Of all the fruits we eat, just-ripe apples pack the biggest surprise punch. Apples are great keepers, and we’ve grown so accustomed to eating old ones that we have almost forgotten the cool, crisp shock of biting into an apple just off the tree.
Apples come in many flavors, and now is the time to explore the taste of heirlooms, to discover which are most to your own liking. I like an apple that is crisp, not too sweet, and keeps its shape when baked into a pie. I have a special place in my heart for Esopus Spitzenberg, an old-fashioned apple that looks nice, has great character and wonderful flavor. But there is something to be said for a softer apple, like a Rome, which falls to pieces when it hits the oven.
This is the time to use newly harvested apples in pies and crisps and galettes. But I’m going to offer a more unusual suggestion. This chicken liver mousse is extremely simple; you can whip it up for a party in under half an hour, and have some leftover for the freezer (it freezes gorgeously). The secret is the addition of an apple, which marries beautifully with the livers, bringing out their sweet freshness and creating a mousse with a character all its own. I’ve been making this mousse since I was very small, and over the years I’ve discovered a few secrets.
1. Be sure to buy the livers of organically-raised chickens; the liver is the body’s filter, and if you use conventional livers you’ll be serving your guests all the junk those birds were fed.
2. Clean your livers well, cutting out any veins that you see (they can be bitter). Cut off the visible fat as well; it will ruin the texture of your mousse.
3. Dry the livers well before cooking, or you will end up with steamed rather than sautéed ones.
4. Cook the livers hot and fast; you want to get the outsides browned while keeping the insides rosy (which will give you better flavor and a much prettier mousse). Cook them for about a minute and a half on the first side, then turn them over and cook them until they’re slightly bouncy, about half a minute more.
5. Be sure and remove the pan from the fire before adding the Calvados; add it over the stove and the flames could leap up and into the bottle, leaving you holding a blazing inferno.
6. Allow the flames to burn off, or you’ll end up with a very boozy paté.
7. Process the livers really well, or your mousse will be grainy.
8. If you want to gild this lily, cover the top of each little crock with clarified butter. Melt a half stick of butter in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat. When it’s melted, remove from the heat and let the butter stand for about 5 minutes. Skim the froth off the top, and spoon the clarified butter underneath over the top of the paté, completely covering its surface and chill.
Chicken Liver Mousse
Serves 12 as an appetizer
1 pound organic chicken livers, cleaned of veins, connective tissue, and fat
2 shallots, minced
3 pinches sea salt and freshly ground pepper, or to taste
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 small apple, peeled and diced.
3 tablespoons Calvados
1 tablespoon cream, optional
Prep livers: Clean chicken livers of veins, connective tissue, and fat. Dry well with paper towels, sprinkle all over with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Sweat shallots and apples: In a large sauté pan over medium heat, sauté the shallots in 1 tablespoon butter, add a sprinkling of salt, and cook until translucent and softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the same pan and cook the apples until softened, 3 minutes. Add to the shallots.
Sauté livers: Melt 3 more tablespoons butter, turn the heat to high and when the butter stops foaming, sear the livers until brown. Toss and cook until they lose all their pink on the outside, about 2 minutes total. Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the Calvados. Stand back from the pan, ignite the brandy with a long match or by carefully tipping the pan towards the flame, and allow the alcohol to burn away.
Process the mousse: Put the livers into the food processor, add 4 tablespoons butter cut into ½ inch pieces, and blend until smooth. Add the cream if you have it, and process again. Season to taste with salt and pepper, processing once more, and spoon into ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap directly on top of the paté and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.