Chicken Liver Paté

Ever since I returned from Europe last August 2017, I seem to have had a thing about liver. I’ve cooked it several times, pan-fried with a piquant sauce, in red wine and so on but recently I decided to do a chicken liver paté for a change, to be served with crusty little toasted squares.

My first experience of paté was when my father, back in the early 1970’s, used to bring home a thick, yellowed plastic tube of liver paté after he had experienced it on one of his European hoildays. The tube was about as thick as my forearm and filled with a flavoursome paté but whether it was chicken, pork or paté made from something else I have no idea. I do have a memory of my father piling half-an-inch of butter onto his finger of toast before balancing another inch thick of pate on top of it and relishing the lot along with a half bottle of wine and then going for a “snooze” on a Saturday evening before friends arrived to play cards and drink whiskey and sodas!

The first step was to check the liquor cabinet but no luck there – no brandy or cognac and not even the remains of a Christmas bottle of port. So, first step – off to buy booze and pick up the chicken livers, as well, I suppose.

IMG_1352I bought a cheap bottle of French brandy – bottled in France, VSOP and so on but still cheap as chips compared to the heavy hitters like Martell, or Remy Martin or Hennessey, but never mind, I’m just going to chuck it in with the livers.

I ended up buying about 500g of organic, free range livers and a handful of shallots and off home to assemble everything – Brandy, butter, liver, shallots, garlic, a sharp knife and a few sage leaves from the garden.

First off, wash the livers in cold water and snip off – I used a scissors here – any sinewy bits or anything that looks less than appealing, IMG_1354although when dealing with a handful of chicken livers, there’s not a lot to be said there. Not like a calf or a pig liver, which is a bit more of a substantial handful.

IMG_1353Anyway, next, chop the shallots and garlic finely. I used three large shallots which, when peeled, became about 8 or 9 cloves as well as three large cloves of garlic. In the end, I threw them all, along with half of the sage leaves into a food processor and whizzed them for less than thirty seconds.

Tip a generous lump of butter into a heavy fry pan, add in a glug of olive oil and when the butter foams, toss in the chopped shallots and garlic and the sage. Stir it around for a while until it softens and smells good and then chuck the livers in on top. IMG_1355Shake the pan and give it a stir if you want and flip the livers over after two minutes or so. I added two full measures of the brandy then and let the liver IMG_1356simmer for a minute or two. I fished out a large one and cut it in two to check the interior pinkness.

When satisfied, that the livers were cooked but still had a tinge of pink inside, I turned the heat off and let things cool down a bit before tossing them all into the processor again and giving them a good whiz. My butter, which I hadn’t put back in the fridge, was nice and soft now so I put a chunk of that into the processor as well as another shot of brandy, reasoning that most of the earlier alcohol would have cooked off.IMG_1361IMG_1357

The penultimate step then was to scoop the mixture out of the blender and into a fine metal sieve. At first it seemed – and looked – impossible to force the liver mixture through the sieve but by dint of elbow grease and a large wooden spoon, I managed to mash the stuff through the sieve. IMG_1364The sieve became quite heavy and when I turned it over, all of the finely sieved paté was stuck to the underside of the sieve. I scraped it off with a palette knife and dumped into two ramekins I had ready. It looked gorgeous – a rich chocolaty colour and a smooth, silky finish.

I smoothed the ramekin dishes with the back of a spoon and then wiped around the dishes with a tissue to make it neat. A sage leaf on top for decoration and then, finally, more melted butter poured over the paté to seal it and prevent it from oxidising and turning an unpleasant colour. Bingo – a delicious party snack.IMG_1369IMG_1366

Piquant Liver

One of the things I looked forward to most during my European Peace Walk through Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy was exploring local cuisine, delighting at the newly discovered variety and novelty. The obverse of course is also, unfortunately, true. Ill-prepared, bland tourist fodder or the ubiquitous pizza or kebab,IMG_0866 usually on offer in the same low-grade style cafe – sometimes the only thing available in villages along the route of my walk – so I congratulated myself when, after a fairly gruelling walk of 30k plus, I arrived in Postojna in south-western Slovenia and looked forward to a good meal.

A lusty male choir in the chilly town square made sitting on the outdoor terrace of Hotel Kras unattractive and there were no seats in the bustling, brightly lit restaurant inside, but the waitress recommended another restaurant a few hundred metres away but, when I arrived, it was another pizza restaurant and it was closed.

Hunger began to make the prospect of a kebab seem feasible especially as a light rain started. A policeman mentioned a restaurant in the “red house” on the far side of the square but that too seemed to be closed as there were no lights on. Despairing, I walked around to the car park at the back and there was a lighted staircase leading to a basement restaurant, bright, warm and cheery inside.

