Food Republic’s column Ask Your Butcher seeks to answer FAQs in the world of butchery. Ethically minded butcher Bryan Mayer has opened butcher shops and restaurants and has trained butchers in the U.S. and abroad. He helped develop the renowned butcher-training program at Fleisher’s. Today, he consults with farmers, butchers, chefs and anyone else who will listen. In each column, Mayer tackles a pressing issue facing both meat buyers and home cooks. This week, Mayer has some thoughts on cooking great meats during the winter months.
Right about now, the holiday-party season should be in full swing. Maybe you’ve already attended one or two? And while the stereotypical office party, with all its post–water cooler chat, is the stuff of corporate folklore, I prefer the more subdued confines of the holiday house party. Sure, a house party can get pretty rowdy, but at least your poor judgment in Instagram posts won’t be used as evidence while you take the next day off “sick” with “food poisoning.” And never mind what Bertrand and the crew down in IT are doing with all that raw video footage. Times have changed, but the holiday house party is still somewhat safe.
Your hosts have probably gone to great lengths to prepare for this party, selecting the proper playlist, the right food, drink and even the guests. So, given that you’re being treated to such fine accommodations, don’t you think you should splurge a little? Put down those store-bought cookies, or that bag of chocolate-covered raisins, unfortunately known as “reindeer poop,” and don’t even think about a fruitcake or chocolate liqueur. You’re going to make something very different: mousse, pâté and rillettes, to be exact. Sure, this will take a little more work than plating store-bought cookies so they look homemade, but it’s not as hard as you think. And I guarantee these three recipes will get you invited back to any holiday party.
Chicken Liver Mousse
I like mousse. We’re talking the savory kind here, and if there’s a better use for chicken livers, well, I can’t think of one. It’s also the easiest way to initiate yourself into the world of charcuterie. No curing chambers needed, no water-activity monitors, or the worry of proper pH levels, just some chicken livers, herbs, a fat of your choice and a little booze! No one needs to know that you spent more time at your butcher shop purchasing these items than it took to make. And while I prefer the texture of a more coarse country pâté, the smooth texture of a mousse might be the better choice for those a bit squeamish about liver. Just like your meat purchases, you’ll want to make sure you are purchasing livers of the highest quality. That means you’re looking for livers from fully pastured, free-roaming birds that eat what nature intended them to eat. And if they are fed a supplement, let’s make sure it’s the organic, non-GMO kind, please.
1 pound chicken livers from fully pastured chickens
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 medium shallots, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1/3 cup white wine, port, brandy, or any other alcohol you’d like (maybe not beer)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt to taste
- In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter until it begins to foam. Don’t let it brown.
- Add your shallots. I like the use of shallots here for their milder, sweeter flavor. Cook the shallots until they are golden brown and caramelized, roughly 8-10 minutes.
- Add your livers, sage, and wine, and cook over medium-high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated, being careful not to let the livers stick to the bottom of your skillet and burn. This should take another 8-10 minutes. When cooked, allow to cool.
- Once cooled using a blender (this will make for a creamier blend over a food processor), add your livers, and allow to blend for a minute or two.
- Slowly add in your remaining butter and cream, and pureáe. Add salt to taste. That’s it!
- Pass through a sieve for an even smoother texture, pour into your choice of bowl or mold, cover, and allow to chill for about 2 hours. You’ve got about 5 days before you’ll have to freeze, if it lasts that long. And while freezing will definitely change the texture, think of it as the beginnings of an excellent bánh mì.
