This recipe is classic French/European recipe for chicken liver pate, except for the first step with soaking livers in starchy ice bath. Most recipes include soaking livers in milk. “It is often said that milk improves the taste, purges blood, lightens the color, or affects some other property of the meat.” (“Modernist Cuisine” Nathan Myhrvold, p. 147) Soaking lean proteins in cold water (or flavored liquids) mixed with starch is “velveting”, a technique used to prevent delicate foods from overcooking. I’ve heard about it first from my Japanese friend and then found more in Chinese Gastronomy by Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin.
“Prawns, fish, chicken and vegetables placed in plain or slightly salted water take up water. This is extremely desirable in some instances to make up for the water lost during the cooking. Prawns become plump almost visibly when placed in water, and when these are cooked, they actually become crunchy. Fish and chicken swell slightly, and remain tender when they are subsequently sautéed. Vegetables regain their original crispiness, fill out and straighten.”
“The [thin starchy] velvet coat protects the flavor and texture of the food when it is placed into hot oil or water.”
Overcooking livers is the most common mistake. It makes their texture dry and sandy. Soaking livers in cold starchy water makes it more difficult to overcook them and is a big help for beginners.
The rest of the recipe is basic, with well known steps you can find in many other recipes for chicken liver pate. Let’s talk about little details, that are often left out.
I’ve been craving for chicken liver pate for the last few weeks and cooked it a number of times. Many of my guests had a chance to taste it on a slice of fresh French baguette. Some of them asked me the same question — why is it so pale? Because, the best tasting chicken livers are pale! In the U.S., we rarely have a chance to choose them — they are sold in closed white containers. But if you do have a choice, pick those that are pale.
Is adding alcohol critical for the chicken liver pate? No, it’s optional. But it does add some goodness to it, if the alcohol — brandy, cognac, whiskey, scotch, calvados, bourbon, port, sherry, etc. — is high quality.
Leeks are my favorite choice for onions, but they can be substituted with any other kind of your choice. It is important to sauté them until completely soft and sweet. In case of regular onions, I’d suggest caramelizing them for extra sweetness.
The amount of butter is variable and can be adjusted to taste. More butter makes the texture more firm (when cold) and the taste more delicate (or diluted). Always go for the best butter you can afford.