There was an English menu and the chef’s specialty was braised liver in red wine. No hesitation here, a bottle of red wine – the waiter’s recommendation – and a starter of stuffed wild mushrooms in a nutty sauce and a delicious, rich dish of tender liver slivers, still pink inside.

I have distinct – and delicious – childhood memories of liver with creamed spuds and baked beans but since then I seem to have skipped over offal themed meals, although there was that fantastic liver, bacon and onion dish in the Serasa Yacht Club but that was in another lifetime and a different century! Anyway, inspired by my Slovenian meal, here is my take on liver, for what it is worth.

Ingredients

200 g lamb liver                            1 onion, cut in ringsIMG_0984

3/4 tsp whole black pepper

1/2 tsp mustard powder

1/2 tsp flour

10g butter

1 tsp oil

good splash of medium dry sherry

splash of Worcestershire sauce

1 Tblsp lemon juice

salt

Method

1.Crush the peppercorns and mix with the flour and mustard powder.IMG_0990

2. Heat oil and fry the onion rings for about 10 minutes until brown at the edges. Remove from heat.IMG_0991

Some recommend steeping the liver in milk before flash frying.  I tried both steeping and non-steeping with no appreciable difference.

3. Quickly fry the liver, sliced finger thick. When spots of blood begins to appear, flip them over. IMG_0993They should still be slightly pink inside.

4. Add to the onion.

5. Stir the flour, pepper, and mustard into pan. Soak up all the juices and then add sherry, followed by the Worcestershire and the lemon juice. Thin with more sherry, if necessary.

6. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over liver and onion. Serve with creamed spuds.

Sadly, plating a dish was never my forté but trust me, it tastes better than my photos look!IMG_1002

 

Octopus Salad

In accordance with the Cantonese obsession with fresh seafood, every imaginable mollusc, crustacean and fish were available in open seafood tanks near the pier in Sai Kung, in the New Territories in Hong Kong. Restaurant punters touting for the string of seafood restaurants along the pier would recommend specific fish or shellfish and scrawny youths in oversized Wellington boots would clamber awkwardly along the rims of the tanks and net the particular item ready to be cooked any way you liked.

Out of curiosity, one afternoon, I asked the boy if he had any octopus and he began to scramble over the tanks, net in hand. Amazingly, the octopus saw him coming and made a determined and exciting bid for freedom, rapidly climbing out of its tank into an adjoining one diagonally opposite the net boy. Again and again, he evaded the increasingly frustrated attempts to snare him and I swear I heard it squawk in anguish as it clambered desperately from tank to tank. Enough is enough, I thought and I cancelled my order and had an insensate lobster instead.

So much for the live beast and here in Fremantle, octopus, ready cleaned and vacuum packed, has a justifiable reputation as being one of the world’s best seafood feasts on account of its size, flavour and tenderness.

Ingredients

IMG_0338

1 kg. Raw, cleaned octopus ½ cup white vinegar 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice Fresh thyme Fresh mint
1 red chilli (optional) Salt & ground black pepper ½ Tbsp smoky paprika
Romaine / Iceberg lettuce Lemon wedges

Method

  • IMG_0339Wash the octopus by rubbing vigourously with a handful of coarse salt. Rinse well and remove central beak by pushing through from the underside.
  • Bring 3 to 4 litres of water to the boil in a large pot, add the vinegar and place the whole octopus in the boiling water. Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the octopus swells in size and turns a delicate pinky-red colour. Test to see if cooked by tearing a tentacle off. If it comes away easily, the octopus is cooked to perfection.
  • Drain and cool.IMG_0346
  • Remove tentacles and cut into bite-sized chunks. Cut the central part of the body up into similarly sized pieces.IMG_0351
  • Deseed and chop the chilli, remove the thyme and mint leaves from their stalks.
  • Place the olive oil and lemon juice, salt and freshly IMG_0349ground black pepper in a large bowl and mix. Add the octopus, chopped red chilli and the roughly torn mint and thyme leaves. Stir to coat the octopus with the dressing and set aside for 1 hour (preferably over night in the fridge) to absorb the flavours. If kept in the fridge, take out 1 hour before serving.IMG_0355
  • Arrange crisp, lettuce leaves on a platter, spoon octopus pieces and dressing over the lettuce and sprinkle with smoky paprika. Garnish with fresh mint and lemon wedges.

Gulai Ikan

This is a standard Malaysian kampong style recipe and while it is called a curry or “gulai” no commercial curry powder is used. Instead the exquisite flavour comes from the dried spices and seeds, which are traditionally pounded in a stone mortar, mixed with the dried chillies, fresh ginger, garlic and lemon grass, or serai, and santan, or coconut milk, in Malay.

