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The boldness of chicken livers

February 23, 2015

Prosciutto wrapped Chicken Livers on a Rosemary skewers.

With all the chattering about the return of foie gras to California menus, you might be tempted to think that weíve become a state of liver lovers.

You might think that, at least, until you set out to buy some chicken livers at the supermarket. Hereís a hint: If you can find them at all, theyíll probably be in the freezer section. Demand is so low that most markets long ago gave up on offering them fresh.

But if you truly appreciate that iron bite flavor of foie gras, and not just the buttery texture or the consumption of a conspicuous luxury, youíll find that in abundance in chicken livers.

Indeed, chef Michel Richard ("Happy in the Kitchen") makes an utterly delicious foie gras analogue by pureeing a pound of chicken livers with two sticks of butter (youíll find the recipe under "Faux Gras" in our California Cookbook at recipes.latimes.com).

The upside of our underappreciation of chicken livers is that they are really inexpensive. At my neighborhood market, I paid $1.29 a pound. Youíll be hard-pressed to find any other meat product priced lower than that.

This is not to suggest that chicken liversí appeal is only to the cheap. Despite the fact that liver seems to be one of the few foods weíre still allowed to hate without criticism, chicken livers can be delicious, even though I do find that with their rich flavor theyíre best appreciated in smaller portions.

But a couple of them, dusted with orange zest, wrapped in prosciutto, skewered on rosemary branches and quickly fried? Call it Tuscan rumaki if you want; Iíll have seconds.

And donít even get me started on Richard Olneyís old-school chicken liver mousse from "Simple French Food." Itís little more than chicken livers blended with milk and eggs and baked until set ó ridiculously luxurious for something so simple. A slice served with a tart salad of bitter greens makes a perfect light dinner.

Or saute them with pancetta and browned onions and chop them coarsely for a crostini topping as they do at AOC and Mozza. What a satisfying appetizer with a glass of wine on a cool evening.

There are a couple of tricks to cooking chicken livers. The most important, probably, is being careful not to overcook them. Sear them in a very hot pan for only a minute or two per side.

Chicken livers should be set but still rosy pink inside. Served this way, they are silky with a complex flavor. Cook them even a little too long and the texture becomes chalky and the taste more one-note bitter.

It also helps to clean them well. Older books tell you to watch for dark green spots (bile, very bitter), but in years of cooking chicken livers I donít think Iíve ever seen this. If you do, cut it away; usually, though, youíll just need to trim the exterior fat and any stringy connective tissue.

Another oft-repeated piece of advice is to soak chicken livers in milk before cooking them, but Iíve never read why. Curious, I sauteed a couple of unsoaked livers at the same time as ones that had been immersed in milk. I found the soaked livers seemed to have a slightly fuller, rounder flavor, so Iíll keep doing that. (If youíre starting with frozen livers, itís a simple enough matter to defrost them in a bowl of milk.)

Are chicken livers the next foie gras? Itís unlikely, but they do have an allure all their own. And, at $1.29 a pound instead of $50 to $60 (plus shipping), thatís not chopped liver.

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PROSCIUTTO-WRAPPED CHICKEN LIVERS ON ROSEMARY SKEWERS

30 minutes, plus soaking time for the livers. Serves 4 to 6

1 pound chicken livers

Milk

4 to 6 fresh (5- to 6-inch long) woody rosemary branches

Salt and pepper

1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest

1/4 pound sliced prosciutto, slices halved crosswise

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1/3 cup white wine

1. Separate the chicken livers into individual lobes, discarding any that fall apart. Cover with milk and set aside for an hour.

2. Strip all of the leaves from the rosemary branches except for an inch at the tip. Mince and reserve one-half teaspoon of the leaves.

3. Rinse the livers and gently pat dry with a paper towel. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper and orange zest, and toss gently to mix well.

4. Wrap each liver in a piece of prosciutto and thread it onto the rosemary branches. You should get about 4 livers to a branch

5. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is hot, add the chicken liver skewers and cook until the prosciutto crisps, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side.

6. Remove the skewers to a warm tray, add the shallots and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and the reserved minced rosemary, and cook, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, until the wine reduces to a syrup, about 3 minutes.

7. Pour the sauce over the skewers and serve hot.

CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE

2 hours, 45 minutes. Serves 8 to 10

1/2 pound chicken livers

Milk

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 3/4 cups milk

2 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper

1. Cover the chicken livers with milk and set aside for at least one hour.

2. Heat the oven to 325 degrees and butter a 6-cup mold. Line the mold with parchment and butter again.

3. Puree the livers, butter, garlic, milk, whole eggs and egg yolks in a blender. Pass through a strainer into a bowl. Season with the salt and a couple of grinds of pepper.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared mold and tap it lightly on a cutting board to free any trapped air bubbles. Put a folded towel in the bottom of a baking or roasting pan large enough to hold the mold. Place the mold on top of the towel and put it in the oven on the middle rack. Pour warm water into the pan up to the level of the liver mixture. If you see the water start to boil, lower the temperature and open the oven door.

5. Bake to an internal temperature of 155 to 160 degrees, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The center will be slightly firm to the touch, and the edges will be just beginning to shrink from the sides. Cool completely before unmolding and slicing.

NOTE: Adapted from Richard Olneyís "Simple French Food."

 

 


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