Monday, May 23, 2005

Mock Paté Foie Gras

In cooking, the term "foie gras" is used exclusively for duck or goose livers. These livers have been considered a delicacy for several thousand years. The Romans, for example, used various elaborate methods for fattening duck livers to make them more succulent. History tells us that Scipio Metellus, a Roman gastronome, devised a recipe for plunging the livers, still warm from a freshly killed duck, into a bath of milk and honey where they were left for several hours. It is said that the livers became considerably swollen and were enhanced with a wonderful flavour.

Unfortunately, duck and goose livers are not available locally. Fortunately, chicken livers are always available and when prepared this way -- and at just a small fraction of the price you would pay for the real thing -- come amazingly close in flavour to foie gras.

I usually serve the paté with crackers or triangles of thin toast, but because it has such a nice consistency for spreading, it can also be used as a sandwich filling. (My husband John likes it between slices of light rye bread with butter, mustard and thinly sliced dill pickles — a treat to be stuffed into a pocket of his fishing vest and eaten on the bank of a river.)

The paté will keep for several days, but it should be filmed with a melted butter or a light layer of dissolved gelatin before being tightly wrapped and refrigerated..

1 pound very fresh chicken livers

2 teaspoons unflavoured gelatin

1/2 cup cold strong chicken stock, homemade or canned

3 tablespoons very finely chopped shallots or red onion

4 ounces (1/4 pound) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

Salt

Pinch dried tarragon

1/4 cup tawny port

3/4 cup cottage cheese

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon crushed peppercorns (preferably green peppercorns, but black peppercorns may be used)

Trim the chicken livers of all fat, sinew and any green bile, which can make them taste bitter.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold chicken stock and let it soften while sautéing the livers.

In a 10-inch frying pan, melt half the butter and cook the shallots or onion in it for about 10 minutes over low heat, or until very soft but not brown. Add the chicken livers, raise the heat, and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the livers are lightly springy when touched but still pink inside.

Season the livers with a little salt and the tarragon. Pour in the port and boil for about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the livers and onions to a bowl, leaving the liquid in the frying pan.

Boil down the cooking liquid until it is reduced to half its original volume. Pour in the gelatined chicken stock and simmer for about a minute to dissolve the gelatin completely. Then turn off the heat and add the remaining butter to let it melt.

In a food processor, purée the cottage cheese until smooth. Add the gelatined sauce and purée again. Then add and purée the sautéed livers and onions until very smooth. Add the crushed pepper. Taste carefully for seasoning and add more crushed pepper and salt if needed. (At this stage the paté will still be runny, but the gelatin and butter will cause it to firm up as it chills.)

Using a rubber spatula, pack the paté mixture into 1 or 2 decorative bowls and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.

Makes about 3 cups.