A Delicious Pâté for Holiday Entertaining…or Any Occasion!
Liver: some people love it, but others? Not so much. I happen to be a convert to loving liver, and find that chicken liver is perhaps my favorite kind. It’s certainly the easiest to convince other people to try as it tends to be milder in flavor than beef, pork, or game meat varieties.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy chicken liver is to prepare it as a pate. Especially in Northern Italy, chicken liver pâté is frequently enjoyed as a topping for crostini as an antipasti or light bar snack. That’s where I first got hooked on it myself, and then tried to perfect my own recipe for preparing it at home. I’ve tried lots of different variations from cookbooks and websites until coming up with a method and recipe of my own that I liked the best. My recipe results in a thick and yummy pate that is packed with flavor, but not too rich and—I think—a good introduction for those who might otherwise be afraid of consuming organ meat. It’s great as part of a party buffet served with different vegetable and meat appetizers, and you can prepare it a day or two ahead of time as well.
Want to give it a try? Check out my recipe below.
Sockii’s Best Chicken Liver Pâté
Recipe notes: Many people have variations on this basic recipe. Some use olive oil instead of butter to cook the chicken livers; some sherry or vermouth instead of brandy; add cream or other spices to the mix. I like this recipe because I find the texture is nice and thick, definitely more of a pâté than a soft mousse. It also lets the flavor of the liver come through while not being overpowering or masked by too many spices.
It may not be the most appealing looking food in the world given its dull color, but you can jazz up chicken liver pâté for an attractive plate with a variety of the optional toppings discussed below.
- One 20-ounce container chicken livers
- Whole milk (about 2 cups)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small yellow onion or 2 shallots (your choice)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 jiggers (or 4.5 ounces) brandy
- Sea salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Dried or fresh sage, rosemary and thyme
- Baguette bread for crostini
- sides and toppings for serving
1. Soak the chicken livers overnight in the refrigerator, in enough milk to cover.
2. Drain and rinse the chicken livers
Use a colander over the sink for this step, and pat dry once done.
3. Trim the livers to remove the stringy membrane and any clinging fat.
This will help the final pâté have a smoother texture and better flavor. Look for any opaque yellow “blobs” or masses clinging to the livers and trim them away-we don’t need that fat in the dish. Also look for any livers that look green and remove them entirely (see notes below). Once done, set the livers aside in a bowl until ready to proceed.
4. Finely chop the onion and garlic.
Melt the butter in a large saute pan and cook the onion and garlic slowly over a low heat, until translucent. They should be done in about 4 minutes; be careful not to brown or burn the onions and garlic.
5. Add the trimmed chicken livers to the pan and raise the heat to medium-high.
Cook for about 4 minutes until the outside of the livers are browned, but they are still somewhat pink inside. Overcooking is not good for the flavor or texture of liver!
6. Once cooked, remove the livers from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Remember: don’t overcook them!
7. Add the brandy to the pan to deglaze it.
Cook down until the pan juices and brandy are reduced and thick, just about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat once liquid is almost of a syrupy consistency.
8. Allow livers and pan sauce to cool enough to handle, then combine in a food processor.
Add salt, fresh ground pepper, and dried or chopped fresh spices to taste. In summer months I will use fresh herbs from my garden, but in the winter dry herbs will do. I like thyme, rosemary and sage with chicken livers for a subtle rustic, herbaceous touch.
9. Pulse until well combined and smooth.
Check seasoning and adjust as needed. Decide how much salt and herbs you need slowly-don’t overdo it.
10. Place liver pâté into a serving bowl, cover tightly with saran wrap and store in refrigerator until ready to serve
It will set and thicken more as it cools. I know it doesn’t look appealing. Trust me, it’s delicious.
11. Plate and serve!
Provide additional toppings and sides for guests, or “decorate” the crostini yourself. You can serve the pâté in the serving bowl as above, with toasted or grilled bread slices on the side, or put together the topped crostini if serving immediately. Chopped red onion, baby gherkins, parsley, capers, hard-boiled eggs and hot peppers all make tasty and colorful choices. You can also serve the pâté with celery or carrot sticks as another choice for “dipping” or enjoying with the pâté.
A few safety note on cooking with chicken livers
Enjoy them, but handle with care!
- Chicken livers spoil quickly. Use or freeze within a day or two of purchasing from the market. The best way to thaw frozen chicken livers is overnight in the refrigerator (you can put them in the milk soak while defrosting.)
- Chicken livers normally will come in a range of colors – and that’s okay! Tan, red, and yellow are normal and safe colors for liver. If the chicken liver looks green, however, that may mean it has been contaminated with bile leaked out from the gallbladder. Such livers are generally screened for in packaging and will not be harmful to consume but will have a bitter flavor. Color does not indicate the age or condition of the liver, only what a bird last ate.
- Be sure the liver is neither over OR undercooked. While I warned against overcooking the livers, do be sure they are not raw in the center (cut one in half to check before removing from heat.) Any raw poultry product carries some risk of disease and should be handled and cooked with care.
- If possible, buy livers from organic, free range chicken farms. It’s not always possible, but if you are concerned about potential toxins and impurities while consuming liver, remember that organic, hormone-free and naturally-raised are always your best choices.
- Enjoy the pâté within 3 or 4 days of preparing it. Covering the top of the pate with chicken fat (schmaltz) will help it stay better longer, but trust me…it’s rare you’ll have leftovers for long with this tasty treat!