of a room filled with the fugg of hyacinth)... and chicken liver... mmmm, such inspiration E, thank you x

  3. Try to add also capers and anchovies, a completely different dimension! I will post this recipe on Friday if you are interested.

  4. This looks really tasty!
    Since we don't have Waitrose in Norway, I wonder how much liver "one packet" contains?

  5. Hi Frida

    One packet is 400g.

    E xxx

  6. Purely coincidentally I was reading another food blog the other day and they said they had the world's most perfect chicken liver pate recipe. The link is here:

    They don't half muck it about a bit from the basic recipe. What do you think?

  7. I don't read other food blogs on principle. But I'm sure it's great.

  8. This is probably a really stoopid question, but once you've have clarified the butter and you're ready to seal the pate, do you pour all the melted butter on top or just the clear stuff on top?

    Yeah, I am that clueless.

  9. No, not a stupid question, I obviously didn't explain properly. The idea is to pour over the clear stuff only, leaving a white residue at the bottom of the pan. I always get a bit of white stuff mixed up with my clear and it's not a disaster if that happens.

  10. This totally inspired me to make this last night, for consumption in about four hours' time. Already I cannot wait. Rather sad I have guests coming, in fact.

  11. I made this recipe this weekend and it is lush. Very simple, easy on the pocket and tasty too. Don't think I cooked off all the brandy - you can still taste it - is that how it's supposed to be? I quite liked it with the boozy taste.

  12. Made this the other day, and I've been having it on Ryvita for my lunch all week. Smelled awful while it was cooking, but it tastes delicious! Thanks for the recipe.

  13. I know I'm reading this a year late, but once it's been put in ramekins, can it be frozen?

  14. It can in theory but I wouldn't

  15. We made this yesterday and it turned out lovely! But boy, was it disgusting all warm and mashed up... End result looks quite nice though:) Thanks for the recipe.

  16. Guh, hacking off the yellow bits from the chicken livers is not sure I will be able to eat it after that ordeal. Fingers crossed it tastes delicious!

    The first thing I have tried to recreate from your blog which I discovered recently and think is just brilliant. I have an 18 month old little boy and so much of what you write about is very familiar - and also very refreshing.

  17. I'm shit at cooking, but love pate, I made this and it's ace, apart from cloudy butter (maybe best NOT to use spreadable), it's awesome. Thank you thank you thank you!

  18. Ok, so now I've made it for the second time (scoffed the first batch in a week). I think I may have undercooked the livers - its mousse-like texture, but on breaking through the butter seal, the pots have liquid in the bottom. Its watery, and colourless, is it ok to eat it? I promise I'm not a stalker, but I've given a pot to my Grandma and don't want to kill her!