Historic Heston: The Chicken Liver Parfait

Chicken Liver Parfait6I hesitate to call anything perfect or the ultimate or the best, but really this chicken liver parfait is it…at least for now. I have made rich and decadent chicken liver mousse before but this recipe (itself part of another recipe) uses a couple of techniques that result in the most luxurious pink hued chicken liver parfait ever. The flavor is superb with the strong liver minerality working in perfect harmony with the wine, butter, shallots and herbs.

The main problem with chicken liver dishes is the texture – well, at least for me it is. That grainy sometimes chalky chopped liver texture is loved by some but I find it very off-putting. This is usually due to the liver being overcooked at too high of a heat. When making chicken liver mousse or parfait it’s very important to cook the meat properly. Most recipes will just have us puree the liver with the rest of the ingredients and cook in a ramekin or maybe saute the liver and then puree it with aromatics and such. Blumenthal goes through an extra step or two that are very much worth their effort.

Chicken Liver Parfait-Wine

The primary ingredients of the parfait are cleaned and de-veined chicken livers (free range ones from Yonder Way Farm), eggs mixed with a flavorful liquid reduction (port, wine, brandy along with shallots and herbs) and a whole lot of butter. The butter weight is actually almost equal to the meat weight! The livers (seasoned with salt and curing salt), egg mixture and butter all go in separate bags and are placed in a water bath heated to 50 C with an immersion circulator. The bags stay in the water for about 20 minutes. This temperature and time are obviously not long enough to cook anything. The purpose is to bring everything to the same warm temperature. This helps insure that when I blend the three mixtures together the parfait mix does not split. Mixing cold butter with cool chicken livers and room temperature eggs can really end up hurting the texture.

Chicken Liver Parfait

This is where top level chefs separate themselves from the rest. Attention to the crazy minute details. Maybe making sure that the components of the chicken liver parfait are at the same warm 50 C temperature is a little thing. Maybe it does not make THAT much of a difference. These little things though do add up and make something that is very good great. The other step to really get that texture just right is to pass the blended liver mixture through a very fine sieve. Now the parfait is ready to cook. The mixture goes into a terrine pan that sits in a pan of very hot water (a bain marie ). The parfait is a custard that needs to cook gently like any flan or creme caramel. This one cooks for about 35 minutes in a 212 F oven until the center registers about 147 F on a thermometer.

Chicken Liver Parfait2 Chicken Liver Parfait3

Another issue with preparations like this is that the cooked parfait gets an unattractive greenish dark layer on the surface due to oxidation. Even with the Sodium Nitrite (the curing salt added to the livers) this discoloration will still happen). This only gets worse after the parfait sits in the fridge for 24 hours to set. That ugly layer also has a strong flavor. So it messes up all the hard work we’ve been through so far to make a beautiful creamy dark pink chicken liver parfait. The solution? Well, very easy really. Just scrape it off before transferring the cooled parfait into another container.

 

Chicken Liver Parfait4

I put the parfait into a piping bag and piped most of it into small silicon half sphere molds (more about that in the next post) and the rest went into a couple of small ramekins. If I leave the the ramekins like that with the surface of the parfait exposed the will develop the oxidized nasty top layer again. So, I quickly made a vinegar gelèe with apple cider vinegar and little sugar and gelatin. It’s the same idea as the one I made before  for the “Faux Gras” but this time I left the vinegar mixture totally clear instead of mixing it with parsley. The gelèe both protects the parfait and makes a delicious tart condiment for the liver. The parfait topped with the gelèe like that can sit covered in the fridge for a couple weeks with no problem. We ate the contents of the two small ramekins smeared on toasted brioche with a glass of crisp white wine. This really is the best chicken liver parfait we’ve ever had. It is luxurious, rich, creamy, smooth and has a marvelous flavor.

