My first taste of the liver parfait was at Bloodwood in Newtown, as part of a degustation dinner my friend, the birthday girl, treated us to. Except back then I didn't know it was called a liver parfait. I, like most others, I'm sure, was under the impression that it was a pate. Seeing a recipe for the chicken liver parfait on Helen's Grab Your Fork helped to clear up the confusion. I suggest you all go and have a read of her post for the exact differences, as she details them much more articulately than I can :D
But with due respect to all the other liver parfait recipes out there, it was Billy's (author of the much beloved Sydney food blog A Table for Two and one of the top 7 contestants on Masterchef Australia 2011) that I ultimately turned to. I loved the fact that there were so many ingredients; indeed, there was almost a Maggie Beer vibe to it, so time-intensive was the preparation and numerous the steps. Although spare time is something I don't have in excess these days, I was won over by the promise of complex, bold flavours through the addition of thyme, bayleaf, garlic, eschalots, and brandy, oh my!
Soaking the livers in full-fat milk, along with thyme and dried bay leaves.
Determined to use the best available ingredients to do justice to the recipe, I went out and purchased a litre of organic milk for double the normal price. But when I looked closely at the recipe...it turned out that the milk doesn't actually get incorporated into the final parfait. I couldn't bear the thought of throwing out such expensive milk, so used some normal (and slightly expired) milk. [DISCLAIMER: use expired milk at your own risk! Mine smelt okay, and passed the "doesn't curdle when microwaved" test, so I didn't mind using it.]
The liver themselves were unbelievably cheap, considering how much commercially produced liver pate costs. I paid $4.99 for a kilo of it from my local butcher. They were relatively well cleaned out, but some still had fat and tiny pairs of kidneys attached (fascinatingly gruesome), which I had to remove myself. Billy specifies fresh bay leaves in the recipe, but I could only find the dried ones. Mine turned out nicely flavoured, so I'm sure yours will too :D
Into the fridge the whole thing went, and stayed there for 8 hours while I attempted to be studious (and only partially succeeding).
Tip: putting it in an air-tight container like this helps to prevent spillages, and keeps smells from getting in (or out!)
Around 6:30pm, I took it out of the fridge and started to work on actually making the parfait while my dinner was cooking in the oven (fyi, I had a lovely baked chicken breast marinated beforehand with thyme, garlic and lemon). Now that's what I call multi-tasking! I start by allowing the milk to drain from the somewhat wan-looking livers in a colander.
While that's happening, I heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of my skillet over a medium flame, until it was starting to smoke slightly. A saucepan probably would have been a better way to go, because the thing STARTED TO SPIT OIL at me as soon as I added a few livers. The right side of my face is still recovering from an oil burn that happened three weeks ago (for which I had to take oral antibiotics because it got infected, urgh), so throughout this whole cooking process I had to fight the urge to put on a hoodie and wrap a scarf around my face. I'm a n00b when it comes to cooking, 'tis true.
Anyway, I've never cooked liver before so I was pretty much going at it blind from this point forth. Billy said to sear them all around the outside so they are firm but still pink inside. I had no idea how pink they were supposed to be; a dull flesh-colour or bleedin' raw? I went with the latter because I saw that they would be returned to the pan once I saute the eshalots and garlic in butter.
I finished searing all the livers, turned off the stove, and went to have dinner, concurrently calming myself down so I wouldn't lose the nerve to finish off the parfait. Like I've said, cooking is still a relatively new thing for me. I've been baking for years now, but didn't really start cooking for myself until a few months ago. And that mostly involved boiling and microwaving.
I melted a nob of butter in the same skillet which still held the juices from pan-frying the livers, allowed it to melt completely, then added in the chopped eschalots (aka. French shallots) and minced garlic. Those were sauteed until translucent and fragrant, at which point I added in all 1kg of the par-cooked livers, along with the same bay leaves and thyme that were soaked with the livers. Things did get a bit crowded in the pan, but I made do the best I could.
At this point, the recipe called for brandy to be poured into the pan and then the alcohol flambeed off. I had full intentions of doing this (even making a trip to the shops just to buy brandy), but I completely chickened out and just didn't use any. Maybe when I'm competent enough to not disfigure myself while cooking. I kept the pan on the stove until the livers were no longer squishy inside, but rather were grainy (yet still somewhat pink!). I took the pan off the stove, and used the time the livers were cooling down to clarify some butter.
Another first for me - clarifying butter. Heat the butter over a low flame until completely liquid. Spoon off the white impurities floating on the surface, then pour the translucent yellow liquid into a bowl. There should be white milk solids sunk to the bottom of the pan. Unless you have a very fine mesh strainer, the solids will pass through the strainer (trust me, I tried), so just pour as much as you can until the solids are threatening to tip out. Discard the milk solids.
I don't know how much more embarrassing my story can get at this point, except to say that, because I don't own a food processor, I used a mortar and pestle to mash the livers. For all my kitchen gadgets-challenged kindred souls out there, it is possible to grind livers to a very fine consistency with a mortar and pestle. I'd even say it does a better job than a food processor, although more time-consuming. I also reduced the remaining juices, eschalos and garlic in the pan over a medium-high heat, and then ground the reduction up (without the bay leaves), and stirred that through the liver paste.
Afterwards, it was a simple case of stirring the clarified butter and double cream through the liver paste. Now, in order to make it a parfait, you should press the mixture through a fine sieve so as to remove lumps and sinewy bits, and get that lovely mousse-like texture. I couldn't be bothered/didn't have the time, so I just spooned the stuff as is into jars, sealed it with a bit of melted butter, and transferred it to the fridge to let the flavours develop a bit (many sources recommend a week).