IMG_0282

My experience with coconuts before living in S.E. Asia was limited to the hard, hairy nut we would buy once a year on Hallow’een when I was a child. Then, my father would use a corkscrew to punch through two of the three small depressions at the top of the nut so that he could drain out the juice before labouriously cracking open the shell with several increasingly hard blows of the hammer until, misjudging his blows, the shell would suddenly shatter and pieces of it would fly around the kitchen. The thin, insipid water drained from the shell was what I mistakenly then thought was coconut “milk”.

I remember goggling with amazement when my neighbour in the kampong, demonstrated the ease with which he unhusked a coconut and then sliced it open, evenly and cleanly, with one blow of his parang. The so-called milk was poured into a rusty basin for his goats to drink and then the real magic of the nut appeared.

Sitting astride what looked suspiciously like a stripped down bicycle frame with a heavy, rounded, metal grater knob emerging from where the handlebars had been, Mamu would rotate and rub each half of the shell over the grater, scraping out the firm white flesh inside the shell. Two cups of water were added and stirred around this mound of grated coconut in a large basin. The kneaded and squeezed mixture strained through a fine sieve resoled in 2 cups of a brilliant, white, thick, deliciously sweet milk, called the first squeezing or the cream. Two more cups of water and the mixture kneaded and squeezed one more time, resulted in a much thinner liquid called the milk. For most people, it will be much easier to just buy a can of coconut cream or milk from the local Asian supermarket.

Delicately flavoured lemon grass can be grown in most back yards or bought in Asian supermarkets either fresh, dried or bottled and adds a wonderful flavour to a host of Asian dishes. The stalk is quite fibrous, so remove the tough outer husk and then smash the inner stalk with the back of a cleaver to release the flavour before adding it to the mortar.

IMG_0285In most S.E. Asian cooking, the spices are pounded and ground daily so that the sudden thumping of pestles and mortars traditionally done, squatting on the floor, echoes throughout the afternoon in the village.

In Malaysia, I used tenggiri, a glorious, firm fleshed variety of deep sea Spanish Mackerel. Albacore is the name used in West Australia for this beautiful, white-fleshed fish. Grilled, fried, baked or curriIMG_0294ed, it requires serious over-cooking before it falls apart.
So honoured in S.E. Asian waters that it was the subject of a North Vietnamese Stamp, and may still be, for all I know. It is usually sold cut into thick, plate-sized steaks but any firm fleshed, white fish can be used.

Ingredients

I kg Spanish mackerel cut into steaks 3 tsp. of coriander seeds 2 tsp. fennel seeds
8 small red shallots 5 cloves of garlic, peeled I tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. turmeric powder 5 dried red chillies, soaked for 5 minutes in hot water and then deseeded 2 stalks of lemon grass
Thumb size knob of fresh ginger 2 cups of coconut cream Salt, to taste
2 cups coconut milk 1 Tbsp. of oil Fresh coriander (garnish)

Method.

  • Pound the shallots, garlic, ginger, dried red chillies and lemon grass in a mortar, (or whiz in a food processor, if you prefer) Mix the dried spices – the coriander, cumin, fennel and turmeric – together and crush in a mortar or in a coffee grinder. If you have neitherIMG_0290, crush on a cutting board with the back of a large spoon.
  • Heat oil in a large wok, add the pounded shallot mixture and the crushed coriander mix and fry briefly until fragrant – about 1 minute.IMG_0291
  • Add the 2 cups of thin coconut milk to make a paste and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes
  • Add the 2 cups of coconut cream and simmer for a further 10 minutes.IMG_0295
  • Finally add the fish and salt to taste and cook gently for a further 10 minutes or until the fish is done.
  • Serve with white rice and garnish the dish with a sprig of fresh coriander and some slivers of fresh red chilli.

 

Let me know what you think

 

 

Chicken Liver Curry

I know, I know, maybe the idea of organ meats doesn’t appeal to everyone but I can assure you that this simple recipe, which can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes, is a complete stunner.

Completely different to calf or lamb liver – delicious in their own way with creamy mashed potatoes, bacon and onions – (which I could get my kids to eat by telling them it was exotoc goanna tongue!) this chicken liver curry is in a class of its own.

I was shown this recipe on 28 February 1991 when I was living in S. E. Asia but amazingly it was not an Asian who introduced me to the rich, velvety texture of this luscious dish but a good friend from Poland! Thanks K.   Anyway, here is the recipe I learned more that a quarter of a century – gulp! – ago.

