There was a time not too long ago when I was intimidated at the prospect of cooking organ meats. I have since recovered from my fear – but if you have a bit of an organ-meat-cooking phobia, an easy entree into the world of offal cookery can be had with the making of chicken liver mousse. There aren’t very many ingredients, cooking time is very limited, and even prepping the actual livers isn’t so bad. Seriously. This mousse is a fairly classic recipe that makes for an elegant pre-dinner starter with a glass of white wine, or, dare I say, a glass or two (or seven) of champagne?
This recipe is an amalgamation of recipes from my French Culinary Institute curriculum, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the Gourmet cookbook. It’s definitely better the next day, after the flavors have had plenty of time to meld. (And, might I add, perfect for a party? You can make it one or two days in advance, no sweat.) Just make sure you leave the mousse out for 1-2 hours before you want to serve it to make sure it is nice and spreadable.
A word about chicken livers. It’s a bit hard to find pasture-raised chicken livers, but when I stumble upon them I get really excited. The liver functions as a detoxification organ (among other things) in lots of animals (including people), so I get a bit freaked out when I think about liver from a factory-farmed animal. Prepping a chicken liver is easier than you might think. First, trim off large chunks of fat. If the liver is large, you can separate the two lobes and pull off the fat with your fingers. Also check the livers for green spots (this is bile – not good to eat) and large blood vessels – remove with your fingers or trim with a knife. Finally, check the livers for the stringy bits that connect the lobes – remove those with your fingers or a knife as well. Rinse the livers under cold running water and pat dry. You’re good to go.
I passed my mousse through a fine-meshed sieve because I wanted the texture to be ultra-smooth. You can skip this step – your mousse won’t be chunky, but it won’t have the fine, smooth texture you’d get forcing it through a sieve. (Forcing stuff through sieves is a very French thing to do. The easiest way to pass stuff through a sieve in a home kitchen is to dump the mixture into your fine-mesh strainer, then push it through the sieve using a rubber spatula. It doesn’t take very long if you move the spatula around kinda vigorously.)
I think this mousse is best served with crunchy little toasts or crackers.
(Makes about 1 cup mousse)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3/4 pound pastured chicken livers, trimmed, washed, and patted dry (see note above)
1/4 cup brandy
Pinch ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons whipping cream
Special Equipment: food processor, fine-mesh sieve (optional)
- In a 12-inch, heavy bottomed saute pan, heat the butter over medium heat until just foaming.
- Add the chopped shallot and garlic and cook and stir until the shallot is soft, 5-6 minutes. (Turn the heat down a bit if the butter or shallots start to brown.)
- Salt and pepper the trimmed chicken livers and add to the pan. Cook the livers, stirring gently from time to time, until they are cooked but still a bit pink in the center, about 5 minutes (cooking time will depend on the size of your livers).
- Add the brandy. Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook until most of the brandy has evaporated, another 3-4 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes.
- Add the slightly-cooled mixture to the bowl of the food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add the allspice, nutmeg, a few grindings of pepper, a pinch of salt, and the whipping cream.
- Process until you have a very smooth mixture. Add more cream if you want your mousse a bit looser.
- If you want a super smooth mixture, force the mousse through a fine mesh strainer (optional – see above).
- Pack the mousse into a large ramekin or other container and let cool. Once cool, cover surface of the mousse with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, preferably longer. Bring to room temperature before serving.