So easy, so impressive: Let’s get this pâté started

by Terry B on March 5, 2008

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.

Kitchen Notes

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?


{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) March 5, 2008 at 11:31 am

Sounds like you and Marion are the perfect couple — you both love to cook, but have slightly different approaches and bodies of knowledge that combine for great success in the kitchen. (I, too, probably would have gone to the store for duck fat, thus skipping the best — to me — part, which is the duck itself!)

Mike of Mike's Table March 5, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Wow, Hot Doug’s sounds awesome…its too early to be hungry for hot dogs, sausages, etc, but the description did me in…

I was pining for duck fat a few months back and searched high and low in my area but to no avail. Sadly, I have yet to sell my wife on eating duck, but one of these days…

Also, the pâté sounds like it would be delicious.

Anticiplate March 5, 2008 at 2:12 pm

beautiful photo!

Terry B March 5, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Lydia—You’re absolutely right. Our slightly different approaches make for lots of “wow, I never would have thought of that” moments, instead of “you’re doing it wrong” ones.

Mike—Keep working on your wife. Duck is wonderful. While you’re at it, work on her for a trip to Chicago and Hot Doug’s!

Anticiplate—Thanks! Having seen your beautifully dark, dramatic photos, this is high praise indeed.

Coffee and Vanilla March 5, 2008 at 7:11 pm

Very nice recipe.. thank you for sharing :)


Jennifer Hess March 5, 2008 at 8:01 pm

You should see the amount of duck fat we keep in our fridge – of course, the majority of it is in our tubs of my husband’s duck confit, but we always have backup. Duck fat makes darn near anything better. :)

Terry B March 5, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Thanks for visiting, Margot!

Jennifer—That’s how I feel about champagne.

Kalyn March 6, 2008 at 1:02 am

I used to work at a French restaurant that had the most amazing pate. Sampling it was one of the perks of that job for sure. I am impressed with the looks of your version!

Christina March 6, 2008 at 3:54 am

Oh man, I love pate. I think this recipe may replace my old version–why have I never thought of using duck fat there before?

Thank you so much for the compliments here. I’m blushing!

Terry B March 6, 2008 at 5:20 pm

Kalyn—The more I hear from various friends and bloggers about experiences they’ve had working in restaurants, the more I’m sorry I didn’t do that at least for a while. We have a scientist friend who worked as a bartender in a restaurant during grad school. He claims that experience of working with people was as important as his science education in furthering his career.

Christina—You totally deserve the compliments. I love your thoughtful blog.

Carolyn March 6, 2008 at 5:20 pm

Terry, I agree with your sentiments on liver. Yuck.

But I’ve noticed two odd things: First, when liver and onions is on the menu at work, people line up around the block. Either liking liver and onions is a question asked during the hiring interview or there are a lot of people who can’t get their spouses to cook/eat it.

Second, I’ve loved braunchweiger all my life — and felt betrayed when I learned it was … liver!

Beautiful pictures as always. New ideas as always. Great work!

Terry B March 6, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Carolyn—Thanks! An excellent observation about liver lovers. It also raises a bigger issue. An interesting blog post might be to discuss where spousal and family tastes don’t intersect—what people would cook and eat more of if their significant others didn’t object and what they indulge in when they’re only cooking for themselves. And I meant to mention braunschweiger. It’s another form of liver I enjoy, but like you, if I’d been told it was liver when I was a kid, I probably would never have eaten it.

katie March 6, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Now I shall make you jealous: I buy duck confit in cans here in France (as does everyone. The 3 portions of duck are encased in about a million cups of duck fat. It’s hilarious trying to actually get to the duck. Wish I could send you some of the lovely fat…..
Your pate looks simply perfect…. If I send you fat…

Terry B March 6, 2008 at 11:37 pm

Katie—I am totally jealous! I would gladly swap some duck fat from France for pâté from Chicago, but I’m sure we would be violating numerous international treaties and trade laws—not to mention how, um, ripe everything would get with two transatlantic crossings.

