Chicken liver pate is a classic as an appetizer or on charcuterie boards, with a wonderfully smooth and gently rich flavor. It's also really easy to make and is perfect to make ahead for entertaining.
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These days, chicken liver pate is one of those things that might seem like a bit of a retro classic. For whatever reason, it was very popular for a while and has become less popular. Maybe it's just that liver in general is not seen as an appealing ingredient.
But it's worth setting aside any reservation you may have about liver. This pate doesn't have any of that overly-irony flavor you might have in mind. Instead, it's smooth and delicately rich. Plus even better, it's easy and very cost-effective to make.
What's the difference between pate and terrine?
Many countries have ways of making lesser cuts and offal into tasty treats, but France is probably best known for them. In general, a pate is a smooth paste and should include at least some kind of liver.
A terrine has a coarser texture, often including chunks of meat, though these days you will find vegetarian ones as well. The name terrine actually comes from the traditional dish it is moulded in, before being baked in a bain Marie (water bath).
Pate de fois de vollaille, as it is called in French, is a popular, traditional spread in France. Chicken livers have a mild flavor, cook quickly and blend up into a lovely smooth paste, particularly with the help of some butter. It's perfect served simply with some nice crusty bread or crackers, ideally paired with a glass of red wine.
Variations on this traditional French pate
You'll find a few variations in the ingredients for this, though most include chicken liver, onion or shallot, garlic and butter. Some including more butter, some add hard boiled eggs or cream and you'll find different cooking techniques. One is to cook it in the oven, but personally I find this unnecessary work here (it's perfect for terrines, but this doesn't really need it).
There are two other main ways to make this pate - one is by simmering the liver and onion in stock or other liquid, the other is by sautéing them in butter. Personally, I have gone with the latter as I think you get a better flavor that way.
Most recipes add some form of alcohol to add to the flavor. The most traditional is brandy (cognac) as I used here, but you could also use port, red wine or even whisky. It's worth simmering gently after you add the brandy to boil off the alcohol and take the edge off the flavor.
How to avoid a grainy pate
There are two main reasons for pate having a grainy texture. One is overcooking the liver, and the other is not making a smooth enough puree. In terms of cooking, the liver should cook and brown on the outside but still be pink on the inside. It only takes a couple of minutes, especially if you chop it up.
While the cooking is most responsible for graininess, it's also worth blending it well, too. You can help the texture by pushing through a fine strainer at the end. I know it might seem a little extra work, but having tried it both ways it is definitely that bit smoother.
Personally I like it both with a little more texture, and very smooth (in the photo above, the one in front is strained, behind is not). So it depends on your personal preference, I think, and how you plan to use it.
The top of the pate will quickly discolor when it is exposed to the air. You can press a layer of cling wrap/film on top which will help, but to keep it better, it's worth adding either a layer of jelly, or better (I think), clarified butter. Making clarified butter is quick and it makes quite a nice looking top to the pate.
Without a layer on top, it will keep just a day or two in the fridge. With the protective layer of butter, it will keep for around 5 days. To use the pate soon, store it in the fridge.
For longer storage, you can freeze it for a couple of months though make sure it is well sealed. Either way, it's worth dividing the pate into smaller dishes so you only need to have a small amount open at a time.
Chicken liver pate is really so much easier to make than you might think, and has a wonderfully smooth texture and delicately rich flavor. It's perfect to snack on as part of lunch, or used to make appetizers or canapes (like pate crostini with blackberry jam). Perfect for entertaining and more.
Try these other appetizers great for entertaining:
- Sausage rolls
- Baked mussels
- Smoked salmon pate
- Prosciutto wrapped dates
- Plus get more appetizer recipes in the archives.
Chicken liver pate
- ½ lb chicken livers 225g
- 1 shallot small
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 ½ tbsp butter divided, 35g, room temperature
- ¼ tsp fresh thyme leaves only, chopped
- 2 tbsp brandy
For butter seal on top
- 2 tbsp butter 30g, or 3tbsp/45g if wider dishes (to form layer to cover)
- thyme sprigs to garnish (optional)
- Start by cleaning the chicken livers - you want to get rid of any bits that may become tough. Find any white fat or connective tissue on a piece of liver and hold on to it as you use use your knife to take off the liver flesh. Remove the fat/connective tissue and roughly chop the liver. Repeat with the other pieces.
- Peel and finely dice the shallot and garlic. Warm ½tbsp (6g) butter in a skillet/frying pan over a medium heat and add the shallot. Cook, stirring, for a minute, then add the garlic.
- After another minute or two, as the onion is starting to soften and become translucent, add the liver and thyme. Cook for around 3 minutes on each side until lightly cooked on the outside but still pink in the middle.
- Add the brandy to the skillet/pan and stir gently to help the brandy evaporate off the alcohol and reduce. After a minute or two it will become almost syrup-like, then remove from the heat.
- Scrape the contents of the skillet/pan into a food processor and add the remaining 2tbsp butter. Blend until the mixture is very smooth. If you want an extra-smooth pate, then press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
- Either way, then transfer the pate to two or more small ramekins/dishes and flatten the top. If you don't want to top with butter, place cling wrap/film over the top of the pate, pressing on to the surface and ideally then also cover with a lid. Refrigerate and use within a day or two or freeze until needed. If adding butter, cover and chill in the fridge to firm up for around 25-20 minutes.
Adding butter seal
- To keep it fresher a little longer (around 5 days) until you start using, add a clarified butter seal. Melt the 2-3tbsp butter in a small skillet then once melted, remove from the heat. Skim off the foamy white part on top of the butter so just the clear yellow butter remains.
- Pour the melted butter over the top of the chilled pate in the ramekins, swirling gently if needed to form a layer all over. If you can't form a layer, you may need more butter (eg if your dish is wider but 2-3tbsp should be enough). If you like, press a little stem of thyme into the butter while it is still liquid. Place the dishes in the fridge until needed (or you can also freeze).
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