Fried Chicken with Red Potato and Green Bean Salad

The last few weeks at work have been (and continue to be) stressful and frustrating. I barely had time to cook proper meals, let alone take pictures and post about them. It seems like I am finally seeing a light at the end of this particular tunnel. What better dish to bring some normalcy back into the kitchen than fried chicken? Well, several actually (including a nice sirloin with chimichurri sauce that I cooked up recently) but for now it is fried chicken time.

While not exactly last minute, I had not really planned on making fried chicken. The chicken was pretty good but with more planning the dish would’ve been superb. Most likely I would have brined the chicken and given it a buttermilk soak. Another version I’ve been wanting to try is the smoked fried chicken from Aki and Alex at Ideas in Food. Just like it sounds, that recipe applies  some smoke time to the poultry before frying it. It really sounds awesome. In my impromptu fried chicken dinner I had a couple of pouches of chicken thighs and legs that were cooked sous vide with nothing more than a little butter and salt. I soaked them in a mixture of seasoned buttermilk before shaking them in seasoned flour. Since they are technically already cooked, I just needed to focus on getting that nice crispy crust. So, I fried them at a higher temperature for a shorter time (400F for about 3-4 minutes) than your typical fried chicken.

This was the first time I use my brand new propane burner outdoors right on the backyard grass. I bought it from Academy to use for brewing beer, frying and wok stir-frying. It’s fantastic to fry a bunch of chicken and some onion rings (for garnish) with no worries about oil splatters gunking the stove or the frying oil smell lingering in the kitchen and living room for hours. The chicken was good with a perfect crust but tasted a little bit flat. Brining and soaking the chicken raw in buttermilk would certainly have helped with juicyness and tenderness. Maybe next time.

Now, the potato salad was pretty spectacular and would almost make a nice meal on its own. It’s from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book. It contains boiled red potatoes and blanched green beans in addition to shredded Bib lettuce. The vegetables are tossed in creamy pepper dressing. That dressing is absolutely amazing and I’ve used the rest of it for days just to dip vegetables in and dress a chicken salad a couple of days ago. It’s a bit more involved than your typical dressing but not complicated. First, you make a sweet-sour reduction (a gastrique) from mixture of Banyuls vinegar, black pepper and honey. Once it is cooled it gets whisked with freshly made garlic aioli, creme fraiche, buttermilk and mustard. It’s got a wonderful combination of sharp, tart and sweet flavors and a lovely creamy texture.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Lemon and Eggs

One of the most lovely looking dishes I made from a Paula Wolfert recipe. This amazing stew was the first time I use an actual clay tagine. This specific Tagine (which is the name of the pot and the dish made in it) is an inexpensive glazed clay one I bought from Sur La Table. It’s made in Portugal and as far as I can tell it worked great. In the future I would love to spring out some more cash and get one of those neat-looking ones from Clay Coyote, but for now, the Portuguese one will have to do. Maybe when Paula’s new updated edition of “Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco” book comes out will be the right time for that.

This recipe is from her latest book, “Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking“. It immediately caught my eye when looking for a recipe to try in my tagine in my books. I do admit that I was a bit apprehensive as to how it will all turn out since I was not sure what to exactly expect. In the intro, Paula refers to another tricky Moroccan  recipe that “encases” chicken in a cooked egg mixture and then discusses this one as similar but different in that it uses eggs but they form more of a custardy sauce for the chicken. That sounded good, but the eggs get cooked in butter in the tagine alone before adding any sauce and that concerned me. I was worried that the end result would resemble cooked chicken in an eggy scrambled sauce. If the Diana and the kids hate it, then all the work would be in vain. I really needn’t have worried because it far exceeded my expectations.

