Chicken liver parfait
It can be daunting, no doubt. The thought of working with offal generally means liver parfait is limited to being a deli purchase. But this simple recipe has been my saviour in many situations where I’ve needed a handheld or picnic-style snack.
When fresh, livers sautéed with butter, onions and a sweet wine is a dish that’s hard to beat. The next iteration of sautéed livers would be to then chop them and serve them with toast. This parfait is a refined version of the same flavour profile yet significantly richer due to the amount of butter that’s incorporated. Simply serve it with some crusty bread and a pickle. It’s picnic fare for the ages.
Commonly these recipes for preserves and pâtés call for sodium nitrate, which is also known as Chile saltpetre, curing salt or butcher’s salt when diluted with salt. Sodium nitrate has received a bad rap of late due to the possible cancer-causing effects of prolonged intake. But it has also significantly reduced the incidence of botulism. For this recipe I don’t use sodium nitrate, as I like to keep the parfait for only two weeks. Feel free to add sodium nitrate to lift the pink colouring or if you plan on storing the parfait longer, but do be very aware that nitrate levels can vary widely between products. Check the labels carefully.
Knowing the origin of your ingredients is never more important than with offal. The health and management of the animals’ diet shows dramatically when relating to a vital organ. These livers came from pastured chickens, so this parfait tends to be something I make when I come across the ingredient rather than a regular staple in the refrigerator.
Chicken liver parfait
Makes 8 small jars or about 30 portions
1kg chicken livers (cleaned weight; see method)
1 clove garlic
4 twigs thyme
3 bay leaves
400g butter, for clarifying
Clean the livers by cutting out and discarding the central veiny part and retaining the clean lobes (you will lose about 20 per cent, so order about 1.2 kilograms of liver). In a bowl submerge the cleaned liver in milk and refrigerate for one hour.
Slice the shallots and garlic and combine with the Madeira, brandy, thyme and bay leaves. Cook in a pot until the liquid has reduced by two-thirds – it will become a fairly viscous syrup. Remove the bay leaves and thyme and retain the shallots and garlic in the remaining liquid.
Dice the 500 grams of butter and crack the eggs into separate bowls. Remove the livers from the milk and allow all the ingredients to come up to about blood temperature but no higher (about 36ºC). This will help leave a silky finish to the parfait.
In an upright blender, start with the shallot and Madeira reduction then add the livers. Once the livers are well blended, add the eggs and then finish with the butter. Season with salt and a pinch of quatre épices. Strain the mix through a fine strainer into a jug.
Distribute into 300-millilitre jars. Wrap each jar in cling film then place them into a water bath tray. Fill the water bath to halfway up the sides of the jars. Cook in an oven at 140ºC for about 25 minutes – depending on the depth of the jars used – or until the mixture sets. This can be checked by shaking the jars a little. The ideal result is to remove the jars when only the inner centre jiggles about the size of a 20-cent coin. Allow to cool.
To seal the top of the parfait to prevent oxidation, place the 400 grams of butter into a pot and gently melt it. Once the melted butter has settled, decant the yellow liquid off the top and discard the milk solids that remain. Pour a thin layer of this over the top of the parfait before placing a lid on top and storing the jars in the refrigerator.
These pots of parfait will keep for up to two weeks if the seal hasn’t been broken and the temperature remains stable.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 6, 2021 as "Chicken liver parfait".
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