Cocktails, Duck, Frenchy Things, Offal, preserving, Random Thoughts

Cocktail.

It’s hard to be objective about the merits of culturally significant moments of one’s youth. Nostalgia can cloud your judgment, making it hard to tell a madeleine from a Twinkie. Take the films of the 80s, for example. Is Pretty in Pink a great movie or a terrible one? Was The Empire Strikes Back a work of genius or unbelievably boring? Sometimes, it’s an easy call. Coming to America was a great movie. Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a great movie. Cocktail was a terrible movie.

But let’s say you’re of a certain adventurous turn of mind when, at twenty years old and with nothing better to do on a summer night, you go the movies with some friends while home from college. I speak not of myself, of course, but of a casual acquaintance who may or may not have coached my brother in boy’s tennis in the late 80s. We shall call him T.W., as those are his initials. According to my brother, T.W. saw Cocktail while home for the summer, and, moved to greater aspirations than whatever was in his mind at the moment, packed his bags and set out for the glamour of south Florida. As far as I know, it didn’t last all that long – I think he was missing a few crucial plot elements, like an older, Svengali-esque friend to show him the ropes – and at some point, T.W. returned to UW-Whitewater to obtain his bachelor’s degree and never speak again of his adventures as a lesser Tom Cruise. I don’t even know if he ever learned to flair, which was the only genuinely enjoyable thing about the movie.

I don’t know if Cocktail The Movie renewed interest at the time in cocktail culture. My range of cocktails was limited then to Bacardi and Coke or grapefruit juice and vodka, mostly guzzled rather than sipped. Now, I’m much more interested in the kind of cocktails that require more bartending skill and taste than opening a can of something and pouring in a few glugs of something else. As a bonus, many bars that mix great drinks also serve food more interesting than mediocre wings and pretzels.

As opposed to beer and wine pairings with food, cocktail and food pairings aren’t really my thing. My idea of pairing cocktails with food mostly extends to eating a little bowl of peanuts – or possibly even smoked almonds or those nice warm mixed nuts you get in first class on international fights – with my whiskey. Supposedly classic cocktail pairings with food, like margaritas with Mexican food or mimosas with brunch, never strike me as really great food pairings so much as opportunities to consume more alcohol. On the rare occasion I eat or serve something other than nuts with strong drinks, I like it to be rich and fatty. Foie gras is perfect – it’s buttery and tastes good with sweeter wines like Sauternes and liquor like Cognac, which are often used in its preparation.

Foie gras torchon

This foie preparation is not cooked at any point. Burying the wrapped torchon in salt and then hanging dry draw out the moisture from the liquor marinade, giving the foie a dense, buttery texture, with no melted fat whatsoever. It is important to keep the foie cold and your work surface scrupulously clean when working with the product as it will not be cooked. (Even cooked torchon tends to simmered only for a short time at temperatures far under those necessary to destroy pathogens.)

In this recipe, I used foie slices from our supermarket because I didn’t have time to order whole lobes. The whole lobes are nicer but are slightly more of a pain to work with because you have to remove the blood vessels and connective tissue. That said, no one makes a torchon unless they’re fine with doing that work anyway.

The foie pairs well with a tart, somewhat pungent condiment like nectarine mostarda, which includes both vinegar and mustard seeds.

7.5g kosher salt
1.5g smoked sugar
.25g TCM (about 1/8 tsp, not quite)
1g white pepper
1g Pondicherry pepper
500g foie gras, whole lobe or slices
200 ml water
25 ml each bourbon and Pedro Ximenez jerez
coarse (not rock) salt

2 lbs nectarines
1 c white wine vinegar
2/3 c sugar
2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp piment d’espelette
zest of one lemon (peeled off in strips, not grated)

Combine all dry seasonings and set aside.

With clean hands and maintaining a very clean working environment, clean the foie, removing the veins, gallbladder (if present), and connective tissue from the foie. If you use pre-cut slices these likely will have been removed already, but double check. Place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate about 2-4 hours. Drain thoroughly and rinse. Return to a clean bowl.

Evenly season the foie and cover with the alcohols. Place a piece of clingfilm over the foie to reduce oxidation and then tightly seal the bowl. Chill 24-36 hours.

Prepare a triple thickness of butter muslin or cheesecloth. Spread in a rectangle over a piece of clingfilm and cover with another piece. Roll with a pin into a uniform layer about 3/8″ thick. Remove the top piece of film. (Note: I used the pin method because, as this is a raw preparation, I wanted to touch it with my hands as little as possible. You can also use your hands to mold it together.) Using the bottom layer of clingfilm as a guide, roll the foie tightly into a log as you would a piece of makizushi. If using a bamboo mat helps, transfer the foie and clingfilm to a bamboo mat before rolling tightly.

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Roll the foie torchon from the clingfilm onto the prepared butter muslin. Roll tightly to close and, using butcher’s twine, wind tightly and tie at each end. Bury in sea salt (not rock salt) in a pan and refrigerate 12-24 hours.

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Remove all salt and dust the muslin log clean. Hang to dry from a rack in the refrigerator, ensuring the torchon touches nothing.

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To serve, remove the muslin and slice with a hot knife. If you think you will not use it all, refrigerate the rest promptly, rolled in clingfilm and tied at the ends. Do not refrigerate in the muslin or it will dry out. If you don’t use it all in five days, freeze.

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For the mostarda:

Pit and quarter the nectarines. There is no need to peel. Place in a pot with the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring only enough to dissolve the sugar, until the fruit is coated in a thick syrup.

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Ladle into jars and refrigerate. These may also be pressure-canned for shelf storage.

The Continental

I called this “The Continental” because those Christopher Walken skits on Saturday Night Live are hilarious. This drink has nothing to do with that but it sounds retrograde and pretentious, making it a great pairing for the foie torchon.

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Note: If you would rather eat your cocktail than drink it, add 1 whole sheet of platinum strength gelatin to the cocktail (sans ice) and bring to a simmer just long enough to melt the gelatin. Transfer to small polycarbonate or silicone half-dome molds and chill. Serve as a jelly to the foie torchon.

4 oz Riesling or Viognier
1 oz Calvados
1 oz St-Germain
3/4 oz peach pickling liquid from the pickled peach recipe
6 drops grapefruit bitters
Ice cubes (larger = better)

Combine all the ingredients except the ice and stir gently. Add the ice cubes and stir to chill. Strain into glasses with lemon peel.

I can flair if I want to flair. – Hidetsugu Ueno

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Beef, Leftover Recycling, Offal, Random Thoughts

Mother tongue.