500g chicken livers              2 Tbs oil                         1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped     2 Tbs grated ginger,  2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 tsp turmeric                   1 tsp chilli powder       2 tsp ground cumin

3 tsp ground coriander        1 tsp garam masala    1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Wash and drain the livers. Cut each in half and discard any yucky bits.

Heat the oil and fry the chopped onions, garlic and ginger until the onion is soft and golden.

Add the ground turmeric, chilli, coriander and cumin and fry, stirring for about 2 minutes.

Add the garam masala, tomato and salt and cook, covered until the tomatoes are pulpy. Mash them with the back of a fork if necessary.

Add the chicken livers, stir well, sprinkle with the black pepper and cook, covered again, for about 15 minutes. Serve with steamed rice or warmed flat bread or deep fried tofu chunks or even baked potatoes.  Gorgeous!

Oops – just realisedI have no photos to show even though I cooked this dish tonight, the last day of January. Honestly, it took me less than half an hour and it hadn’t occurred to me to put this on the blog until I had almost finished eating it (with the firm, deep fried tofu chunks I mentioned above!)  Sorry – photos next time

Ceviche

I mentioned in a previous post somewhere that I had been looking forward to trying a Peruvian national dish, cuy al horno – roast guinea pig – but overall, I’d have to say I prefer the dish more commonly eaten down on the coast – ceviche. Chunks of white fish in a spicy lime marinade – tiger’s milk – served with an variety of corn kernels and chopped veg.  Absolutely gorgeous and so perfect for a hot summer’s day.img_0188

Here’s my take on it. For this particular serving, this is exactly what I used: 320g of firm white grouper fillet, two tomatoes, 1/2 a red, 1/2 green capsicum, one small Lebanese cucumber and 1/4 of a red onion, three limes and one lemon with 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt crystals and one chopped red chili, corn chips and popcorn

img_0191The basic ingredients, which remained the same as far down as Santiago in Chile, are:

Any firm, white fish with ½ cup of lime juice for each 500g or pound of fish.

Red onion, chopped and as much seeded capsicum (any colour), toms, red onion and cucumber as you like, lime juice, salt and a red chili, coriander or mint or both, corn chips or popcorn and sliced avocados.

Check the fillet for skin, bones and the dark red bloodline, if any. Depending on thickness, cut the fish into large, even chunks or slice into thin pieces and put into a glass or ceramic dish along with enough lime juice, (approx. 1/2 cup per 500g fish), sea salt and finely chopped chilies to completely cover. Set aside and chill.img_0190

I put the chopped veg in a separate dish, sprinkled with olive oil and a dash of freshly ground pepper. I didn’t want to put the veg and fish in the same dish so as the veg can keep their colour and not blanch in the lime marinade.

When the fish becomes translucent, whiter in color and opaque, drain off the marinade and mix the fish gently with the chopped veg.img_0192

I gave the fish about 90 minutes and then straining it and reserving the marinade. A thick chunk of fish was cooked through to the consistency of medium rare meat. If you like it more well done, give it up to four hours in the lime marinade.

I spooned some of the veg mixture into a bowl, ladled a scoop of the drained fish on top, and sprinkled with chopped coriander and popcorn, with corn chips around the dish. I forgot the avocado!

img_0194I suppose some might be put off by the amount of limejuice – too acidic, I can hear people say. However, limes and lemons while acidic of course, somehow become alkaline when consumed and besides use only as much of the strained marinade – tiger milk – as you feel comfortable with.

First off the Rank

Welcome to Tastes – a fairly eclectic and very personalised collections of culinary bits and pieces.  I will include recipes – Irish cuisine initially but I will probably widen the scope and include dishes, snacks and main meals that I have enjoyed world-wide.  Other times, it might be snippets of information about culinary oddities, explanations, queries and so on.

First off the rank, as I say, is traditional, Irish Mince pies that were always served to visitors and family in my childhood Dublin.  I found an old, ratty cookery book belonging to my mother stuffed into the back of the kitchen cupboard here in Perth.  I have no idea how old the book is, the cover and half a dozen pages are missing but it was a promotional booklet issued by Unilever, some type of multi national that, along with a myriad of other products also made margarine and every recipe in the booklet, under headings like Rock Cakes, Sandwich Cakes and Sponges, Icings and Fillings, Pastry, Fish, Meat & Poultry, Batters and Hot Puddings, includes a healthy dose of margarine.

In an age when cholesterol levels were an unknown factor and the emphasis was on taste, coupled, I suppose, with economy, margarine was the king among ingredients!

Oh, one last thing, I have a rather pretentious photo of a place setting which I will use as the featured image for Tastes.

I hope you find something you like, or at least can laugh at – i.e. my attempt at very Short crust pastry mince pies.