Historic Heston is chef Heston Blumenthal’s tome to historic British recipes. It is really a gorgeous book, hefty and lushly bound, illustrated and photographed. Chef has been fascinated by old recipes dating as far back as the 14th century that he finds in old British cookery (cookery, love that word for some reason!) books. He then extensively researches them, updates them and most end up on his menu at his restaurant Dinner in London.
Meat Fruit is probably one of the most famous of such dishes. Curious about other recipes with fascinating names? How about Powdered Goose or Sambocade or Taffety Tart? Well, back to the Meat Fruit, a name that Diana hates even if she loved the actual dish. The idea here is to make mandarin that when sliced into appears to be not a fruit at all. It’s an orb of rich chicken liver mousse with a “skin” made of orange. This is the only such recipe that Blumenthal provides for Meat Fruit but he does mention other variations like a sausage mixture made to look like grapes or apples.
It’s a relatively easy process to make the mandarins once the chicken liver parfait is prepared and piped into hemisphere molds. The molds are frozen solid and each two hemispheres are then combined to form a neat sphere. Each sphere is wrapped tight and put back in the freezer waiting for the next step.
To make the “skin” of the mandarin I combined a mixture of mandarin puree, gelatin (a whole lot of gelatin sheets), glucose and a touch of paprika for color. I made my own mandarin puree by cooking several of the quartered fruit (peel and all) Sous Vide until they were soft. I blitzed them in the blender to make a smooth puree. I put the frozen parfait spheres on skewers and used that to dip them into the mandarin jelly two times.
After every dip in the mix the spheres went into the fridge to set for a few minutes. I do think maybe my jelly was a bit thicker than Blumenthal intended. My mandarins’ skin came out a bit thicker than it should be. At this point the chicken liver mandarins need to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the parfait can thaw and soften for service. The final touch, right before serving is to put a small twig into each “fruit” to give it a nice realistic look.
The finished meat fruit look very convincing and just damn cool. These are not just gimmicks though. I’ve already talked about how delicious the chicken liver parfait is and now with the sharp citrusy mandarin skin it is a complete package. I toasted some good bread (sourdough and brioche), rubbed the slices with herb oil and cut into the Meat Fruit. I cannot think of too many appetizers as impressive as this. It’s a dish that has a rich history, it looks stunning, it’s whimsical and simply delicious.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.