Are we done talking about nose-to-tail cooking yet? Is everyone sick of being lectured to about eating all the parts of the animal? Then don’t consider this a lecture but just a statement of fact. The head of pretty much any mammal contains some of its most delicious meats.

Many people express reservations about eating the head of an animal, possibly for anthropomorphic reasons or just qualms about killing. Unlike a cut like the tenderloin or a boneless chicken breast, or even something a little more obviously connected to a living animal like a ham or short ribs, it’s hard to look at the head without an awareness that an animal was killed for food. Then there are the eyes and the brain, which are inevitable sources of comparison to our own brains, our own eyes. It’s not surprising the head is a little challenging.

"It's chock full of ... heady goodness."

“It’s chock full of … heady goodness.”

An easier and more accessible way to approach the head is to use the tongue and the cheeks. Beef tongue looks sort of terrifying, but once you make your peace with what it is, which is just a great big floppy cow’s tongue, you’ll find it easy to work with. It’s a tough cut that takes long, low temperature cooking, which is inherently forgiving. It’s also just basically a muscle, so unlike the organ meats some people find literally too visceral to eat (mmm, glands), it has the familiarity of cuts more usually encountered. Cheeks are even easier to work with – the muscle is more like the kind you find in shank or short rib, tough and full of connective tissue that melts to gelatin after lots of long braising.

Tongue and cheek

Tongue and cheek

Tongue and cheek

Smoking the tongue not only imparts great flavor, but helps dry it out a little, which normally seems like a bad thing – who wants dry meat? But the muscle graining on tongue is dense and fine, and interspersed with large quantities of intramuscular fat and collagen. When you slice it warm, tongue can fall apart and seem sodden. To ameliorate this tendency, smoke it, chill it, and slice it thinly while still cold. Cold smoked tongue is great with mustard and pickles on rye. It’s also great draped over a hot risotto or grain porridge, where the heat of the porridge softens and melts the fat and gelatin in the thinly sliced meat. You can warm it slightly as well; just don’t overdo.

A final note about tongue: you must remove the skin. I once went to a wedding reception at a restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown that served a cold braised tongue appetizer. The tongue meat was delicious with soy and five spice flavors but I couldn’t get past the skin. Even when the tongue is sliced paper-thin, it’s still present in a thin ring, it’s not tender, and it’s gross. So remove it.

For the tongue:

one large beef tongue
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp sugar (white or brown)
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
6 bay leaves

Combine all the dry ingredients but the bay leaves. Rub evenly all over the tongue and place in a pan just large enough for the tongue, atop three bay leaves. Place the remaining bay leaves on top. Cover tightly with clingfilm and refrigerate. You will turn the tongue every other day for ten days. Note: if you have a blade tenderizer (the kind that looks like an upside-down bed of needles), you can make tiny cuts in the tongue skin before curing. In this case, cure for four days.

Curing tongue

Curing tongue

Transfer the tongue, with its seasoning and any accumulated liquid, to a pot with just enough cold water to cover. Cover and bring to a bare simmer (180F). Place in an 180F oven. Cook for 6-8 hours (depending on size) or until the tongue is tender and a knife inserted to the center meets no resistance beyond the skin. Cool in enough liquid to cover and then refrigerate (in the liquid) at least overnight.

Peel the tongue. This should not be difficult but requires the use of a sharp knife. The tongue’s skin should come off easily. Discard the skin.

Smoke at 200F for about two to three hours (depending on the size of the tongue). Cool and then wrap in clingfilm (and then foil) and chill completely.

Smoked tongue

Smoked tongue

Use in any way you see fit. Tongue is great in hot/warm dishes but should be sliced cold, very thinly, and then rethermed in the dish.

For the cheek:

Cheek cooking times vary widely depending on size and the extent of the connective tissue. It is best to budget at least twelve hours to cook the cheeks even though it will likely take far less time. You do not have to babysit the braise in the oven.

3 lb beef cheek, large and very tough sinews trimmed
unsalted butter or beef tallow
one medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
6 garlic cloves, whole
3 c dry red wine
4 c beef stock (chicken stock acceptable)
4 branches thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and black pepper

Oven 180F.

Salt the cheek on both sides. Place a heavy saucepot over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. Brown the cheek well and set aside. Sweat the vegetables and garlic cloves in the residual fat and fond. Deglaze with red wine and reduce over medium low heat by 1/2. Add the beef stock and bring just to a simmer. Add the herbs and the browned cheek (and any juices). Cover with parchment and then the lid and place in the oven.

Cook for about 7 hours. The cheeks are done when the collagen has completely softened and the meat is fork-tender.

Remove the meat to a plate and strain the remaining liquid. Return the meat to the strained liquid and cool.

When ready to serve, bring the liquid to a simmer, uncovered, and reduce by 1/2 to 2/3 until proper glazing consistency is reached. Return the cheeks to the reduction, cover, and keep warm.

Service:

Per four plates:

two bunches spring onions (bulbed), washed and green section removed and reserved
butter
red radishes
compressed celery pickle
pickled ramps
bitter greens (arugula, nasturtium, cress)
assorted herbs, edible flowers, etc
prepared mustard

Slice the spring onion bulbs lengthwise and brown in butter.
Slice the ramp pickles lengthwise and the radishes 1/16″ thin lengthwise.
Serve the sliced tongue and braised cheek with the onion, radish, ramps, pickled celery, and garnish with herbs and flowers, the braising reduction, and a spoon of mustard. (The plating shown also includes ground chilmole.)

Coda: Other uses for tongue

Tongue is a pretty rich, densely-textured meat. Some people can eat huge quantities in a sitting (such as in a deli sandwich, with mustard and pickles), but not me. If you find yourself with 2+ pounds of smoked beef tongue and are unsure how to use it, consider these suggestions.

Tongue on rye (porridge) with pickles

Tongue on rye (porridge) with pickles

For a straightforward porridge recipe, see this earlier post. If you are using rye grain instead of farro, the cooking duration is basically the same. Other grains require more or less cooking time. I do not recommend cooking short grain rice sous vide. Garnish with pickled celery, red onion (or shallot), and Granny Smith apple, as well as herbs and buttered pumpernickel toast crumb.

Lengua tacos

Lengua tacos

Noodles with tongue (tossed in smoked beef fat)

Noodles with tongue (tossed in smoked beef fat and served with smoked beef consommé)

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Offal, Pork Products, preserving

Best of the wurst.

It seems inevitable that trips to familiar destinations will coalesce around meals at favorite restaurants and stops in favorite shops. For example, In Milwaukee, my hometown, the route touristique is well-established. On landing, our first stop must be Kopp’s for one of the dinner plate-like cheeseburgers – extra butter, please – and a waxed paper envelope of onion rings. At some point during the weekend, we’ll take our places at the counter of Real Chili, where unlimited bowls of oyster crackers disappear into chili-laced spaghetti. Then it’s on to The Spice House to buy the freshest-tasting spices and chiles. And no trip is complete without a visit to Usinger’s for sausages.

