As someone who squirms at the thought of eating livers or offal of any kind, I happen to love pâté. Perhaps because it is a crucial component of a Vietnamese Banh Mi, a staple in my childhood diet, that I have long-acquired a taste for this velvety spread.
A Vietnamese pâté is one of many culinary inheritances from the French colonial occupation, and the Vietnamese like theirs with a bit of texture and spice. It is often made with a mixture of chicken and pork livers and can even include a variety of other meats and offal to add texture and flavour. Smeared onto the soft interior of a crisp baguette, layered with some garlic mayonnaise, slices of pork belly and a generous touch of picked carrots with fresh coriander and chillies, and you have yourself a lip-smacking Banh Mi.
The following is my take on a Vietnamese chicken liver pâté. I like to flavour it with lots of freshly, but finely, ground white pepper for a bit of heat, and then pass the mixture through a fine sieve to give it a silky, smooth consistency.
Homemade pâté is a great dish to serve as an appetiser with some fresh baguette, but I also have a soft spot for spreading it onto some warm toasted white bread. Add some pickles and a glass of sweet wine and you will have yourself a pretty heavenly meal.
I used to always seal the pâté with some clarified butter but have found that most people are unsure about what to do with this layer of fat. Traditionally, the butter is to help cut through the richness of the pâté, as well as to stop the pâté from discolouring, but I can see how some people might be put off eating butter in addition to what is already an inherently rich spread. So, as an alternative, I sometimes omit the layer of clarified butter and simply sprinkle over some brined green peppercorns for both taste and decoration.
Chicken Liver Pâté
Makes enough to serve 10-12 as a starter/appetiser
500 g (18 oz) chicken livers
100 g (3.5 oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 French shallots or 2 very small red onions, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Madeira
4 tablespoons double cream (or thickened or whipping cream)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly, but finely, ground white pepper
green peppercorns in brine (for decoration)
100 g (3.5 oz) unsalted butter (if you wish to add a layer of clarified butter on top of the pâté)
Clean the livers of any fat and sinew.
Heat about 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the livers for a few minutes on each side until they are nicely browned but still pink and soft in the centre. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your saucepan. Remove the livers to a plate and let them rest.
Add another 1 tablespoon of the butter to the saucepan and gently sauté the shallots (or onions) and garlic for a few minutes until they have softened.
Return the livers to the saucepan, together with any juices which have collected in the meantime. Increase the heat to medium-high and pour over the Madeira. If you are brave, ignite the alcohol and let the flame subside. Otherwise, just let the everything bubble away for a few minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated from the saucepan.
Pour everything from the saucepan into a food processor and blitz until it is smooth. Add the remaining butter, cream, sugar, salt and white pepper and whizz again until everything is well-combined. Taste for seasoning.
If you want your pâté to have a silky, smooth texture, pass the mixture through a fine sieve. This can be messy work but will produce a more appealing pâté.
I like to serve pâté in small bowls or ramekins as I think it looks more attractive in small quantities, but you could, of course, make one large serve. Pour the mixture into your bowl (or bowls) of choice and sprinkle over some brined green peppercorns for decoration.
If you wish to add a layer of clarified butter, simply melt about 100 g (3.5 oz) of unsalted butter in a small saucepan over low heat and let it simmer gently until all of the milk solids rise to the surface. Take the saucepan off the heat and remove the milk solids with a spoon. Line a small strainer with some muslin or cheesecloth and hold it over a small bowl. Strain the melted butter to remove any remaining milk solids. Pour the clarified butter directly over the pâté and leave it at room temperature for about 30 minutes until the butter has set.
Cover the bowls with clingfilm and leave to set in the fridge for at least a few hours before serving, but overnight is better.