The secret to a relaxed New Year’s Eve, if you’re doing the cooking, is the same one that applies to any laid-back dinner party: it’s all about the planning. That may sound a bit dull, but even I, the original fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook, have to accept it’s also true. If you can spend any time at weekends or midweek preparing food in advance, you’ll always have treasures to pull out of the fridge or freezer when friends come round and you’re short of time.
And no dish is greater proof of this than today’s luxurious, silky chicken liver paté. I’ve taken pots of the stuff on half-term trips to the Isle of Wight, to parties up north and even on holiday to Mull. For something so simple, it’s remarkably versatile and can act as both the most delicately sophisticated starter (paired with a chicory salad, say) and as a crowd-pleasing addition to a less formal lunch table. It also freezes well, which means you can make it way in advance; or just make double the amount and freeze half for another get-together at a later date.
Chicken liver and quince paté
Leave out the bacon, if you prefer, but otherwise follow the recipe slavishly. It will keep for up to 10 days, though it’s unlikely to last that long. Serve with good bread and pickles or a crisp salad dressed with olive oil and sherry vinegar. Serves six to eight.
500g chicken livers
8 rashers streaky bacon
500g softened butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 handful thyme sprigs, leaves stripped
2 fresh bay leaves
2 tbsp brandy
2 tbsp port
1 tbsp quince (or redcurrant) jelly
Cut off and discard any white membranes from the livers. Cut off and discard the bacon rind, and cut the meat into 3cm strips. Gently melt 75g butter in a small saucepan, then skim off any foam and pass through a fine sieve (lined with muslin, ideally) to get rid of all the solids: you now have clarified butter.
Season the livers generously. Put a large, heavy-based frying pan on a high flame until it is smoking hot. Add a small (ie, 10-15g) knob of butter, then sauté the livers in three batches for 40-50 seconds a side, until the outsides are caramelised and coloured, but the insides are still pink. Tip into a food processor, then repeat with the remaining livers, making sure you bring the pan back up to smoking-hot heat and adding a knob of butter between batches.
Once all the livers are cooked, melt another knob of butter in the same pan and fry the bacon strips until the fat has rendered out and the rashers are cooked. Tip the bacon into the food processor, too.
Add another knob of butter to the pan, then gently sauté the shallots on a medium heat for five minutes and season generously. Stir the garlic, thyme and bay leaves into the onions, and fry for a further five minutes, by which time the onions should be soft and translucent. Pour over the brandy, bring up to a simmer, stir to deglaze the pan, then tip the lot into the food processor.
Add the port, jelly and remaining softened butter to the food processor bowl, then blitz until you have a very smooth paté. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary, then transfer to a bowl. Pour over the clarified butter, then put in the fridge for at least four hours to chill and set. Serve with toast (sourdough is my preference) and a green salad. Alternatively, put the cooled paté in a freezerproof container, cover and freeze: it will keep for months.
And for the rest of the week…
I like to use quince jelly in my paté, because that way I know I’ll have some left over for the cheeseboard. I buy lots of streaky bacon at a time from the butcher, too: it keeps well in the fridge for pancakes and maple syrup – they’re a must for Christmas holiday brunches round our house – and freezes very well, too. If you have any excess port, use some up in port and orange jellies: they’re ethereally light and incredibly good. Finally, raw chicken livers also freeze well, so buy lots and freeze the extras for use in quick, healthy January salads with bitter leaves and a sharp dressing.