If you’ve never been to Usinger’s, catch a flight to Milwaukee and visit the Old World Third Street location. You always have to wait – especially in summer, when the Brewers are in town, or before any holiday. Pull a number from the tape roll and, until your number is called, peruse the dozens of varieties of freshly made classic German sausages behind the glass display. Then look up at the wall, where a series of murals depict elves engaged in sausage-making. In typically blunt Teutonic fashion, Usinger’s spares the viewer nothing. A hog is slaughtered, dragged to the sausage-works, disemboweled, converted to links, cold cave-aged, and brought steaming to table by the elves, as a poem tells the tale of cramming pork into pig entrails and boiling it up for supper.

Liverwurst

When I was a kid, the weekly shop at the local supermarket was an exercise in lunchmeat fads; chicken roll one week, olive loaf another, ham studded with pockets of cheese the week after that. One reliable and enduring favorite, though, was liverwurst (especially Usinger’s braunschweiger). You can’t grow up in Wisconsin without developing a taste for the soft, rich liver sausage, preferably on caraway rye with sliced red onion, or, if you were a kid, between pillowy slices of white sandwich bread.

Liverwurst owes its flavor to pork liver, which is difficult to come by in supermarkets or even at the butcher shop now. That’s too bad, because pork liver is delicious in sausages and terrines; without it, your pâté de campagne, for example, will not taste like the one you enjoyed so much at the bistro. You can cook it to lower temperatures than, say, chicken liver, which the USDA recommends you cook to 165F and which at higher temperatures becomes chalky-textured and pungently liverish. It’s milder and moister, and, being much larger, is easier to clean. To find pork liver, your best bet is an Asian or Latino market or butcher, but any true butcher should be able to order it if you lack access to one of these markets.

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Most types of liverwurst are emulsion forcemeats, meaning the fat is emulsified until smooth with water in the form of ice, and often with the addition of milk, as milk proteins lend further stability and richness. It’s the same kind of compact, smooth texture you’ve encountered in hot dogs, knockwurst, and the like, as opposed to the coarse, looser texture of bratwurst and Italian sausage. Temperature control is key; proper emulsion only takes place in a limited temperature range under 58F. Some, but not all, liverwursts are smoked as for braunschweiger; the following recipe is not for a smoked braunschweiger. If you want a smoked taste, you may substitute smoked slab bacon for the pork belly and reduce the total salt by 1/3, and/or hot smoke the finished product at about 160F for 60 minutes.

Cure:

24g kosher salt (4 tsp)
4g TCM (2/3 tsp)
8g sugar (scant 2 tsp)

Spices:

3g onion powder (about 1 1/2 tsp)
2g white pepper (about 1 tsp)
1/8 tsp each: allspice, nutmeg, mace, clove, ground ginger

Meat:

525g pork liver, cleaned of blood vessels and connective tissue
200g pork shoulder
325g pork belly or slab bacon

Emulsifiers:

117g ice (about 1/4 lb)
53g nonfat dry milk powder (about 3/4 c)

Combine the cure ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the spices.

Cube the pork shoulder, the belly, and the liver. Mix the pork shoulder and liver and season with the cure. Chill both the shoulder/liver and the belly (separately) in the freezer for about 2 hours, until firm but not rock solid frozen. Then toss the shoulder/liver mix with the spice blend and grind. Separately grind the belly. Keep both chilled over bowls of ice. You may refrigerate these if not ready to proceed immediately but do not refrigerate for more than about 30 minutes; otherwise, cover and freeze for up to about an hour.

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Fit your food processor with a slicing blade, set out your mise en place in bowls over ice, and prepare to work quickly as the mixture will not emulsify if the ingredients are too warm. Place the ice cubes in the food processor and run until the ice is crushed. [If your ice is already crushed you may skip this step]

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Add the ground marinated shoulder/liver to the crushed ice. Run steadily until the meat is incorporated with the ice. Run until the temperature reaches about 28F-30F. At this point it will resemble nothing so much as a sort of cold, red meat goo and calls to mind von Bismarck’s injunction regarding sausagemaking. Note: the rest of this process, until the point of cooking and slicing, is not photogenic. Do not be put off – that’s just how it looks. All the earlier talk of liver and disemboweling by elf was meant to cushion the blow.

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As the machine runs, add the ground pork belly. Continue to run until the mixture reaches about 40F. The mixture should emulsify and form an increasingly stiff paste about the color of a pencil eraser. Add the spice and continue to run until the mixture reaches 45F-47F. Then add the milk powder and run steadily until the mixture reaches about 56F-58F. Do not exceed 60F or your emulsion likely will break as the fat becomes liquid. Each stage of temperature rise in this process takes a fairly long time, much longer than you might expect. When finished, the mixture will be quite stiff with a uniform consistency; it should approximate the color of a pink rubber ball and contain no visible chunks of meat.

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At this point you can scrape it from the bowl using a flexible spatula, pack it into a plastic bag, and compress in a chamber sealer to remove the air bubbles before forming into sausage, but this step is not necessary. I generally do not find air bubbling a huge problem when making liverwurst (as opposed to making, say, mortadella). If you omit this step, simply pile onto sheets of clingfilm and roll into sausages about 6″ long and 2 1/2″ in diameter. Twist the ends and roll in the opposite direction in a second layer of clingfilm. Tie the ends securely and poach in water just shy of simmering for about 2 hours. Alternatively, vacuum pack the rolls in bags and cook sous vide at 158F for 2 1/2 hours. Feel free to use natural casing if you can find the larger hot casings.

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Immediately chill down the wursts in an ice bath and refrigerate at least a few hours to allow them to firm up before slicing. Excellent with pickled red onion and mustard on a sandwich, whether open faced or between slabs of house-baked pumpernickel. Or eat it old-school Milwaukee kid style, as a white-bread sandwich layered with mayonnaise and thin slices of pickle.

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Fish, Offal

Fish tales.

During the last few years, restaurant menus have come to feature more and more of the offal – those off-cuts that so often get thrown out or turned into pet food out of ignorance of their savory qualities. I’ve written about offal around here from time to time – using liver for pâté and terrines, the joys of sweetbreads, cheeks and caul, for a start. We eat those, and plenty more – the tongue and heart, and brains are favorites.