Country Style Pork Pâté
As I mentioned above, I’m partial to the more rustic, chunky texture of a country style pâté. That probably speaks more to my lack of patience in preparing delicate things as it does to my overall preference in taste, as I’ll happily consume mass quantities of either. However, as you saw, the preparation for the mousse was quite simple. This recipe is fairly simple as well. It does require a bit more preparation, as you’ll need to put your grinder attachment to work. If you don’t have one, you can always coarsely chop. In fact, this might be a better option, as you’ll want to be careful not to heat your fat too much, which will cause more liquid fat to separate during the cooking process. I like to let my mix of pork meat, pork liver, bacon or pork fat and spices sit overnight, so all those spices have a bit more time to integrate. You can use a terrine mold if you happen to have one, but really, a loaf pan will do just fine. Sure, it’s not traditional, but you’re essentially making a meat loaf. You’ll be fine. A water bath at 325° for about one and a half hours, or until the pâté starts to pull away from the sides, and you’re done. You’ll want to start checking after an hour as the depth of your cooking vessel will dictate the time. We’re looking for something that is slightly pinkish in the middle, not brown or gray. Allow to cool while weighing down for a more uniform, compact shape or you can skip the weight entirely. Remember, rustic is the key here.
1 pound pork belly from a fully pastured/woodlot raised hog (you can use shoulder, just make sure it’s fatty enough. We’re looking for a ratio of about 2:1 meat:fat.)
¼ lb pork liver from a fully pastured/woodlot raised hog (you can use more if a more liver-y taste is desired, but note that you’re pâté will be softer, less sliceable, more spreadable.)
¼ lb thinly sliced bacon
1 garlic clove, crushed
8 peppercorns, crushed
8 juniper berries, crushed
4 tablespoons dry white wine
A splash of any other liquor you’d like
- Coarse-grind your very cold meat and liver, or coarsely chop.
- To your meat and liver mix, add in half of your bacon that you have cut into small pieces, as well as the remaining spices and liquids. Allow this mix to sit for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
- Place your mix into a terrine mold or loaf pan, line the top with your remaining strips of bacon and place in a deep pan half-filled with water.
- Place pâté in its water bath into a 300°-325° oven for roughly 1½ hours. We’re looking for an internal temp of 160°, which should be the point at which the pâté starts to pull away from the sides of its cooking vessel.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool, weighted or not. Again, you’ve got up to 5 days to consume or, like the mousse above, you can freeze.
If it’s not clear by now, my love for spreadable pork will become fully evident once we talk about rillettes. And while rillettes can be made from duck, lamb, rabbit, salmon, et cetera, there’s just something that speaks to my sense of utility in preparing this, the poor man’s pâté, from pork. Once again, the process is quite simple; in fact, I think it’s the easiest of the three. Utilizing whatever cuts of pastured pork you can get your hands on — preferably neck (along with the bones), shoulder, belly, or shanks — plus some fat and spices, you’ll cook your meat and spices until the meat is fork tender and can be shredded. Then you’ll spoon it all into a container of your choice and pour some fat on top. Finally, allow it to cool. That’s it. Set out some crusty bread and you’ll watch those containers empty rather quickly. I speak from experience.
*1 lb pork shoulder, skin off from a fully pastured/woodlot hog
*2 lbs pork belly, skin off from a fully pastured/woodlot hog
1 Bouguet garni or any bundle of herbs you like, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, basil, savory, tarragon, etcetera
½ teaspoon of mustard seed
6 gloves of garlic crushed
4 cups of water or, for additional flavoring, a dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
- Coarsely chop your pork and place into a heavy-bottomed pot.
- Add your cooking liquid and spices, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally for roughly 3 hours or until pork is fork tender and shreds.
- Once the pork is cooked you’ll want to render more fat. Uncover the pot and raise the heat to medium for roughly 20-30 minutes. The fat is fully rendered when there are no bubbles remaining. At this point you can add salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove from heat and, with a slotted spoon, remove the pork from the pot and allow to cool. But not before you’ve tasted a few mouthfuls!
- Once the pork is cooled, shred and place in a large crock, small glass jars or any container you’d like.
- Now add more fat! Remove the bouquet garni, strain the remaining fat from your pot and pour on top of the shredded pork.
- Cover each container with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to sit in your fridge. The longer it sits, the better it’s going to taste. Give it a day or two. Or three.
*Note: If those cuts aren’t available, you can use any cut of hog you like. Just make sure that you add fat to the leaner ones.