Chicken Liver Paté with Cognac


 Paté is a perfect food for spring. Days are warmer but nights are still cool, so richer dishes are still seasonal. Served in moderate portions, paté is a healthy appetizer that pairs well with other, lighter courses, like soups and salads.

Spring is a natural time for a cleanse, and liver contains the nutrients our bodies need for detoxification. It's a good source of protein, B vitamins, vitamin A, and minerals like iron, selenium, phosphorus and zinc.

Paté has gotten a bad reputation as a fattening and unhealthy food. However, more and more studies are exonerating saturated fats as culprits behind chronic disease. When they come from animals who ate their natural diet, saturated fats are healthy. Stable at room temperature, they are unlikely to oxidize and cause the production of free radicals that promotes inflammation and damages cells.

Like any animal product, heavy metals and environmental contaminants can accumulate in liver, but it's not due to the nature of the organ. The liver acts as a filter for the body but it's not a sponge; it changes toxins in the blood into excretable compounds. Contamination can be a result of the way the animal was raised, so always choose livers (and eggs, meat and dairy products) from animals raised on pasture, fed their natural diet, and never exposed to pesticides, antibiotics or hormones.

This paté is simple and satisfying. Ideally, it should be made ahead and allowed to firm up in the fridge overnight. But, in pinch, you could serve a warm, soft version as soon as you make it.

To seal the paté and prevent it from browning, you’ll need to top it off with a healthy fat. I use duck fat but you can use butter if need be. (Whenever I make duck breast, I start by cooking it skin-side down over low heat to render some of the fat which crisps the skin and reduces the fat to a soft and creamy layer. I strain the rendered fat and save it for cooking.)

Serve paté with cornichons (small pickles) and toasted slices of whole wheat baguette. If you're avoiding gluten, grains, or flour, serve it with cucumber slices instead.

  • 1 pound livers from pasture-raised chickens
  • Whole milk, about a cup
  • 6 tbsp organic butter from grass-fed cows, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup cognac
  • Ground peppercorn to taste
  • 6 tbsp cream
  • 4 tablespoons duck fat

  1. Rinse the livers and trim them of any veins or connective tissue. Put them in a bowl and cover them with milk. Cover the bowl and set it aside in the fridge for 30 minutes or several hours.
  2. When ready to make the paté, strain and set aside the livers. Discard the milk.
  3. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onions with a pinch of sea salt and sauté until soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer the onion to a food processor with 4 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces.
  4. Return the skillet to the stove and melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the drained livers, sprinkle with sea salt, and sauté until golden brown on one side. Turn them over and brown on the other side, cooking only until they become firm, but not hard or rubbery, about 5 minutes total. Do not overcook the livers; they should be slightly pink inside when done. Transfer the livers to the food processor.
  5. Return the skillet to the stove and add the cognac. Simmer over medium heat until reduced by half, stirring occasionally to incorporate any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat, cool slightly, and add the cognac to the food processor.
  6. Add the cream to the food processor along with freshly ground peppercorn. Purée until smooth, then taste for seasoning. Add more sea salt if necessary. Transfer the paté to a 3-cup terrine or bowl, or divide it between smaller ramekins, filling them no fuller than 1/4 inch below the rim (this recipe yields approximately 2 and 3/4 cups). Smooth the top of the paté and set it in the fridge for 20 minutes. (Optional: For an even smoother and more velvety version, push the paté through a stainless steel fine-mesh strainer before you transfer it to the terrine/bowl/ramekins.
  7. Melt the duck fat. (If you are substituting butter, skim off any milk solids that rise to the top). Once the paté has set in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (but not more than 30), spoon the melted butter or liquified duck fat over the top of the paté to seal it and prevent it from discoloring. Cover tightly and return it to the fridge to finish setting, ideally overnight.
  8. When ready to eat, remove the duck fat from the top (it's easy to break and remove it in pieces) and serve it with sprouted whole wheat toast (cut each slice into 4 triangles if you wish) and cornichons (small gherkin cucumbers pickled with tarragon and garlic) or dill pickles.