In all the talk and excitement about oxtail and beef tongue, pork liver and lamb brains, fish often gets left behind. And that’s a shame, because – unlike most eating mammals – fish are small enough that a home cook can break down the whole animal and consume it within a meal or two. What kind of offal does the fish have to offer? Well, if you’re like most people, you’ve been eating fish primarly in fillet form, or maybe once in a while cut into steaks. Every fish has a collar, though – basically the neck – which holds delicious bits of meat; larger fish often have very moist, scallop-like cheeks; and then there’s the liver. In the spring, you’re apt to find roe sacs; for some fish, like pike and shad, these are quite creamy and delicate, even more tender than brains. Shad is reliably delicious, which accounts for its recurring star turn every spring; the rockfish roe (pictured below) is tender and moist, but sometimes can have a bitter, bleachy taste that is off-putting.

Rockfish roe, gremolata, broken brown butter.

If you’re new to fish off-cuts, the collar is probably the friendliest for a start. The recipe below for rockfish collar will be familiar to you if you’ve ever ordered hamachi kama, or the yellowtail collar, at a Japanese restaurant. If you don’t want to deal with off-cuts, try the recipe for a seared rockfish fillet, which pairs yuzu with tomato in a delicious sauce.

Rockfish collar, togarishi goma

The collar of any fish holds some of its sweetest meat – within the c-shaped curve of the bone are moist nuggets of fish, akin to the crab backfin meat in terms of flavor and succulence. Each fish only has one, of course, and it isn’t considered a prime cut, so you’re not going to find it unless a) you break down your own fish (which I recommend of course, to keep your knife skills tight and to get the freshest product); b) you live in a city with a large Asian population and a great fish market; or c) you have a reliable fishmonger who breaks down fish in-house and can sell or give you the collars. It’s worth asking around if you’re not willing to break down your own fish.

If you do want to try your hand at butchery, you’ll find it’s not hard. I recommend you have someone scale your fish, at a minimum (I sometimes do it myself but it is a colossal mess); if you have no plans for the liver and roe, they might as well gut the fish too, because the air bladders can be difficult to separate from the gills. Just ask to have your fish scaled and cleaned.

Scaling.

Lay the cleaned fish on one side with the head to the left and the belly facing you, on a couple of clean kitchen towels on a cutting board to reduce slippage. Start by trimming off the fins, which can be poke-y. Slice the fish downward through to the bone, about an inch behind the gills (if you took economics, you’re looking at a slightly downward-sloping demand curve). Then, starting at the tail end, slice off the fillet, working along the central bone at a slight angle so the blade runs against the bone, with your other hand holding the fish in place, ending when you reach the gill incision. Flip it over and do the other fillet. At this point you can clean the bones from the fillet, trim off the belly fat, etc.

To get to the collar, first chop off the spine at the incision you made behind the gills. The portion of the head between the gills and that incision is the collar – and it usually contains the fish’s pectoral fins. Think of the collar as the neck, more or less. You can cut the cheeks out of the head as well – sadly, with the typical 18-20″ rockfish, the cheeks are pretty small. Use the spine and the rest of the head for fish fumet (akin to stock); you’ll simmer it with onion, celery, carrot, fennel, white wine, and aromatics for about an hour and strain through a cheesecloth-lined chinois.

Broken down.

The recipe below specifies togarishi goma, which, broken into its Japanese components, refers to a spicy seasoning of shichimi togarishi (“seven spice mixture”) and toasted sesame seeds. I’ve never seen it outside of the famous Japanese vendor Yawataya, and that’s where I get it. Instead, I recommend buying shichimi togarishi, which is widely available in the Japanese section of groceries, and combining it with toasted sesame seeds.

Rockfish collar, miso, togarishi goma.

2 rockfish collars
2 tbsp shiro miso or aka miso
2 tbsp mirin
1 tsp usukuchi soy
1 medium yuzu or 1 small lemon
2 tbsp togarishi goma or a combination of 1/2 tsp shichimi togarishi and 2 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted

Oven 500F/260C

If using a combination of shichimi togarishi and sesame seeds, combine and set aside.

Combine the miso, mirin, and soy in a small pan and bring to a simmer. Reduce to a thick glaze. Coat the rockfish collars in the glaze. If your oven is blazing, you can move on right away; otherwise, refrigerate the collars.

Roast for about 8-10 minutes until just fully cooked through. Season with a squeeze of yuzu juice and togarishi goma. The fish’s meat will release easily from the bone when fully cooked.

Rockfish, tomato, yuzu

Rockfish, or striped bass, is one of the finest fish in the coastal Atlantic. There aren’t a lot of advantages to living in Baltimore, especially if your husband is allergic to crab, but rockfish certainly counts as one. But take advantage of your local fish; any medium-textured white fish will do.

4 6-ounce portions rockfish (the photo below depicts a 3-ounce portion), one per person
1 pint cherry and/or pear tomatoes – if you can find a mixed box of different colors, use that
2 large yellow potatoes, peeled
2 oz pine nuts
1 medium yuzu, zest grated, halved (substitute a lemon if yuzu is unavailable)
minced chives
salt and pepper

1 large banana shallot, minced
1 c dry white wine
1 14-ounce can of tomatoes
2 c fish fumet (described above)
2 fresh bay leaves
4 branches thyme
salt
piment d’espelette or cayenne pepper
canola or grapeseed oil

400F/205C oven.

Prepare the tomato broth first:

Place a sauce pot over medium-low heat and, when hot, add a little oil to film the pan. Add the shallots and sweat until translucent. Add the white wine and reduce to au sec (a glaze). Add the canned tomatoes, breaking up, and simmer about 15 minutes to break down. Add the fish fumet and herbs and simmer another 15 minutes. Strain through a chinois, pressing on the solids. Taste for seasoning; add salt and espelette. Set aside as you prepare the rest of the dish.

Blanch the tomatoes and cook the potatoes. Set a Large pot of salted water containing the potatoes to boil over high heat. While waiting to boil, score the cherry tomatoes by slicing a shallow “x” in the stem end of the tomato. Don’t cut through to the seed sacs. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and remove with a spider after about 10 seconds. These tomatoes are small so you do not have to shock them in cold water; simply wait until they cool a little and then slip off the skins.

When the potatoes are tender, drain and peel off the skin. Slice about 1/4″. Sauté until just golden in a hot pan with a little clarified butter.

Season the fish; if working with a larger fillet (over 4 oz), slice through the skin with 2-3 shallow parallel cuts to prevent too much curling. Place a skillet over high heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp of oil. Place the fish skin-side down in the pan and cook about 2 minutes, until the skin begins to crisp. Transfer to the oven and finish cooking. Cook about 9-11 minutes depending on the fillet’s thickness. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a single layer in the sheet pan while the fish roasts.

