Truth be told I am not a huge fan of chicken liver. It’s more of a texture thing than taste. I do not like that grainy mouthfeel most chicken liver (like chopped liver) preparations have. When I cook it, it’s usually part of a bigger picture, like dirty rice. When chicken liver is the star of the dish I go above and beyond to make it as smooth as possible. One example is Tuscan chicken liver crostini from Mario Batali’s “Babbo” cookbook. He only instructs us to puree it in the food processor and I think he values the slightly chunky texture. When I make that, I puree the hell out of it and even pass it through a sieve to get a silky smooth texture.
This recipe takes chicken liver mousse to an even higher level. It’s from Michel Richard’s immensely useful book, “Happy in the Kitchen“. Richard gives it the name of “Faux Gras”, an allusion to the expensive, luxurious and wonderful fattened duck or goose liver. I had to give it a try to see how close to its namesake it really is. My intention was to try some on its own and to attempt to quickly sear a cube of it to see if that would work. Well, I never got to the second part of my experiment, we just ate the whole thing up over a period of a few days!
To get to that smooth and rich texture that real foie gras has, Richard purees in a blender chicken livers with a mixture of sautéed onions, cream, and loads of butter. This creates a stable emulsion that is then passed through a sieve to remove any impurities and “graininess” from the “liver shake” (ewww…liver shake). The mixture is baked in a low oven in a bain marie (tub of water) like a custard until set. The liver is then chilled and covered with a parsley gelee. The gelee is made from pureed cucumber, gelatin, lemon juice and lots of parsley. In addition to looking very neat and tasting great it also helps seal the liver and slow down oxidation and discoloration.
The result? As I mentioned earlier, we never got around to test if I can quickly sear a cube of the stuff in a further imitation of foie gras (I guess I need to make it again to test that out). So it was good, very good. Even Diana who does not like chicken liver ate a plate and enjoyed it very much. Does it taste like foie gras? not really. I still think it tastes like chicken liver, but the fatty smooth texture and the subtle seasoning make this one heck of a special chicken liver mousse. To serve it, I just accompanied it with various sweet, tart and spicy condiments like balsamic vinegar, fig confit, cranberry chutney, Zuni pickled prunes, Pommery mustard and homemade bread.
I, along with a couple of friends, recently visited a good buddy of ours in Seattle. Well, we went to “Lebowski Fest” actually. That was fun, but the trip was really an excuse to share beers with friends, see the sights of the absolutely wonderful city of Seattle (the weather was just perfect BTW), and eat some good food of course. We had good seafood by the ocean, walked for hours around the amazing Pike Place Market and enjoyed delicious grilled cheese and mac and cheese at Beecher’s. One of the best meals we had was one that our host made, a simple Amatriciana sauce made with guanciale from Salumi and served with dried tagliatelle and many glasses of red wine.
Let me back up a little here. I knew if there was one place I was going to go to in Seattle it would be Salumi. This is a small sandwich shop run by Armandino Batali (Mario’s dad). It’s not just any sandwich shop though. Armandino makes his own salami, culatello, coppa, porchetta and many other wonderful cured meat products. We got three large sandwiches with different fillings. One was filled with a special salami flavored with citrus zest and cardamom and all had different cheeses along with onions and peppers. We also had a side order of lomo (cured pork loin) for good measure. We sat at a communal table and enjoyed a bottle of red with our food. That was a simple but memorable meal and a lot of good food for two people, but I figured I probably won’t be back to Seattle for some time so I indulged.
Our host makes his Amatriciana sauce with nothing more than sautéed guanciale, a red onion, shallot and canned tomatoes. It’s much less involved than most you would see in books or online that use herbs, a tomato sauce and garlic. The sauce he made was porky and outstanding so I wanted to make something similar with the piece of guanciale I brought home with me as soon as possible.
So, my Amatriciana sauce was simple with one addition, a clove of garlic. Other than that it was the “Seattle” Amatriciana. For pasta, bucatini is traditional, I had perciatelli on hand which as far as I can tell is more or less the same. They are both spaghetti looking noodles that are hollow. Most versions in restaurants here and in cookbooks recommend substituting pancetta or bacon for the tougher-to-find guanciale. That makes a good sauce, but really nothing quiet compares to cured pig jowl. It is very flavorful and fatty without being cloying and has a firm slightly gelatinous and toothsome texture that is downright addictive. Everyone should try this sauce at least once with guanciale to see what I am talking about. I have a fresh pig jowl in the freezer from Harrison Hogs Farms that I plan to cure soon. We’ll see how that compares to Salumi’s gold standard.
I make a lot of fresh sausage on a regular basis, but rarely do I make a dry cured fermented sausage. That’s primarily because I do not have a proper curing chamber that maintains a steady temperature and a high humidity level. Most amateur cooks who dabble with fermented sausages use an old fridge equipped with a humidifier for humidity. As my dear wife constantly reminds me, I already have too many hobbies and too many gadgets. So I do not think a suped-up curing fridge is in my near future. This recipe is courtesy of Jason Molinari from his great Cured Meats blog.
The idea behind making fermented sausages is not that different than making beer or even bread. You mix the meat with spices and any other flavorings, then you add a “starter” and mix well. The starter is analogous to the yeast added to wort to make beer. It’s a live culture that can be bought online from sausage making suppliers. The mixture is stuffed into casings and allowed to ferment at about 70 F. During that time the starter culture grows and in the process makes the mixture acidic. This gives the salami the characteristic tangy flavor and the acidity controls the growth of any undesirable bacteria. Nex,t the sausages need to sit in the curing chamber to dry evenly and age. Ideally they need be at 55 F or so and the humidity should be about 65%. Lacking a curing chamber, I had the sausages in my garage fridge. The temperature in there is much lower (need to keep my beer cold afterall) and I control the humidity around the sausages by using a large (2.5 gallon) plastic ziploc bag. When the sausages loose about 25-30% of their original weight, they are ready to eat.
These came out perfect, with a nice tight texture and no air pockets. The flavor was tangy and porky with not too much garlic or spice. I need to make more salami!