Wiggle my thumb under the thick capsule of connective tissue at the insertion of a duct, feel the give of the liver under my thumb, slide it wide open, slipping my fingers under the widening gap, pulling it off of the liver's quivering mass with an insistent tug. Feed the connective tissue to the dog. Feed the liver to us. The six year old eats four slices of pâté for breakfast and I eat it all week long for breakfast and lunch and the baby eats it as an afternoon snack. If I'm feeling decadent, or maybe just hungry, I melt some grass-fed butter or some lard that I've rendered in a skillet and crisp the slices of pâté, pour homemade kimchee over them, slice an avocado atop, toss it all with arugula and call it breakfast, lunch, dinner.
The work is messy. It looks a little garish. Usually I need to wipe up flecks of blood when I'm done. But I'm El Slobbo in the kitchen, I trust you to be more careful. I'm busy meditating on the liver, not really present to the fresh, iron smell and the silky flesh in front of me.
I'm thanking the rancher that saves us the hearts and the tongue and the cheeks and the livers and the bones because he knows I rhapsodize about them. I'm thanking the French and their economizing ways with the whole animal, thanking Julia Child for sharing it with me, thanking the palates of my two little children who beg me for brie and olives and broccoli and Big Huge Meat, Mama in the grocery store, thanking the wisdom and cultural rhythm of cooking at home with real food, thanking my husband for loving what I make, my friends for eating this way and finding joy and strength in their spirits and bellies, thanking the wisdom of eating fats and proteins that sustain me and satisfy me. I'm thanking this act that ties me to the cutting board, that ties me to this slippery and bloody hunk of liver, this way that I feed us. It doesn't feel squeamish, or exotic, or forced. It's just another day chasing the life I love. It's another little snapshot of daily life. It's me, peeling and hacking a giant chunk of beef liver, reformed vegetarian that I am, something rendered simple and essential to me that once seemed unnecessary and esoteric.
The further and further I head down this road of caring for us, feeding us, pursuing our heart's desire, the wilder and wilder the story starts to feel. I didn't always enjoy cleaning liver (or touching meat at all, for that matter), nor did I give much (any?) thought to culturing creme fraiche on my counter, or brewing comfrey to nurse a wound, or raising meat rabbits in my backyard. But it does seem that in the last three years or so some kind of crack in the levy of conventional thought and personal limitations gave way to a flood of possibility, and the mental liberation has birthed an explosion of productivity and happiness like nothing I have experienced before. I look down at my (very) bloody hands and start to understand that finally, I am linking my experience with my destiny. It is a connection that propels me forward as much as it stretches behind me, to generations before me, to pull from the collective wisdom of what it means to feed a family, use an animal well, and spend my time honorably.
Call it finding your way, heeding your calling, living the magic. I call it lucky, and happy, (and, dammit, precious after so much hard work and scrambling and wrong turns) and also, I call it: Pâté maison.
Pâté maison, Meaty B-styleI make another pâté of chicken livers that calls for, I am not lying, a pound of butter. This pâté is not as rich and as such, I find I can enjoy it throughout the week without feeling like I ate, well, a pound of butter. I've made a good few pâtés lately and this is the recipe that has evolved from many I have tried.
My relationship with liver got much happier once I started feeding us grass-fed liver (as a disclaimer, I have always liked liver. But this pâté is more reminiscent of -don't get the wrong idea here - lunch meat than it is of the liver and onions I grew up eating). The rancher we buy our meat from happily supplies us ample liver. I do take the time to cut away the ducts and connective tissue. I find this easier to do with my finger than a knife, then use a knife to slice the cleaned liver into thinner wedges. Consider it time to commune with the steer. Merci, say to him. Vous serez delicieux (you will be delicious)!
1 lb. grass-fed beef liver, cleaned of connective tissue and ducts and cut into small chunks
1 lb. coarsely ground, pastured pork
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp. unsalted butter or lard
1 tbsp. sweet sherry
1 tbsp. brandy or red wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
1 tbsp. coarsely chopped parsley or thyme, leaves only
4 thin slices of bacon or pancetta
Preheat an oven to 350 F with a middle rack. Prepare a hot water bath (I do this by heating a large casserole in the oven while it warms and then pouring almost boiling water from a kettle into the casserole once I've placed my cooking vessel in the casserole).
Over medium heat, melt the cooking fat and gently cook the shallot until translucent. Do not allow to brown. When the shallot is shiny and soft, about 5 minutes, turn the heat to medium high and add the liver, taking care not to crowd the pan. Barely brown on all sides. The liver should still be very pink inside. Transfer liver and contents of pan (shallots, juices) to a food processor and start the processor. Add all spices and seasonings, except the parsley. Process several minutes, until very smooth. Add the pork and parsley and coarse until roughly blended; chunks of pork should be visible in the mixture and the parsley should be in small, fine pieces.
Butter (generously) an 8x5 bread pan or earthen terrine well and scoop the mixture in to the pan. Flatten with a spatula and layer the bacon over the top. Place the pan into the warm water bath and bake in the oven for 1.5 hours. Remove from the oven, remove from the hot water bath, and allow to cool in the pan. Cover the pan with a sheet of cooking parchment and place a heavy item (a stone or brick work well) over the top to weigh the pâté down. Chill in the refrigerator until set firm, usually overnight. Slide a butter knife around the edges of the pan to unmold the pâté or slice directly from the pan. Keeps about a week wrapped tightly in the refrigerator.
What food connects you with a visceral and genuine sense of life?