Plate the roasted potatoes and the blanched cherry tomatoes. Top with a portion of pan-roasted rockfish and a sprinkling of pine nuts. Stir the yuzu juice and zest into the tomato broth and ladle the broth around the fish. Garnish with chive.

Seared rockfish, yellow finns, golden pear tomatoes, pine nuts.

With tomato and yuzu.

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Beef, Brassicas, Cheese, Offal, Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Soup, Vegetables

Cheeky.

One of the most interesting aspects of social networking is its potential to unintentionally reveal the truth about the self, the person behind the crafted public image. Along these lines, a surprisingly large number of self-described “foodies” – the kind of people who TiVo Food Network and would throw their panties at Michael Symon if he turned up in a local supermarket – evidently find certain foods too scary to eat. “I love ya Chef but sweetbreads I don’t think so……LOL!” goes one recent zinger on Facebook. “Ewwww….tongue!” says another. You can’t beat it for wit.

You already know about my low tolerance for this infantile attitude toward food. This goes back a long time. The summer after graduating from law school, I went to Spain and Portugal with some friends, a trip that reached its nadir one night in Seville when, nerves frayed from two weeks of hairpin turns in a packed Peugeot, sweaty nights in a series of hostels without air conditioning, and a couple of travel companions who displayed a surprising lack of dietary sang-froid, we got into an argument at the restaurant. Sitting beside the Guadalquivir and surveying the platters landing at tables around us, one travel companion complained that nothing on the menu was edible because all the seafood and poultry came head-on and bone-in.

“Just … order it,” I gritted tightly. “That’s how it comes in Spain.”

“Well, it’s gross,” she shot back. “I don’t eat food with the heads on. I don’t care where we are.”

“We’re not in Roseville, Brenda*. Shrimp has heads. Chicken has bones. There is no goddamn boneless chicken ranch.”

At this point there was a great scraping of metal on concrete as Brenda pushed back her chair, stood up, and threw her napkin down on the table. “You – are – such – a – @$%&^*@ – $#@&$!” she shouted, storming off and attracting the full attention of the other diners, who I’m pretty sure got the gist of her outburst even if they didn’t speak English. Good times, good times.

Looking back, I probably could’ve been nicer about it. For example, if I were trying to ease someone into the idea of eating offal today, I’d serve them braised cheeks. They’re basically like any other cut of meat but better, with all the flavor concentrated in one small disc, bathed in a glossy sauce. The plentiful collagen in the cheeks – heavily exercised by all that chewing – accounts for the sauce’s body.

Iberico pork cheeks.

Cheeks aren’t always the easiest cut to find, but I encourage you to look around, because they’re well worth the hunt. If you’ve got access to a market that caters to a Latino clientele, you might find them, as they’re a favored cut (and I’ve heard that Wal-Marts with well-stocked meat departments sometimes carry them in the freezer section, so give that a shot – it may be the only time I ever endorse stopping into the Wal-Mart). If you can’t find cheeks, substitute shank, shoulder (in the case of pork), or short rib (in the case of beef). Don’t substitute pork belly; it’s a lot fattier than the cheek, and you’ll wind up with a greasy braise. And don’t substitute hog jowl; it resembles the belly more than the cheek.

Pork cheeks, celeriac pancake, apple

If you subscribe to the textural variation school of cooking – and I do – you will want something firm or crisp to accompany the cheeks, since they’re falling-apart tender and saucy. A celeriac-potato rösti-like cake makes a great accompaniment. Relieve the richness of the cheeks with a fresh apple salad. If you have leftover cheeks, enjoy them with toast points, cornichons, and mustard for lunch.

I used ibérico cheeks and highly recommend them; they had an intensely meaty, nutty flavor that I haven’t encountered in any other type of pork. If you’d like to try them, Iberico USA carries them. The long braising process in the flavorful liquid makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of conventional pork, though, so don’t hesitate to make this dish if you can’t spring for the ibérico cheeks. Keep the cooking temperature low, as near to 180F as you can, to ensure tenderness rather than stringiness. The intention of long cooking at low temperatures is to break the collagen down into gelatin, which then bathes the meat’s muscle fibers. Although it may seem that braised meats cannot become dry, this is untrue; the fibers in the cheek, like those in other heavily-exercised parts of the animal, are long and will become tough, dry, and unpleasantly stringy if they lose too much moisture. If that happens, you can notice the stringiness even when the meat is adequately coated in sauce. So don’t be tempted to cook at a higher temperature, and always be careful when reheating.

One last thing: in a conventional braise, the meat is browned first to develop rich, savory flavors via the Maillard reaction. I dispensed with this step because the cheeks are quite small and I wanted to reduce the possibility that the meat would toughen up. It turns out not to be necessary.

Oh, actually, one last last thing: the ibérico cheeks came in a pretty large Cryovac package and, when thawed, gave up a few cups of blood. I saved the blood, which smelled sweet and clean, and not slaughterhouse-y in that way that factory-farmed (CAFO) pork smells. I’ll be making blood sausage with that in the future, so watch for the post.

2 lb pork cheeks, cleaned of silverskin if necessary
one large onion, peeled and diced
two carrots, scraped and coarsely chopped
two stalks celery, coarsely chopped
16 oz ale
1 1/2 quart veal stock (substitute white beef stock or chicken stock)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp grated fresh horseradish root
bouquet garni

2 granny smith apples
lemon juice
chives, minced

180F/82C oven.

Place a heavy, lidded pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Add the vegetables and sweat until tender and translucent. Add the ale and scrape up the fond. Lower the heat and reduce by about half. This step is necessary to reduce the booziness of the beer.

Add the stock and aromatics; return to simmer. Stir in the mustard and horseradish; place the pork cheeks in the pot. Cover with parchment paper and then the lid; place in the oven. Alternatively, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and maintain just shy of a simmer. You may not achieve equivalent results on the stove since a consistently low heat is harder to achieve.

Braise 10-12 hours in the oven or about 5-6 hours on the stove. Check stove from time to time to ensure that the braise is not boiling.

When fork-tender, remove cheeks to a container. Strain the braising liquid through chinois over the cheeks to cover. Chill overnight (this step is not strictly necessary but it will make the fat easier to remove).

After removing the cheeks

Remove cold fat layer from the top of the container. Return the braising liquid to a pan and reduce over low heat until glossy, smooth, and sauce-like. This step may take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your volume of liquid, the size of your pan, and the heat of your stove. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and return the cheeks to the pan. Heat through.

Prepare a brunoise of the granny smith apples and toss with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. Then combine with the chives.

Serve the cheeks with celeriac rösti wedges and the apple-herb salad.

Iberico cheek, celeriac rosti, mustard, celeriac purée.