I salted the chicken (local, free-range from Yonder Way Farm) and seasoned it with paprika, cumin  and a very small pinch of cinnamon several hours ahead of time. I almost always pre-salt meat if I have the time. The base for the dish is a mixture of butter, grated onions, garlic, saffron, dry ground ginger and cinnamon (a tiny pinch of that). With water, that base makes for an aromatic liquid in which the chicken pieces gently stew. The chicken pieces get finished under the broiler for a crispy skin right before nestling back in the sauce for service. For the sauce, the cooking liquid is mixed with caramelized grated onions, olives, sliced preserved lemon peels, parsley and cilantro. Eggs get cooked very gently in the tagine in butter and mixed with lemon juice. To bring it all together, the onion-olive mixture gets mixed in to the eggs. The mixture turns to a wonderful velvety a very deeply flavored sauce. Add the chicken pieces back in and it is ready to serve.

For some starch to sop up all that amazing sauce, I made couscous and simple tangy chickpeas. The dish was a hit with everyone, the sauce was rich and very flavorful, but certainly not heavy or “eggy”. The last step of broiling the chicken pieces really takes the dish to the next level by giving it a deeply burnished and crispy skin as opposed to the soft flabby one we normally get in chicken tagines. I will be making this again and am already thinking how the sauce would work with lamb instead of chicken.

Over 60 lbs of Sausage

At least twice a year I get together with a few friends and we make a bunch of sausage. We make 3 or 4 varieties usually. This time we made the largest batch yet, about 62 lbs of them. It was a two-day fest of grinding, stuffing and feasting. We made four varieties this time around:

– Italian Sausage with Basil and Rosemary

– Toulouse Sausage with Herbs and White Wine

– Hatch Chile Sausage with Cilantro, Lime and Queso Fresco

– Chicken Shawarma Sausage (Chicken meat and pork fat with shawarma flavors – white wine, lemon, cardamom, allspice,…)

The first day we do all the cutting, seasoning, grinding and mixing.

These were our dinner. Accompanied with baked potatoes, broccolini, mushrooms in Marsala and a few slices of Cotechino. Light stuff…

Day two is when we stuff and portion out all the sausage.

Till next time

Chicken Faux Gras

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.

Portuguese Roasted Chicken with Potatoes

There’s really not much to this dish, matter of fact, in the book the author dubs it “Quick Weekday Roast Chicken with Potatoes”. So it is easy enough that it can be made during the week for supper. I’ve made this many times since I first tested it out for the book and it never ceases to jolt my senses by how delicious it is. The book I am talking about here is David Leite’s wonderful “The New Portuguese Table” and the stuff that makes this chicken so good is the “amped-up red pepper paste”. That paste is tart, with a deep tomato flavor, lots of different types of paprika, fragrant with cilantro and certainly pretty garlicky. It makes one of hell of a tasty tray of  baked chicken wings and a great rub for pork as well.

When I make the recipe now I do deviate slightly from the instructions. I like to salt the chicken well the night before (something I do with all meat if I can) or at least for 4-5 hours before I roast it. This salt treatment makes any meat taste better and I first started doing it a long time ago based on Judy Rodgers’ method in her classic “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook“. The salt draws out the water, very lightly cures the meat and actually makes it more flavorful and juicy. The other deviation is how I treat the potatoes. Leite puts them in with the chicken raw, I prefer to boil them or steam them first. They seem to soak in more of the cooking juices and of the paste as they roast alongside the chicken. On top of that they also crisp up better.

Quick Market Dinners

For the past few weeks, every Thursday, a farmers’ market have been setup in the plaza center right next to my office. I did not honestly expect much but was pleasantly surprised. A couple of vendors are selling fresh eggs, there several with good summer vegetables, a very good bread stand, several prepared food and “treats’ vendors. We also got artisan sausages, bacon and all kinds of goat milk products, like an excellent fresh cheese.

This here is a fresh tomato salad, topped with tangy goat cheese (from Swede Farm). We ate that for dinner with crusty baguettes.

The following week we had a chicken salad with tomato vinaigrette, salad greens, whole grain bread croutons and sweet small tomatoes that according to the vendor are called Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes.