Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Faux" or No, Le Gras C'est si Bon - Homemade Chicken Liver Pate

Michel Richard's "Faux Gras"
Faux or no, this gras spread is to die for. Hopefully not literally - everything in moderation, right? I have been saving up the livers from my Womach Ranch (local pastured) chickens over the past few weeks (plus a few extras thrown in upon request) specifically for the purpose of making chicken liver mousse or pate. I've had divine versions of this delicacy at both the Farmhouse Cafe and Third Corner, and I knew it was indulgent, but until I started looking at recipes, I have to admit, I was blissfully ignorant of exactly how much so. Six egg yolks? 2 cups of cream?? A pound of butter???

After puzzling over three wildly varying recipes,* I posted a query on Twitter - asking if anyone had a good one, and Sam reminded me of Michel Richard's recipe in the Happy in the Kitchen book. The recipe is actually the simplest one I looked at, both in terms of the method and ingredients. It's a cinch to make, incredibly inexpensive, and best of all, amazingly delicious.
Michel Richard's "Faux Gras"
Michel refers to this as "Faux Gras" because it tastes very much like foie gras torchon. All of the ingredients can be purchased for under $5.00. Add some cornichons or pickled red onions (or pickled cherries if you want to go all French Laundry on your guests) and a Bread and Cie baguette and you're all set. With some champagne and salad greens, you've got yourself a feast!
Michel Richard's "Faux Gras"
"Faux Gras" Chicken Liver Pate adapted from Michel Richard's Happy in the Kitchen
(mostly what I've done here is cut the recipe in half, his calls for 1 pound of livers, and this makes one nice-sized ramekin. If you're having a party, you might want to double it, and make two ramekins.)

Womach's fresh, organic pastured chickens are available at the Sunday Hillcrest Farmers Market. If you ask nicely, he'll give you extra giblets (ask for feet and necks for stock) and I think he'll also sell the livers separately - I saw him sell about half a pound to an elderly gentleman for two or three dollars a few weeks ago.

1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 stick butter, cut into 4 equal pieces
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup whipping cream
maldon sea salt
finely ground pepper
5-6 ounces chicken livers, any veins, fatty lumps or dark spots removed

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion to the melted butter and cook until soft, stirring often. Using a microplane grater, grate half of the garlic clove into the onion. When the onion is translucent, add the whipping cream. Cook until the onion is very soft, about 5 minutes.

Boil two cups of water, either on the stove or in the microwave. Place the chicken livers in the bowl of a small food processor or 2-3 cup mini-chopper Add the onion mixture and puree until smooth. Place a wire mesh strainer over a bowl, and strain the liver mixture into the bowl. Place a four inch ramekin in a cake pan or other high sided pan, and pour the mixture into the ramekin, stirring the surface lightly to get rid of any air bubbles. Place the pans in the oven on the middle rack, and pour the boiling water into the outer pan until it comes halfway up the side of the ramekin (supplement with hot water from the tap if it's not enough.) Cover the ramekin with foil, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the middle is set but still jiggles slightly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

If you like, you can seal the top with some melted butter with a few sage leaves or thyme springs in it, or a gelatin mixture infused with herbs. Michel uses a cucumber gelee with parsley. If you don't seal it (and I didn't) just press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pate to preserve it. Well wrapped, it will keep for at least three or four days in the refrigerator.

* the other recipes I looked at were from Food and Wine, Gourmet and Paula Wolfert's recipe from the Piret's Cookbook.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sunday Supper 3.8.09 - Homemade Caesar Salad

I have to confess, I'm taking some creative liberties with this post. You see, what we had on Sunday is something that I wouldn't suggest you - or anybody else - ever make. It was rich and full of good ingredients, but turned out strangely bland and uninteresting. We did have this earlier in the week though, and I haven't done a Sunday Supper in a while, so I figure it's acceptable to engage in a little bit of revisionist history here in the interest of sharing a good meal with you.

Sunday Supper
March 8, 2009

Caesar Salad with Homemade Dressing and Croutons

Pan Grilled Brandt Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Shuna's Butterscotch Pudding
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I wanted to pull out the recipe for Caesar Salad. This salad was one of the first things I ever learned to cook, and thus holds a special place in my heart. I started making it in college when I was a nanny for a family in Irvine. Room was included with my deal, but not board - but the family loved this salad so much that at least once or twice a week, the mother would ask me to make it and let me eat with them in exchange. It was a pretty good deal, actually. Now that I think about it, she was pretty tolerant of my experiments in the kitchen, maybe even more so than my own mother. I think I even did my first holiday baking extravaganza in their kitchen (wherein I learned glossy black countertops are not a good idea, in case you're considering a remodel.)

I had just started learning to cook the summer before, poring over James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking and the New York Times Cookbook (which was waay out of my league) and at their house I had the Wolfgang Puck Cookbook and the Silver Palate Cookbook to peruse. Over the intervening years, a lot of things (and people) have come and gone, but the Caesar Salad is still around. I made it for for dinner parties in my first apartment on Olive Street, for pretty much everyone I've ever dated, even for my parents who pronounced it way too garlickly (I've since toned it down a bit.)

The other night, I decided to shake the dressing up in a jar instead of whisking it, and decided it's my new favorite method. I added some homemade croutons and sliced romaine hearts, tossed them together and it was as good, if not better than I remembered. Despite the fact that I have toned the garlic down from five(!) cloves to just three, this is a pungent dressing, which is the way I like it, but you can of course adjust it to taste. More olive oil and less mustard/vinegar will make it more mild. One thing I don't recommend is the use of a food processor or blender. The dressing will emulsify - changing both the texture and the flavor.
Flank Steak
The steak we had the other night was a Brandt flank steak purchased at the Hillcrest Farmers Market. A 1.5 pound flank steak sells for the same price as one pound of Rib Eye or New York Strip - about $15.00 - and I like the flavor just as well or better. I seared this one in a grill pan on the stove, and sliced it against the grain. The chimichurri sauce is almost a relish - made of garlic, parsley and oil - it came from the empanadas guy at the farmers' market (conveniently located right next door to the Brandt stall) - it's $4.00 for an 8 oz tub.

More revisionist history: I am on a bit of a dessert moratorium myself (sad, I know) but if I were to serve a dessert with this meal, I would go retro-comfort with Shuna's Butterscotch Pudding. I've always wanted to try this recipe. I am sure it's a good one - if you try it, let me know. I've also done chocolate pudding, so if that's more your speed, check it out.
Homemade Croutons
Alice's Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons

2-3 hearts of romaine

1 loaf of sourdough bread, day old
olive oil
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, smashed but still intact
salt and pepper

2 anchovies (good quality, in olive oil)
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/3 cup mild olive oil or other vegetable oil
juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup shredded reggiano parmesan cheese
1 egg (preferably farm fresh from an extremely trustworthy source)

Wash, trim and dry the romaine hearts, wrap loosely in paper towels and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To prepare the croutons, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the bottom crust off of your loaf of sourdough bread, cut the loaf into 1 inch thick slices and slice each piece from side to side into thirds - then cut into one inch cubes. Place the cubes into a large bowl with the smashed garlic cloves, and pour olive oil all the way around the inside of the bowl, just above the bread cubes - so it flows down the inside of the bowl. Lift the bowl and start tossing the cubes to coat them evenly (I use my hands, but you can use tongs if you prefer.) Add a liberal sprinkle of sea salt and a few grinds of pepper halfway through the tossing. Remove the garlic cloves and spread the croutons in a single layer on a rimmed sheet pan. Bake at 350-375 for about fifteen minutes - until they start to brown and the edges are crisp. Toss them around and bake for a few more minutes, then remove from the oven and let them cool completely before storing.

For the dressing, cut the anchovies into small pieces and smash the garlic cloves. Place the anchovies and garlic in a mortar and pestle and mash to a paste with the salt. Put this mixture in a small jar and add the mustard, worcestershire sauce, pinch of cayenne, oil, vinegar and lemon juice and shake well (or whisk). Just before serving, add half of the shredded reggiano parmesan, and crack the egg into the dressing.* Whisk with a fork to break up the egg, and shake again.

To prepare the salad, slice the romaine into one inch ribbons and separate. Pour about 1/4 cup of dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl, and add the lettuce. Toss - adding more dressing as needed (it should be well coated, but not dripping wet.) Top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, a few grinds of pepper, a generous squeeze of lemon juice, and some croutons.

If you have dressing left over, immediately seal the jar and place it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Throw away any leftover dressing that is not properly refrigerated and don't leave this salad sitting out very long, due to the raw egg it contains.

*This salad really is not the same without the egg. If you can't or don't want to eat raw eggs, I believe there are pasteurized products out there, but I haven't tried them. If you do, please let me know how it turns out!