For the celeriac rösti:

This isn’t strictly a rösti, which classically features just potatoes and butter. It just sort of resembles one.

1/2 celeriac root, washed and peeled (use a knife to peel, not a peeler)
1/2 lb russet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 medium yellow onions, minced
1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp ground celery seed
pinch of cayenne or espelette pepper
4 large eggs, beaten with a fork
kosher salt to taste, at least 1 tsp and probably more
black pepper
celery salt to finish
vegetable oil and butter

Oven 425F on broil. Set the rack in the middle position of the oven.

Place a 12″ skillet over medium heat and, when hot add 1 tbsp oil. Sauté the onion until translucent and just beginning to color slightly. Do not brown. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Combine the eggs, flour, celery seed, cayenne, scallions, onion, 2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Wipe out the skillet.

Shred the celeriac in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Toss with about 1/2 tsp lemon juice to prevent browning (try not to use more or it will be sour). Shred the potatoes in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Place in a clean kitchen towel (one that does not smell of detergent or dryer sheets), fold the towel over, twist the ends, and squeeze the towel over a bowl. Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potato. If necessary, repeat in another towel. Add the grated potatoes and celeriac to the egg mixture and stir well to combine.

Return the skillet to medium high heat and add about 1 tbsp each butter and oil to the pan. Swirl the pan once the butter foams to coat the sides about 1″ up. Add the entire mixture and distribute evenly throughout the pan, patting to compress somewhat. Cook until the underside is golden brown and pulls away slightly from the sides; transfer to the broiler.

Cook until the top is golden brown. Remove,cool slightly, and transfer to a cutting board. Slice into wedges. Season with a grind of black pepper and a little celery salt.

Golden brown cake.

Beef cheek, ricotta dumpling, cauliflower soup

Certain cuts of beef taste to me like “generic meat.” Beef tenderloin, for example – I’ve never really understood the great love of filet mignon (although I imagine it corresponds with the fear of offal). Or the round – there’s nothing really wrong with it, but I’ve had a lot of roast beef made from the round, which tastes to me like AnyMeat. It could be the reason why I’ve never been able to get excited about deli roast beef sandwiches.

Beef cheek, though? You’ll never mistake that for anything other than beef. Along with the deckle and the short rib, it is one of the three cuts that deliver the most intense beef flavor per bite. The dish below – beef cheeks with dumplings and a creamy cauliflower soup, garnished with flash-fried cauliflower florets – is pretty rich, and a small-portions kind of thing. If you have fresh truffle, now is the time to use it.

You’ll have leftover beef cheek and braising reduction; you can shred up the cheeks in the reduction and toss it with tagliatelle or pappardelle.

For the beef cheek:

1 1/2 lb beef cheeks, cleaned of the most obvious gristle and silverskin
medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
bouquet garni (leek w/bay leaf, thyme, parsley)
2 c dry red wine
1 quart white beef stock or veal stock

180F/82C oven.

Place a heavy, lidded pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Sear the beef cheeks on all sides until deep brown (a couple of minutes per side). Remove to a plate. Add the vegetables to the pan and sweat until tender and translucent. Add the wine and scrape up the fond. Lower the heat and reduce by about half.

Add the stock and aromatics; return to simmer. Return the beef cheeks in the pot. Cover with parchment paper and then the lid; place in the oven. Alternatively, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and maintain just shy of a simmer. You may not achieve equivalent results on the stove since a consistently low heat is harder to achieve.

Braise 10-12 hours in the oven or about 5-6 hours on the stove. Check stove from time to time to ensure that the braise is not boiling.

When fork-tender, remove cheeks to a container. Strain the braising liquid through chinois over the cheeks to cover. Chill overnight (this step is not strictly necessary but it will make the fat easier to remove).

Remove cold fat layer from the top of the container. Return the braising liquid to a pan and reduce over low heat until glossy, smooth, and sauce-like. This step may take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your volume of liquid, the size of your pan, and the heat of your stove. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and return the cheeks to the pan. Gently heat through.

Serve with the cauliflower soup, flash fried cauliflower florets, and the dumplings. If you have fresh white truffle (or black), slice a little bit over the top.

Beef cheek, cauliflower, ricotta dumpling

Cauliflower soup

2/3 lb cauliflower florets and stems, sliced 1/4″
2 1/2 c white veal stock or chicken stock
6 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar (to taste)
5 tbsp butter
2/3 c heavy cream
salt and white pepper

To prepare sous vide:

Bag the cauliflower with the salt and 1 tbsp butter. Vacuum seal and drop into a circulator at 183F/84C for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer with the bay and thyme.

Remove herbs. Transfer both cauliflower and stock to a vitaprep. Blitz until smooth and add the cream; blitz again until smooth. Add the butter; blitz again. If necessary, strain through a chinois. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

To prepare conventionally:

Bring the stock to a simmer with the thyme and bay leaf and, when add the cauliflower. Simmer until tender, about 8 minutes; do not continue to simmer beyond that point. Remove herbs.

Transfer to a vitaprep. Blitz until smooth and add the cream; blitz again until smooth. Add the butter; blitz again. If necessary, strain through a chinois. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

For the dumplings:

1/2 lb whole milk ricotta
1 egg, beaten
between 3-5 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
minced assorted herbs – thyme, chives, tarragon, parsley

Combine the beaten egg with the minced herbs, salt, and the ricotta. Incorporate well. Spread out on a flat surface and sprinkle flour evenly over the surface; working quickly, fold the ricotta/egg mixture over itself again and again, using a bench scraper or knife to incorporate the flour into the ricotta, to form a small square. Transfer it back into a bowl and let it rest (you can rest it in the refrigerator for up to a day at this point, tightly covered).

At serving time, bring a pot of salted water to a simmer and, using a small scoop or two spoons, drop balls or quenelles of dumpling dough about 3/4″ into the simmering water. When the dumplings float, let them simmer for about a minute. Remove from the water with a skimmer and drain briefly on a clean kitchen towel.

With a cauliflower soup.

*names have been changed to protect the food-cowardly.

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Frenchy Things, Leftover Recycling, Offal, Pork Products, preserving, Random Thoughts

Big Hungry Boy.

Recently, the New York Times ran a ridiculous Opinionator column by Virginia Heffernan dividing American women into two categories – “foodies” and “techies” – and bashing the “foodies” while touting the virtues of “life-hacking techies.” I still don’t really know what “life-hacking” means, but the distinction between people who spend their time thinking about food and people who glorify progress and technology struck me as total bullshit. What about, say, Wylie Dufresne? Or Ferran Adrià? What about me?