Mary Coleman March 7, 2008 at 1:29 am

This is the first pate I learned to make. My favorite part was licking the spatula after the pate was put in its crock to be refrigerated. We take several containers of this whenever we travel for a little something at the cocktail hour. So good!!!
Great post!

ann March 7, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Mmmmm… To that perfect snack, I’d like to add a half dozen Happy Hour priced $1 oysters. $1 oysters are the thing I miss the most in the world about leaving work at 5.30pm (well, that and sunshine in the evening). There’s a profusion of classy places that do $1 oysters and half-price martinis in New York. But alas. I’m usually working til at least 7.30, so no $1 oysters, no perfect martini, no duck fat french fries. *sigh* I live such a deprived life 😉

I need to come to Chicago so I can go to Doug’s. Holy lord. That is so my life’s motto! And what a lovely recipe. Someday I’ll make this. It’s truly lovely.

Susan from Food Blogga March 7, 2008 at 5:17 pm

I’ve got a secret to share with you Terry: I don’t like pate. Sorry, I’ve tried, but my taste buds just resist it. Still friends?
PS-I’ll take two servings of those succulent strawberries though.

Terry B March 7, 2008 at 5:35 pm

Mary—Thanks! Traveling with your own pâté? Okay, a photo of that belongs with the definition of sophisticated decadence too. I’m impressed.

Ann—Sigh, indeed. There’s pretty much nothing you can’t get delivered in New York. I don’t suppose one of those $1 oyster classy places would send a tray to your office? Probably not—they want you at the bar buying martinis. What am I saying? You want you at the bar buying martinis. Never mind.

Susan—As I admitted recently, I don’t like coffee, even though I’ve tried. So no problem. Besides, if we all liked everything, we’d all weigh a thousand pounds.

gemma March 7, 2008 at 10:02 pm

It was you! I thought I saw someone who looked quite a bit like you as I was sitting down at Hot Doug’s last weekend. I hope you enjoyed your lunch, we sure did!

maryann March 7, 2008 at 10:46 pm

That IS very impressive. I want fries in duck fat now.

Kelly-Jane March 9, 2008 at 9:37 am

Hi Terry, thanks for visiting my page. you have great blog here.

Lovely picture of your pate, I only use duck fat for roasting patatoes. Bought from a jar!

Terry B March 9, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Gemma—As Steven Wright says [and I quote endlessly], “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”

Maryann—And reading your comment, so do I. Dang.

But Kelly-Jane to the rescue! We still have some duck fat left over from the pâté adventure—I plastic-wrapped and froze individual little portions. I think I see the fate of one of them right now. Thanks!

claudia at 'cook eat FRET' March 14, 2008 at 3:03 pm

i’ve been lurking forever
but this pate brought me out and about
just beautiful – wonderful
sounds wonderful
i want some Now
and AT 10 AM

Terry B March 14, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Claudia—Thanks for stopping by! I used to be much more sensitive about what I ate when. Now, once I’ve brushed my teeth in the morning to start the day, anything’s fair game.

Schwakhofer March 16, 2008 at 12:27 am

Goose fat rocks potatoes too!

Dolce March 17, 2008 at 10:02 pm

I’ve always wanted to make my own pâté but I’m afraid it will go to waste because I’ll be the only person who eats it. I might have to give this a whirl though, it just looks too delicious to pass up!

Ellie April 10, 2008 at 11:43 am

I love the duo commentary! Almost like being in the kitchen with you (Picturing the “duck stabbing” what a hoot!) We love love love duck. And pate. And Foie gras. Hmmm…maybe we need a new adventure in the kitchen!

Rosa April 10, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Wonderful and ever so tasty! Your picture is very pretty! Mouthwatering!



katy April 10, 2008 at 4:32 pm

i just did a post on duck fat a few weeks ago! that looks amazing — and such a good use for my rendered duck fat!

Terry B April 10, 2008 at 4:58 pm

Dolce—I took some into the office along with a baguette and some wine. Made a great end of the week little party.

Ellie—Being in the kitchen with Marion is a hoot. You just have to be careful not to look like a duck.

Thanks, Rosa. And thanks for stopping by!

Katy—You just reminded me I still have a few little packets of duck fat in the freezer. Sweet!

SteamyKitchen May 21, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Love it! I’ve made faux gras before – and it was divine.

but I have duck fat envy now!

Richard Blaine March 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I had just made Salmon Pate’ this last weekend for my mother and I to have with tea and some cracked peppercorn crackers. In fact I had to go and leaf through some of my recipes to get the idea for it, but I muddled through.
I was looking for some more recipes on the net this morning when I found your site. I am going to try this recipe, it sounds delish! I have to go find some duck fat or even a duck someplace. Believe me in some parts of the Southwest these things are not easy to find. Great recipe! You have an excellent blog to I am glad I made it here!

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