I ate a few spoonfuls before it went into the jars and it already tasted marvelous. I absolutely suck at describing flavours, but I guess it's comparable to the best liver pate I've tasted on a Bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette) sandwich. Even without the brandy, there's a mildly alcoholic taste, which I can only attribute to the liver themselves. I was worried that the metallic taste inherent in livers would come across to strongly (as was the case when I ate a liver straight out of the pan), but all the fats from the clarified butter and double cream seem to have mellowed the flavour out, so all you get is a rich nuttiness, and the flavour of the aromatic herbs. If I were serving this at a dinner party, I would definitely make the effort to press it through a fine mesh. I personally don't mind the coarse, grainy bits, but I can see how it may put some people off.
The next morning, my family and I had it for breakfast with freshly toasted white bread. They liked it so much that I had to put my foot down and order my sister to stop going back for more spoonfuls because of the high cholesterol content! I originally had plans to give away the smaller jars to friends as gifts, but at the rate the bigger jar is disappearing, we might as well just keep it all for ourselves!
Recipe for Chicken Liver Parfait
Adapted from A Table For Two
(Makes the amount you see in the pictures above)
1 kg chicken liver, cleaned and with fat and sinewy bits removed
600ml full cream milk (to soak livers in; will discard later)
300g butter, salted or unsalted (to clarify, and blend with liver)
50g butter, salted or unsalted (to saute)
2 large eschalots (French shallot onions), chopped roughly
2 large or 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 dried bay leaves
Roughly 4 tablespoons olive oil (to pan-fry livers)
200g double cream
Salt, amount to tate
Freshly cracked pepper, amount to taste
100g butter, salted or unsalted (to seal the parfait)
1. Cover the cleaned livers with enough full cream milk so that the livers are completely submerged. Add fresh thyme and dried bay leaves. Place in an air-tight container, and leave in the fridge for 6-8 hours.
2. Clarify the butter (you can do this any time before you have to blend it into the liver). To clarify butter, melt the 300g of butter in a saucepan over low-medium heat. Spoon off the floating white stuff (those are the impurities), and discard that. Take off the heat, and carefully pour the yellow, lightly tranlucent yellow liquid into a separate bowl to cool. There will be white at the bottom of the saucepan after you've poured off the liquid - those are the milk solids, and you can discard them.
3. After 6-8 hours of soaking, strain the livers by placing into a colander. Keep the livers, thyme sprigs and bay leaves, and discard the milk.
4. Pat livers dry. This is very important, since excessive moisture will cause the pan to SPIT OIL AT YOU when you pan-fry the livers later on.
5. Heat a large skillet/frying pan with the olive oil until the oil is almost smoking. Sear the livers quickly by frying it on one side for around 45 seconds, then turning it over and frying the other side for another 45 seconds. The livers are done frying at this point when they've turned to a brownish-grey colour on the outside, and look firm, but still feel somewhat squishy if you squeeze on them. Don't worry if they're still kinda raw, because you will return them to the heat later on. Note that you may need to fry the livers in separate batches, especially if you're doing 1kg of it and have a small pan.
6. Remove livers from the frying pan, and allow to cool off to the side. Don't throw away the juices in the pan, because that's where all the flavour is!
7. While livers are cooling, melt the 50g of butter over medium heat in the same skillet/frying pan you used to fry the livers. Yes, the one with the LIVER JUICES still in it. When butter is melted, and bubbling slightly (but not burning brown), add in the minced garlic and eschalots/shallot onions, and saute until translucent and aromatic (but not a burning smell!). Place the livers back into the same pan, along with the bay leaves and thyme sprigs you've retained from earlier on. Keep it on the stove over medium heat for another 3-4 minutes, or until the livers feel firm, and are no longer raw on the inside, but not hard and dried out either.
8. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool slightly.
9. Once slightly cooled, remove livers from the pan, and set aside. Return the pan, with all the juices, eschalots, garlic, thyme and bay leaves, back to the stove. Reduce the liquid down to a thick sauce-like consistency over a medium-high flame. Once done, take off the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
10. Put the livers and reduced pan juices (minus the bay leaves) in a food processor. Add in the double cream and clarified butter, and blend for 2 minutes on high until smooth.
10. (ALTERNATIVE METHOD). Alternatively, if you're like me and don't own a food processor, you can grind up the livers manually with a mortar and pestle after you chop them roughly with a knife. Or if you don't have a mortar and pestle, you could just smoosh it between your fingers (maybe use food preparation gloves to keep for hygiene). Grind up the reduced pan juices into a liquid state (this may be difficult without a mortar and pestle), and mix into the ground-up liver. Add the clarified butter and double cream, and mix into the liver paste until completely incorporated.
11. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste.
12. Push the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any lumps and thyme stalks that may still be present. If you can't be bothered to do this step, just make sure you pick out any visible thyme stalks.
13. Scoop the parfait into jars, smoothing the top so that it is flat.
14. Melt the 100g of butter in a microwave or on the stove until liquid (but not separated like when we clarified the 300g butter previously). This is the butter that we'll use to "seal" the parfait, for presentation and also to keep the flavours in. Pour the liquid butter over the tops of the parfait, until about 0.5cm in thickness.
15. Transfer jars to fridge and let it set overnight. You can eat it the very next day, or let the flavours develop over the next week. Take out of the fridge an hour prior to serving so it won't be rock solid.
16. Enjoy! I like mine spread thickly over freshly toasted white bread, or roughly chopped (when still solid and cold) and sprinkled over a salad, or just eat straight off the spoon!