Heffernan’s piece illustrates the danger in categorizing people. That said, I feel fairly confident saying that some men are Big Hungry Boys – guys who just like to eat, and to eat as much as they can – and others are not. Unlike an ex-boyfriend in Minnesota who once lived for months on almost nothing but bagged coleslaw without complaint, my husband appreciates copiousness and variety. One evening in 2009, during our summer visit to a friend’s home in the south of France, we stopped after a sweaty day in Nîmes for dinner in Andùze, arriving before the rest of our friends at “La Rocaille,” an old stone-faced restaurant in the town square, opposite the site of the ancient covered market. Sitting down to cold Heinekens, we scanned the menu while waiting for our party. La Rocaille’s advantages for a big hungry boy soon became clear. For under 9€, you could get a three course meal of salad or terrine, steak, merguez, or poulet frites, pasta or pizza, and to finish, fromage or ice cream. It was low-budget, of course – the tables were set with paper napkins and mustard packets, which anticipated foil-wrapped wedges of camembert and ice cream in waxed paper cups (complete with the little wooden spoon). Even so, the frites were thin and crispy, and flecked with exactly the right amount of salt. When Nat and our friend Kem both ordered terrine de pâté to start; the waiter brought a knife and pan the size of a loaf of bread to the table. The two of them (by which I mean mostly Nat, in case you wondered) ate more than half the contents – a rustic and surprisingly delicious pâté de campagne – right out of the pan before it occurred to anyone that maybe that whole thing wasn’t just for them.

La Rocaille on the left; weekly market square on the right.

Last summer, on our last night in the same home in France, Nat requested a return visit to La Rocaille. “They have that giant terrine!” he appealed, laying a hand on my elbow.

“You know that whole thing wasn’t all for you, right?” I reminded him uncertainly.

“You don’t know that for sure,” he shrugged. All the same, I agreed that dinner at La Rocaille was a great idea. I wanted to find out if they still had the same mustard packets. Randomness comes in many forms, and on our first visit, it took the shape of a yellow plastic packet inexplicably bearing the name of a former law school classmate. It was a little like that episode of the Simpsons where Homer stumbles upon an empty Japanese detergent box bearing his visage in a landfill.

Coincidental mustard.

Nat was less interested in the mustard than in the potential for unlimited pâté de campagne. It wasn’t the first time Nat’s appetite has conflicted with local practice. On our first trip to Taipei after my parents moved there, we visited Din Tai Fung for their famous xiaolongbao, soup dumplings served with black vinegar and fine shreds of ginger. I placed our order out on the sidewalk with one of the uniformed attendants, who promptly crossed out more than half the items we’d checked off on the paper slip. “Too much!” she exclaimed, shaking her head. In a panic driven partly by my inability to speak Chinese and partly by a concern that we were about to get shortchanged on Juicy Pork Dumplings, I pointed to Nat, a little further down the sidewalk, perusing the window display at Mister Donut. The attendant nodded knowingly and re-checked the items without further comment. On subsequent visits, I learned to bring Nat along when handing off the order form. Big Hungry Boy.

Anyway, when the terrine arrived at La Rocaille, Nat cut a single slice – a thick slice, but still – and slid the pan to the edge of the table for the waiter. I did feel a little bad for him. It seemed to me, after all, that one of the dangers inherent in providing self-serve communal terrine is that any one of your customers will eat far more than his share, up to and including the whole thing. In the law, we call that “assumption of risk.” So at home, Nat can eat all the terrine he likes, sliced up or straight out of the pan. If you have a meat grinder, so can you.

Pâté de campagne

Pâté de campagne is inherently rustic and thrifty – hence “de campagne.” You don’t make it by grinding up carefully trimmed pork loin – to the contrary, pâté de campagne is a way to use up scraps, trimmings, and offal – anything from the nose to the tail of the pig. So don’t worry too much about the ratio of meats. If you’re not really a meat-trimmer and aren’t in the habit of keeping large quantities of scraps, just be sure of two things – a good amount of fatty pork (and perhaps also veal or duck), and liver. The fat is necessary to keep the pâté out of the cat food realm, and the liver provides flavor ranging from subtle to pronounced, depending how much you use. Your only concern should be proper seasoning. Use 1 tsp salt and a little more than 1/4 tsp quatre épices per pound/450g meat.

You can chop the meat by hand for a very rustic pâté, which provides some textural variety, but realistically, it’s far easier to pass the meat through a grinder fitted with a coarse die. I don’t recommend using store-ground meat. You can dispense with lining the pan with foil/clingfilm (especially if you intend to serve straight from the terrine), but it does make it far easier to remove, and definitely makes it easier to weight after cooking.

About 4 1/4 lbs fatty pork trimmings and offal, including liver, in a 3:1 ratio, or:
2 1/4 lb / 1 kg pork shoulder or butt, preferably a really fatty slab
1 lb / 450 g fatback or pork belly
1 lb / 450 g pork liver
2 large shallots, diced
3 bay leaves
8 sprigs fresh thyme
4 juniper berries
1/4 c dry sherry or cognac (sherry will be drier, cognac sweeter)
1/4 c dry white wine
1 1/2 tsp quatre épices or a mixture of 3/4 tsp white pepper and 1/4 tsp each ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves
scant 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
one large egg
optional: caul fat
optional: whole black truffle
optional: lobe foie gras, trimmed of all veins and connective tissue, cut into strips about 1″ x 1″
optional: 2/3 c lightly toasted pistachio nuts

Dice the meats and offal (1″ or slightly less is good) and combine with the shallots, bay, thyme, juniper and the liquids. Combine in a shallow pan and cover the surface with clingfilm. Cover the pan tightly and refrigerate for 1-2 days.

Chill the worm, blade, and coarse die of your meat grinder (freezing is best). Remove the bay and thyme from the marinade and run the rest of the contents through the grinder into a chilled metal bowl. Combine with the egg, salt, and quatre épices. If using pistachios, add to the mixture as well.

Mixture with egg and salt.

Oven 225F/107C.

Line each of two terrine or loaf pans with aluminum foil and then with clingfilm. If using caul fat, line the pan with caul, overhanging the edges by about 3″ (you will trim it later). Fill the pans with the mixture. If using truffle, fill the pan halfway, shave the truffle, and layer the shavings across that layer; finish with another layer of meat. If using foie, fill the pan halfway, lay the foie in the center lengthwise, and finish with meat. If using, fold the caul over the top of the terrine and trim. Fold the clingfilm tightly over the top, and then the foil.

Caul.

Wrapped.

Slide the terrine lid in place. If using a loaf pan, cut a piece of cardboard to fit and wrap in two thicknesses of foil; place on top. Place the terrines in a large roasting pan (with about 2″ between them) and fill with boiling water to a level halfway up the sides of the pans. Place in the oven and cook until the mixture reaches 160F in the center, which depends on the looseness of your mixture and whether or not you are using convection. At the convection setting, you should be done in about 1 1/2 hours; up to three if not using convection.

