Pate panache Turning chopped liver into something special

Charleston Grill chef Michelle Weaver’s foie gras terrine.

If something is written in French on a menu, it tends to take on an exotic air. Chopped liver, or its southern relative liverell, doesn’t sound so glamorous, but liver pate sounds pretty special. The name changes according to how the meat, fish or vegetable is cooked. If cooked and chilled in a terrine dish, it is called a terrine, whether served in it or removed. If wrapped in a crust and baked and chilled, it is a pate en croute.

In fact, chopped anything can make a pate. A pate can be stuffed into a skin and called a sausage, or made into a ballotine or galantine. A meatloaf is a kind of a pate. Cooked, then weighted down with a brick and chilled it would most likely be called a farmhouse pate.

The first pate I ever made was the simplest, chicken liver pate. Just slightly cook the livers, puree, add a little something that tastes good like onions or shallots, a little garlic, butter, bourbon or other liquor, herbs, salt and freshly ground pepper and suddenly it is a quick, inexpensive appetizer. The same type of pate can be made with regular duck livers, should they come into your life. Duck and goose fat, the most unctuous of fats, enrich a pate to an extraordinary degree.

However, I had to call on Michelle Weaver, the longtime chef of Charleston Grill, to cook a foie gras terrine for me because it intimidated me. (One foie gras costs about $118, not exactly chicken feed.) What I wanted was a foie gras entier, the whole thing, not chopped up and interspersed with truffles or other things. Foie gras, the enlarged liver of a specially fattened goose or duck, is not minced at all when served cooked whole. It must be baked inside a terrine or other pan to capture the juices and fats and to keep its form. It’s tricky for a cook unused to cooking foie gras, as the temperature has to be exact. Use too high a temperature and the liver liquifies. It takes technique and talent.

In this case, Michelle removed it from its terrine once it was cooked and chilled, and cut it into small pieces that would fit perfectly on toasted brioche. It was rich yet simultaneously meltingly tender on the tongue. The flavor is as delicate as its texture. There is nothing like it, and so memorable that when served it, one never forgets where and when.

There are many forms of foie gras that are equally pleasing. Michelle serves sauteed foie gras at Charleston Grill at the beginning of fall, as she is now, with an apple pastry and mousse mixture, its flavor popping with the caramelizing of the foie gras. This, too, is an art. When I have tried sauteing foie gras in the past, I have wound up with a puddle in the pan. Learning to keep the pan hot enough to sear but removing the foie gras before it dissipates takes skill.

Served as a mousse as chef Jeremiah Bacon does on some of his appetizers at Oak and Macintosh restaurants, it brings yet again another texture and delicacy. Whether mousse or pate, the main ingredient is not confined to meat and fowl, or even liver. Fish and vegetables shine as pates as well.

My favorite fish pate is shrimp paste, a Charleston specialty that is good served from a ramekin, turned out on a silver plate or spread on bread or toast. Like chicken liver, it is a simple pate. Made from local shrimp, fresh herbs and fresh butter, it is fit for the finest of weddings or a simple picnic.

Pates do love a crisp accompaniment — toast points or toasted pitas cut in wedges, for instance — but they also are very happy wrapped in greens and eaten like a mini roll-up.

To purchase foie gras, Contact D’Artagnan, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary, where you may purchase slices, cubes, medallions and whole foie gras. Contact orders@Dartagnan.com or 1-800-327-8246. I suggest you practice with the smaller amounts of foie gras before you tackle the whole one.

Ingredients

1 whole lobe (approximately 1 1/2 pounds) foie gras, Grade A

1/4 cup sauternes or white port

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper

Directions

Allow foie gras to soften at room temperature for about 1 hour. Carefully separate the lobe into two pieces.

Use the tip of a paring knife to remove the membranes and veins.

Sprinkle the lobes with sauterne, salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Remove foie gras from the marinade, press into an oven-proof terrine mold and place into a hot water bath. Place into the oven and cook until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees. Pour off the fat and reserve. Cut a piece of cardboard that fits into the top of the terrine mold and wrap in plastic.

Gently press the cardboard onto the foie gras and weigh it down with cans or a brick for about 1 hour. Remove the cans and cardboard, pour some of the reserved fat over the top and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Remove from terrine by running a sharp knife around the outside, taking care to keep the knife next to the terrine and not cut into the pate.

Place a plate or board on top of the terrine, turn upside down, give a firm shake so the pate will come out onto the plate. Slice as desired. Serve with toasted brioche.

Serves 6

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter, divided

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 cup chicken livers

1 tablespoon bourbon

1 teaspoon thyme

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic. Cook on low heat until soft, about 6 minutes. Increase heat to medium, add the livers, and saute 2 to 3 minutes, until firm. Remove from heat and cool.

Coarsely chop the liver mixture with a knife, and move the chopped livers to a sturdy blender or a food processor fitted with a metal blade; process until smooth.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and beat into liver mixture. Stir in bourbon and thyme.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, making certain the mixture is well flavored. Spoon into ramekins or dishes and smooth the top.

If not serving immediately, chill or freeze.

Makes 2 cups

There are nearly half a dozen recipes for shrimp paste, most falling into two types: a pureed cold spread of cooked shrimp or a baked loaf of mousse-like shrimp paste that is sliced and served hot. The ingredients vary little, only the technique, and recipes are found in most coastal Southern cookbooks such as “Charleston Receipts.” Variations include celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise and sherry. This paste is frequently used in shrimp-paste sandwiches, open-faced or closed.

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds shrimp, cooked and peeled

1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground white or black pepper

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

1/2 teaspoon ground hot red pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Lettuce leaves or other greens

Directions

Process the shrimp in a food processor or blender until pureed and paste-like. Remove to a separate bowl.

Beat the butter until soft and white. Stir the butter into the shrimp, season with salt, white or black pepper, to moisten and flavor. Mix in half the garlic and the hot red pepper and nutmeg. Taste and add additional garlic as desired and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.

Spoon into pretty jars or pots without packing tightly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, or freeze up to 3 months. Serve with small pieces of French-type bread, toast, crackers, or vegetables like zucchini or rolled small lettuce leaves.

Makes 3 cups

This is the other of the two famous shrimp “pastes,” but it’s technically a terrine. My fondest memories are of it being served by a group of Charleston, South Carolina, men who gather monthly to hear scholarly lectures and discussions. 
Once a year, ladies are invited and the men prepare a great feast, including shrimp paste. After the repast, the group gathers at the foot of the mansion’s steps, next to The Battery, and proceeds to march around downtown Charleston holding flaming torches, with hired police to escort them. It is great fun to see the tourists agog at such shenanigans and know there is no meaning to the march besides just fun.

Ingredients

1 1/4 pounds shrimp, cooked and peeled

1 cup butter

1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

Salt

Freshly ground white or black pepper

Directions

Process the shrimp in a food processor or blender until pureed and paste-like. Remove to a separate bowl.

Beat the butter with an electric hand mixer until soft and white.

Stir the butter into the shrimp, season with nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Instead of chilling, move to a buttered loaf pan and bake until the paste comes away from the sides and is firm to the touch, about 15-20 minutes.

Go around the sides with a knife, cover with a plate and invert. Tap the pan gently if needed.

Slice and serve hot, or chill overnight and serve cold. Accompany with crackers or toast, or wrapped in lettuce leaves or other greens.