This easy make-ahead pâté makes for an elegant first course or party appetizer. Recipe below.
I’ve been thinking about duck fat lately. It all started with reading about fries cooked in duck fat, maybe in Bon Appétit, but more likely in a breathless restaurant review in New York magazine. Next, one of Marion’s colleagues proclaimed that her favorite snack was duck fat french fries and a martini. Wow. I’m pretty sure if you look up sophisticated decadence in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of this very snack.
Then a week or so ago, Christina over at A Thinking Stomach did an excellent post that was not so much a recipe as a jazz melody line on cooking fresh vegetables that invited endless improvisation. Basically, you take some vegetables [she includes many intriguing things growing in her winter garden right now, such as fava beans, sugar snap peas and tatsoi], an aromatic or two, flavor enhancers [bacon, parsley, lemon juice…] and some fat. Read the whole post, because it’s much more eloquent and informative than this feral description. But the reason I mention it here is that one of the fats Christina suggested was duck fat.
Suddenly duck fat was popping up all over my radar screen, and I was wondering where it would land first. The answer came last Saturday afternoon at Hot Doug’s, Chicago’s wildly popular [as in line up around the corner for half an hour or more] “sausage superstore & encased meat emporium.” Doug is Doug Sohn, a graduate of Kendall College’s culinary school. Before opening possibly the best hot dog stand on the planet, he “worked in restaurants, did some catering and corporate dining gigs, and edited for a cookbook publisher,” according to a NEWCITY CHICAGO profile.
Hot Doug’s motto is proudly emblazoned on the wall as well as on T-shirts worn by the staff and also offered for sale: There are no two finer words in the English language than “encased meats,” my friend. And Doug takes encased meats to exciting new places. In addition to a dazzling array of perfectly prepared hot dogs, brats and sausages both Polish and Italian, he offers up a changing menu of exotic gourmet fare, including his “Game of the Week” sausages. This past Saturday, it was the Three-Chili Wild Boar Sausage with Chipotle Dijonnaise and Raschera Cheese, but every kind of game from alligator to pheasant to rattlesnake has been featured. And yes, he also does veggie dogs.
One of Doug’s offerings [and apparently yet another claim to fame], is his Duck Fat Fries, available only on Fridays and Saturdays. Now, if you’re a fries fan like me, you’re probably wondering how much better can they get? I mean, they’re fried potatoes, for crying out loud, nature’s perfect food. The answer is, to quote all three of us sharing a generous basket at Hot Doug’s, “Oh. My. God.”
Unfortunately, we don’t deep fry things at Blue Kitchen. We sauté, sear and pan roast like there’s no tomorrow, but no deep frying. We just can’t get our heads around that much hot grease at one time for one dish. So no fries were going to happen here.
But I’ve also been thinking about pâté lately. Let me start by saying I don’t like liver per se—the mere thought of liver and onions makes me shudder. But oddly enough, a good pâté in a little bistro is one of the great food pleasures, as far as I’m concerned. Flipping through my recipe binders recently, I came across a pâté recipe I’d been meaning to try. It sounded good—easy to make too. So easy, in fact, that I of course had to tinker with it. I turned to the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking for some ideas. The recipes I found there were at the opposite end of the easy spectrum—not difficult, but involved. Still, I found a couple of ingredients and little tricks that made their way into my recipe. And I of course added a little twist of my own.
That little twist? Duck fat. The original recipe calls for lots of butter. I substituted duck fat for some of the butter, aiming for a hint of foie gras’ silky richness—a faux gras of sorts. The results were light and luxurious, if I say so myself—far more impressive than such a simple recipe has a right to be. Company good. Restaurant good. If you can’t find duck fat [see Kitchen Notes], you can use all butter.