Remove the pans from the water bath and, when just cool enough to handle, weight down with heavy cans. Place in the refrigerator weights and all and chill for at least a day and up to three. When ready to serve, turn out onto a board and unwrap. Brush cold fat and jellied meat juices from the surface of the pâté and slice. Serve with cornichons and mustard.

Pâté de campagne, cornichons

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Chicken, Frenchy Things, Offal

No guts, no glory.

One of the best aspects of buying whole chicken is the plastic-wrapped bundle of organs tucked inside the cavity. Raise your hand if you use the contents. No?

Perhaps recognizing that most people just throw out the liver, heart, and gizzards, many chicken processors – including one of my favorites, the sustainable-practices Ayrshire Farm – no longer include that little packet of organ-y goodness. And that’s a shame. I know it’s annoying when people whip out the old “When I was a kid” line, but when I was a kid, my favorite parts of the chicken were the heart and gizzards. My mom would set an entire chicken to simmer in spices and aromatics, or rub it in salt and pepper to roast in the oven; soon after the cooking started, she’d spear the heart and gizzards with a fork or chopstick and hand it across the counter to me. Years later, driving through Dollywood (I know) on the way to the Smokies, I stopped for gas at a filling station in Tennessee that also sold hot paper cones of fried gizzards. We can debate the wisdom of buying gas station food from a guy in a dirty sleeveless Bud t-shirt with a cigarette who filled the cone with a lit cigarette firmly clamped between his lips, but we can’t argue about the taste. Those gizzards were good.

I wrote recently about my foie gras and sweetbreads initiation in Paris a couple of decades ago. Undoubtedly, the path to foie was eased by many a chicken liver. My husband, who claims not to enjoy liver, makes numerous exceptions: for Braunschweiger, a hastily made chopped liver flavored with Cognac on toast, chicken liver pâté. Once, while an undergraduate at Oberlin, he and some friends, having taken responsibility for the weekend meal at their co-op, prepared chicken liver pâté for eighty people. Or what they thought was the right amount for eighty people, which with a certain perspective on how much pâté any one person might eat has turned out to be way more than eighty people ever were going to eat. In any case, they filled a three gallon plastic bucket with the remaining pâté, which Nat brought home to his apartment. According to the Baldwin Co-op Chicken Liver Pâté Mythos, the next day – Super Bowl Sunday – his housemates ate most of the pâté right out of the bucket while watching the game until a certain sense of gastric unease forced them to stop. Asked about it today, Nat will only deliver this message: “Tony Geron, no one forced you to eat all that pâté.”

No one’s going to force you to eat three gallons of pâté from a plastic bucket. But you might want to think twice before throwing out that little plastic packet next time you buy a whole chicken. Use it to make a quick chopped liver, to serve before the chicken. Or freeze it, covered in milk, adding livers and milk to the container with each chicken you butcher, and make a smooth, rich pâté.

Quick chopped liver

This is the perfect way to use one large chicken liver, fresh from the chicken. Don’t have Cognac? Don’t worry – Madeira, brandy, Calvados, port, and even bourbon can substitute.

1/2 small onion, peeled and diced as small as possible (1/8″ if you can)
2 tbsp butter, divided
2 sprigs thyme
one large chicken liver
1 tbsp Cognac
salt and pepper
chives, minced

Place a sauté pan over medium heat and, when hot, add 1 tbsp butter. When the butter foams, add the onions and thyme and reduce the heat slightly, seasoning with a little salt. Sauté the onions until they just begin to turn golden.

While the onion cooks, clean the liver – remove the veins and connective tissue – and chop as finely as you can. The liver is very soft so you should be able to chop with ease. It will appear to coalesce into a pool, rather than distinct small pieces.

Raise the heat slightly. Add the liver to the onions, season with salt, and cook, stirring from time to time, until the liver is tender and begins to brown. Add the Cognac and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Remove the thyme, stir in the remaining butter. Garnish with chives.

Serve on toast points.

Chicken liver pâté

This makes a decent amount of pâté – about 28 ounces or so, probably enough for at least 10 servings – but if you cover it with fat, pack it into small tightly sealed containers with gaskets, and don’t open it until you’re ready to eat, you can prolong its life to about 3 weeks. Great for parties!

The awesomeness of this pâté is its silken texture. You won’t find fibers or granular bits in this pâté because it’s been passed through a fine sieve. That step takes a little time and I won’t pretend it’s fun standing there pushing it through, but it’s worth it. You can dispense with the sieving, and it’ll taste good, but not as good.

If you accumulate livers in milk in the freezer, prepare this dish once you have about a pound (maybe 8 large) livers. Thaw them in the refrigerator and, when totally thawed, drain the milk. You can dispense with the milk-soaking step in the recipe, which reduces the blood content and bitterness of the livers.

1 lb chicken livers
2 c milk
1 large onion, peeled and diced
6 sprigs thyme
bay leaf
salt
optional: curing salt (Tinted Curing Mix or pink salt)
vegetable oil
1/4 tsp quatre épices or a large pinch each of the following ground spices: cloves, ginger, and nutmeg plus 1/8 tsp white pepper
3 tbsp Cognac
5 oz (10 tbsp or 1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 c melted duck fat, or chicken fat, or butter

Clean the liver – remove the veins and connective tissue. Divide into equal-sized large pieces. Soak in milk, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours. Drain well and discard the milk.

Place a sauté pan over medium heat and, when hot, add 2 tbsp vegetable oil. Add the onions, thyme, and bay and reduce the heat slightly, seasoning with a little salt. Sauté the onions until they just begin to turn golden.

Raise the heat slightly and add the quatre épices. Add the liver to the onions, season with about 3/4 tsp salt or 3/4 tsp salt plus 1/16 tsp curing salt (if using), and cook, stirring from time to time, until the liver is tender and begins to brown. Add the Cognac and cook until the liquid is absorbed. Remove the thyme and bay leaf.

Transfer to a vitaprep or blender and process until relatively smooth. Add the butter and continue to process. The mixture will be quite runny. It will firm up on chilling.

Pass through a tamis or fine sieve, using a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to push the mixture through. Taste for seasoning and transfer to lidded jars, preferably with gaskets, leaving 1/2″ or more space at the top.

Delicious chicken liver pâté

Melt the duck fat and pour a thin layer over the surface of the pâté in each jar. Chill until firm.

Serve with toast or grilled bread, accompanied by sweet onion confit or cornichons.

On toast with tart-sweet onion confit

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