07 April 2014

Food Lab 28: Pate

OK, it's not like Chef Spouse and The Mad Kitchen Scientist don't make pate regularly. In fact we recently had a discussion with some friends about what is the appropriate quantity of poultry to purchase in one go, to which we all replied: "Two (or three)." The reason? That gives you enough legs for confit, enough breasts for several dinners, bones for stock, and livers for pate.

But there's pate, and then there's PATE. The official Platonic form of pate, at least currently, is a truffle duck liver pate we get from the cranky cheese guy at Eastern Market. That was our model, our ideal, our goal to strive for.

We were joined by two new Food Labbers, the lovely couple who invited us to Thanksgiving in Catawba, Ohio, last fall: Dr. Fruit Bat and the International Dilettante. Who brought some delicious local apples and microgreens (had to have something to cut all that rich liver), and a shit-ton of really excellent wine.

Our base was:

1/2 lb. of livers (some duck, some chicken, some mixed)
1/2 c. diced shallots
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. pink peppercorns
1/8 tsp. white peppercorns
6 juniper berries
2 allspice berries

All sauteed in about 1 Tbsp. butter, then deglazed with either 1/4 c. cognac or 1/4 c. marsala. (That didn't really seem to make a major difference in the taste, though.)

We also labbed velvet-smooth, food processed then pressed through a Chinois, versus a more country-style, that was just food processed.

The smooth versions, one chicken and one duck, both with the marsala, were spiced with thyme, additional pink peppercorn, clove, caramelized onions, and then we tested salt versus anchovy paste. The clove was a little strong, and I think the anchovy paste was better, although I don't know if anyone else agrees. But the smoothness? Awesome. And a lot of work:

The chunky versions, one chicken and one duck, both with cognac, were spiced thusly. Version one had pink peppercorn, ground chipotle, ground brown mustard seeds, a little additional juniper, some Vietnamese cinnamon, and salt. Version two had fresh thyme, salt and pepper, caramelized onions, and truffle oil. Truffle oil is a DEFINITE yes. Wowza. Also, I tried using a food mill to get a smoother texture, which actually worked pretty well and was WAY less work.

We also had some duck/chicken mixed livers, and that's where we went a little crazy with the spicing:
  • Version one: parsley, chili powder, salt, caramelized onions, sriracha- YES
  • Version two: bacon, white and pink peppercorn, allspice, garlic, cloves, truffle oil, honey - eh
  • Version three: egg yolk, Calvados, Chinese five spice powder - O.M.G. YES!
Before you start on me, yes, I know there are no quantities. It's to taste, kids.

And yes, I am aware that we are already up to seven varieties of pate.

The Executive Committee also set us up with mushroom pates. Because her job is to remind us to eat our vegetables, and when I was a vegetarian in grad school years ago, one of my favorite dishes at one of my favorite restaurants in town was, in fact, mushroom pate. So we went two directions: Tres Mushroom and Walnut Pate and Hazelnut and Wild Mushroom Pate (NY Times recipe).

The Tres Mushrooms was an Executive Committee original, which she adapted specially for us:

1 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 pound Shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1/4 pound Crimini mushrooms, chopped
1/4 pound Portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 Tablespoons white wine
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon Truffle oil

In a large sauté pan, melt ½ cup butter over medium heat and add shallots, cooking them until they are translucent. Add chopped mushrooms, garlic, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper. Stir often. When mushrooms browned, add white wine. Continue to sauté until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Combine toasted walnuts, olive oil, and truffle oil in a blender or food processor until forms a paste. Add cooked mushrooms and blend to desired texture. Add extra salt to taste, mix again.

We left one alone, added chopped pistachios to one and chopped capers to another. CAPERS. YUM.

To quote The Executive Committee on the hazelnut and wild mushroom version:
It was good, but wild mushrooms got lost (had mix of dried morels, chantrelles, lobster, and porcinis reconstituted to comprise 3/4 pound, rest of "wild" filled out by adding extra fresh crimini). Recipe filled 3 ramekins, and we added cream to one, truffle oil to another and Chinese five spice to the third. The additions were tasty. Lessons on this recipe were that 1) reserve morels and chantrelles for fancy sauces where they will not be overwhelmed (duh), 2) fresh portobello in the "wild" mix could offer more meatiness, 3) might substitute olive oil and/or hazelnut oil for melted butter,and 4) make sure salt to taste.
And further:
Both mushroom pates had enough seductive umami flavor that they were easy to devour. Vegetarians will need to throw some elbows to get any.
She's not wrong.

If you're keeping track, that's an additional six varieties of pate.

Which makes thirteen all together. Which is lucky, of course, but also a LOT of pate. Good thing we had some veg, or we might've all keeled over immediately.

What did we drink? Lots of wine - I might've already mentioned that - and Fernet Me Nots, which The Mad Kitchen Scientist found for us, having Fernet and knowing my fondness for bitter drinks:

4 parts delish kitchen gin (that he and The Executive Committee had made special for Lab)
2 parts sweet vermouth
1 part Fernet Branca
Orange twist

It was OK, but with the addition of some Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate bitters (and, in my case, also some Angostura), it was outstanding.

And I think that the bitterness really played well with the richness of the liver. Then again, I think bitter drinks go with pretty much everything, so I may not be 100% reliable on this. 

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