Faux Gras Pâté
Makes 2 to 2-1/2 cups
1 stick [1/2 cup] unsalted butter
1/2 cup duck fat
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon minced fresh marjoram or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage or 1/4 teaspoon dried
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 lb chicken livers, trimmed [see Kitchen Notes]
1/4 cup port [or madeira, cognac or armagnac]
A fresh thyme, marjoram, or sage sprig as garnish, optional
Crackers, baguette slices or hearty bread
Special equipment: a 2 1/2-cup crock or terrine or several small ramekins
Prepare the pâté. Melt 1/2 stick butter with duck fat in a large nonstick skillet over moderately low heat. Cook onion and garlic, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add herbs, salt, pepper, allspice and livers and cook, stirring, until livers start to feel firm when you press them with the edge of a wooden spatula, about 8 minutes. The smaller pieces will cook faster, so transfer them to a bowl as they reach doneness. Transfer mixture to food processor. Add port to skillet, increase heat to medium high and reduce liquid by about half, stirring and scraping up any bits in the skillet. Starting with such a small amount of liquid, I occasionally tilt the skillet—seeing it pooled at the edge of the skillet makes it easier to judge when it’s reduced down to about 2 tablespoons [half of a 1/4 cup]. Add reduced port to food processor and purée mixture until smooth, then transfer pâté to crock or ramekins and smooth top. The pâté will seem a little “puddingish” while warm, but firms up as it chills.
Make clarified butter. Melt remaining 1/2 stick butter in a very small heavy saucepan over low heat, then remove pan from heat and let butter stand 3 minutes. Skim froth from butter with a spoon. If using herb garnish, put sprig on top of pâté, then spoon enough clarified butter over pâté to cover its surface, leaving milky solids in bottom of pan.
Chill pâté uncovered in refrigerator until butter is firm, about 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours more. Though this pâté can be eaten the day it’s made, it’s even more flavorful when made 1 or 2 days ahead.
Serve with crackers, baguette slices or hearty bread.
This week’s Kitchen Notes are perfect examples of why it’s great to be married to a wonderful cook like Marion.
Where to get duck fat. I’m reminded of an old joke, perhaps Marx brothers, but probably not: How do you get down off an elephant? You don’t get down off an elephant. You get down off a duck. [Rim shot] While you can buy duck fat—Chicago grocery chain Treasure Island sells small frozen tubs of it—the best place to get it is from a duck. It may or may not be any better than the frozen stuff, but you get to eat duck. When I said I needed duck fat for this recipe and could possibly buy it at Treasure Island, Marion immediately said, “Let’s buy a duck!” We did. She roasted it. See what I mean?
To render fat from a duck, roast a whole duck or duck parts on a rack, first piercing the skin all over with a fork to help the rendered fat drain and not stay in the duck. Or as Marion put it, “Stab it all over with a fork.” Roast a whole duck breast side down, at least to start—roast parts skin side down. This will help the fat render instead of staying trapped under the skin. This is of course just the basics. Find a reputable recipe—this post, after all, is about pâté, not how to roast duck. Transfer the duck fat from the roasting pan to a bowl. Let it cool slightly and allow browned bits to settle out, then ladle off clear fat into a lidded storage container. Discard browned bits. Duck fat will solidify when chilled; refrigerate or freeze for future use.
Why do ducks have so much fat anyway? That’s evolution at work, my friend. The fat makes them more buoyant in water. It also provides a layer of insulation—that water can get mighty cold.
Trimming, cooking liver. Chicken livers come in two lobes, one larger than the other. Separate them; the small lobes will cook faster than the large and can be removed from the pan when done. Regarding cooking time, the original recipe less than helpfully said to cook them “until livers are cooked outside but still pink when cut open.” Hello? The only way to tell if they’re done is to cut them open? Not being a big fan of liver [other than as pâté] this was my first time cooking it. Marion loves the stuff and has cooked it many’s the time. She showed me how the livers start to take on a more solid liver shape when they’re done and feel firm to the touch. DON’T OVERCOOK LIVER. It becomes tough and the taste heads south.
Also this week in Blue Kitchen
You are what you eat, especially if you eat fish. Geeking out on really cool science stuff, including a 375-million-year-old half-fish/half-amphibian who happens to be a lot like you, at WTF? Random food for thought.
Inventive, smart rock from CAKE. Sweet. The band’s music defies categorization and ventures all over the map stylistically, but hangs together as unmistakably CAKE. A YouTube video will show you what I mean, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?