Pâté and Rillettes
Add a little decadence to your springtime event
Whether you’re hosting a spring party for Derby, graduation, Mother’s Day, Easter, Passover, whatever, everyone needs a ready-to-whip-out appetizer. So I suggest you add at least one of these tried-and-true spreads to your repertoire. They’re simple to make and they keep for weeks in the fridge. In fact, their natural shelf stability was one reason why these dishes were so common before the advent of home refrigeration.
The pâtés, especially, are about as decadent as it gets. While both recipes are based on poultry liver, they produce two very different flavors: The chicken version is creamier and sweeter, due to onion and apple components; the duck version has a meatier flavor. If you haven’t tried cooking duck, making this pâté is an excellent way to get acquainted with this wing of the poultry family.
For years now, I’ve been getting my livers for pâté from my local farmers’ market, and I cannot tell you how incredible they are to work with. The chicken livers in particular are a revelation — so much bigger, firmer and much, much darker in color than grocery-store factory-farm livers. Liver is still an incredibly cheap item to buy, so get a pound and let these flavors seriously impress your friends and relatives at your next get-together.
Last fall, a new vendor joined the Bardstown Road Farmers’ Market (1722 Bardstown Rd.). David Bagshaw with Valley Acre Farms in Pekin, Indiana, regularly brings duck and quail eggs to the market, and now he’s also got chicken and rabbit. (If you really want to make a splash at your next party, bring a few dozen hard-boiled quail eggs and some fancy salt — let guests peel their own and dip the eggs into the salt. But I digress.) Bagshaw’s ducks are lovely, and I’ve made the best stock from them. The fat that cooks off when you make the stock from a duck carcass is gold — don’t ever throw it away. Use it to fry potatoes, as a substitute for butter on cornbread, or on just about anything, really. I had this beautiful duck fat on hand and wanted to do something special with it when I remembered I had a pork belly in the freezer from the side of pork I bought last year. The light bulb came on immediately: rillettes!
A brief lesson about this fabulous, decadent spread.
Rillettes (ree-YET-uhs) were traditionally made with pork shoulder, but you can find rillettes now made from all kinds of poultry and rabbit. The meat is cubed or chopped, salted heavily, sometimes seasoned with herbs, and cooked slowly in fat until tender enough to be shredded, then cooled and mixed with enough fat to form a paste. The remaining fat is poured over the top of the spread to seal it—the preserving method known as confit). As long as the fat layer is not disturbed, the meat will keep for months. Rillettes are normally spread on bread or toast and served at room temperature. The colder they are, the less salty they taste, so I find letting them sit at room temp for about an hour before serving is perfect. Pâté and rillettes are traditionally served with pickles such as cornichons—the tart, vinegary flavor is a lovely foil to the unctuous mouthfeel of these spreads. I offer a couple of pickle-y suggestions, neither of which is especially seasonal now or, in the case of apricots, not even local.
But dried apricots and carrots are available at your grocer year round, and you can whip these up anytime and they keep for ages.
The easiest way to get duck fat is to render it yourself. Get a duck carcass (which Louisvillians can get from Valley Acres Farms at the Bardstown Road Farmers’ Market), put it in a pot and cover with water. (You may need to also get a leg or some wings to add to the pot if the carcass is small and is already well cleaned of its fat.)
Bring water to boiling, lower heat and simmer about 45 minutes. Cool, then refrigerate until fat solidifies. Separate fat from liquid (easiest to do when fat is cold) and put in a glass jar. Do not discard! Use this marvelous fat as a substitute for butter or oil in savory dishes.
If your duck carcass does not render enough fat for the pâté recipe, make up the difference with quality butter. Use the liquid and any cooked meat left as a start for soup, stew or sauce as you would chicken broth.
Makes about 1½ cups.
- 4 ounces (½ cup) duck fat (or butter)
- 1 large shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped (2½ tablespoons)
- About 1 pound duck liver, each liver cut in half
- 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon bourbon or cognac
- Melt duck fat in skillet over mediumhigh heat, 5 minutes or so. It may darken, but watch carefully and remove from heat if it appears to be burning.
- Add shallots and cook about 30 seconds, stirring occasionally. Add liver, herbs and garlic and cook over medium to high heat 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper.
- Transfer mixture to a blender, add liquor and blend until smooth. Transfer to serving dish(es). Let cool at least 1½ hours, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Spread pâté on toasted baguette slices and serve. Pâté will keep, well covered in the refrigerator, about 2 weeks.
I have been making this pâté for more than 20 years. In the spring and summer, pickles are plenty to serve alongside—just make sure you have plenty of crusty bread slices or good crackers. In the fall, apple and pear slices are fun accompaniments, and in the winter I like to sprinkle pomegranate seeds on it as a bright garnish.
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter
- ¼ cup minced onion
- 1 small tart apple, such as a Granny Smith, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
- 1 pound chicken livers, patted dry
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add apple and cook until soft, about 4 minutes depending on how big pieces are. Transfer mixture to food processor or blender.
- Note: Don’t wash skillet after cooking onion-apple mix. Leftover bits add flavor.
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in skillet, add livers and cook until well browned, about 10 minutes. Add livers to onion mixture, followed by wine, and boil over high heat until reduced by half, which should take a few minutes. Scrape from bottom any browned bits in skillet and transfer pan contents into the onionapple mix. Add cream and purée until smooth. Let cool about 10 minutes, until warm.
- Add remaining butter (which should be a little soft by now) 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring it into the liver mixture. After all butter is added, add lemon juice, cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Divide pâté into individual ramekins or smooth into an attractive serving dish. Refrigerate until well chilled. Pâté freezes well and keeps refrigerated about a week.