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A couple of years after I graduated from cooking school I apprenticed at a one-star restaurant in Chartres, France. My apprenticeship lasted for only two months but it was pretty intense nonetheless. (Certainly it didn’t help that I was the only woman in the kitchen.) Still, I learned a ton, the most important thing being that the French do not waste anything. When I returned to my job as a restaurant chef in the States my food cost went down dramatically.
In France we worked six days a week from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon and then from five in the afternoon until ten in the evening. I started going to Paris on Mondays (our day off), on a mission to eat lunch at restaurants where I might learn something new and not have to spend a mint for the privilege. One day at a lovely little place on the Ile St. Louis whose name I don’t remember, I ordered the chicken liver mousse as a first course. It was heavenly, silky smooth (nearly as rich as fois gras, in fact) and served with thin slices of toasted brioche. I vowed to reproduce it when I got back to America. Here is the result. This is a great hors d’oeuvre for an elegant party.
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 pound chicken livers, trimmed and halved
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh sage leaves or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried
1 cup tawny port
Additional kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or to taste
Several fresh watercress sprigs for garnish
Serves 6 to 8
Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor. Increase the heat to medium-high and add 3 more tablespoons of the butter to the skillet. Add the chicken livers and cook, stirring constantly, until the exteriors are no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, thyme, and sage. Cook until the livers are lightly browned and firm but still slightly pink inside, about 1 minute longer. Add the contents of the skillet to the food processor with the onions.
Remove the skillet from the heat and pour in the port. Return the skillet to the stove and bring to a boil over high heat scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil until slightly thickened and reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Pour into the food processor with the liver and onions. Process until smooth. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, cool to room temperature, and whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.
Line a 3-cup bowl that measures about 6 inches in diameter with plastic wrap. Add the lemon juice to the strained liver puree, pour into the lined bowl, and smooth over the top. Chill, covered, for at least 3 hours or overnight. Invert onto a platter and carefully remove the plastic wrap. Run a warm knife around the sides and top to smooth. Surround with sprigs of watercress and serve with a thinly sliced baguette.
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