It was a pretty crazy idea, in retrospect, but we were determined to make something show-stopping for a dinner for Clara’s parents (half a joint birthday celebration and half a thank you for their invaluable help on vvitalny‘s installation Hinge Figures). With the taste of Paris lingering in our mind’s mouth, and a copy of the Auberge of the Flowering Hearth on hand (another Alice Waters recommendation), we settled on a chicken liver terrine. We’re a big pâte familia, and it looked easy enough – just a few ingredients, an hour of baking, and voila! So we set to work. AHEM. Before you read on and draw misguided conclusions from the photos of ingredients, doesn’t this look so delicious?! Because, truly, it was. First, we set about tracking down the ingredients. Chicken livers sell for cheap at our favorite neighborhood butcher The Meat Hook, but when we inquired about caul skins and white pork fat, we got some serious wide eyes. Then, laughter. Followed by a bit of disbelief. When they finally realized we meant business, they got down to it, too. Good thing with having a favorite neighborhood butcher is they’re likely to have even the most esoteric of animal products for you in the back room where they break said animals down, and if they don’t, they’re likely to be intrigued by your meaty cooking adventure and help you locate what they themselves don’t carry. Lesson: make friends with your neighborhood butcher. Caul skin is, in modern parlance, caul fat. In our late ’60s country French recipe, it is the material of choice for wrapping terrines and pâtes (other tasty, updated, options include bacon, or, say, duck skin.) It’s actually a membrane, stretchy, vaguely opaque and fantastically veiny. It looks like this: (Thanks to Ashley for modeling. Halloween, anyone?) White pork fat is not leaf lard as we originally thought, but, rather, plain old unrefined fat from the pig’s back…tough and slightly pink, and uber-industrial looking compared to the sexy white leaf lard. Our butcher hauled out a big plastic bucket of the stuff and started digging around for the choicest bits. It looks like this: Our particular recipe didn’t call for any actual flesh, which caught our attention (the duck pâte which follows it is a three day and 24-ingredient affair, and calls for an entire duck, as well as extra duck livers, veal, veal knuckles, several kinds of fat and five different liquors!) but hey, who are we to judge a terrine recipe, having never made one ourselves? The terrine came together easily and quickly enough. The most tedious bit was chopping the pork fat by hand as – alas! – a meat grinder with a medium sized disc is yet to be standard equipment in our home kitchen. We were careful to chop the fat into tiny, ground-like bits, though, as we were worried that if left too big, the pieces wouldn’t render and they’d stick out, ruining the texture and flavor of our terrine. The livers, once semi-cooked, were soft and when chopped started to turn into something of a paste. We mixed everything in a large metal mixing bowl with a fork (using the light lifting strokes suggested), substituted a good Port for the Madeira wine (dry Marsala works as well) and added a splash of the cooking juices from the sauteed livers. Not too much – we didn’t want a soupy terrine! – but enough to add that bit of extra flavor. We also went a little overboard on the fresh herbs….chopped and rolled several tablespoons of sage, and added two tablespoons of fresh rosemary, chopped, and a generous shake of dried thyme. The recipe says to line the (rectangular) terrine pan (we went with a neutral metal loaf pan) with 2 – 3 thickness of the caul fat…we opted for two, which seemed more than sufficient. We poured in our mixture, making sure it settled into all the corners and was patted flat. We filled a large glass baking dish with boiling water, covered the terrine pan with aluminum foil, placed it in the center of the water dish (a bain-marie), and put it in the oven. The recipe calls for an hour of baking at 350F for an hour. A chef friend of ours who’s wary of printed cooking times suggested we try lowering the over to 250F, and cooking for an hour and a half or more. And so, into the oven for two hours it went… With two hours up, we gingerly peeled back the hot aluminum and…were not prepared to discover a shrunken caul skin packet floating (literally) in rendered fat. Hm…perhaps the two hours was a bit much, given that the terrine doesn’t call for any actual meat (which would in fact benefit from slow basting in fatty juices). In the future, we’ll go with the printed instructions, given that the recipe has a century of backing to our day of experience… Not to fear! We drained off the oil (and kept it…pork fat fries, anyone?), basted the little packet, and then devised a makeshift system of weights to hold the packet together as it cooled: a can of tuna wedged in the side, to make up for the lost third of mass (in a plastic bag, of course), then a layer of wax papers across the top and a few heavy cans of beans. Into the fridge for 24 hours and voila! A fantastic, slightly sweet, slightly salty, country pâte. For something so exquisite (and expensive when store-bought) this terrine was, actually, easy. And delicious. Amazingly delicious. Almost like Paris.
chicken liver terrine.
Adapted from The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth (*love the way this recipe is laid out!)
Staple items: Butter (about 3tbs)
Flavorings: crystal salt, freshly ground black pepper, fresh rosemary, sage leaf & thyme
Chicken livers (1 lb)
White pork fat (1 lb)
Caul skin (about 1/2 lb)
Cognac (1/4 cup)
Madeira, dry Sercial (1/4 cup)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Sprinkle the livers generously with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan, and quickly sauté the livers, for just 3 or 4 minutes. They should remain quite rate inside. If necessary, add the last tablespoon of butter. Cut the pork fat into medium chunks. Using the coarse cutting disk of a meat grinder, pass through the livers and the fat. Add to the mixture 2 tablespoons of crumbled sage (chopped and rolled between your fingers to release the oils), 1 tablespoon of rosemary, 1 teaspoon of thyme, the 1/4 cup each of cognac and madeira, plus more salt and pepper if necessary. Mix everything thoroughly, using light, lifting strokes rather than pressing and stirring.
2. Line a rectangular terrine pan with 2 or 3 thicknesses of the caul fat, leaving some hanging over the edges for the final enclosure of the terrine. Pack in the liver mixture, firmly but lightly, gently pressing it into the corners and leveling the top surface. Fold over the caul skin. If the terrine pan does not have its own lid, cover it with foil, then place it in a bain-marie tray of boiling water about 2 inches deep. Put everything into the center of the oven and bake for 1 hour.
3. As soon as the terrine comes out of the oven, remove its covering and place directly on the terrine a board or flat plate, weighted down, do that the terrine will be squeezed into a tighter texture as it cools.
4. As soon as it has cooled enough, put it, with its weights, into the fridge and leave it there at least 24 hours. Before serving, unmold the terrine and remove any last traces of the caul fat (most of which should have melted away). ¡que rico!