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Crostini

There aren’t many foods I won’t eat. Tripe is one, despite my best efforts. Another is liver. In my early days of cooking, I was assured that what turns most people off about liver is its flavor and texture when overcooked. Cook a nice, high-quality piece of liver to a nice pink medium, I was told, and it would be a revelation. I tried. I really tried. But every time I couldn’t get it down. It always ended up in the trash.

Then, about 11 years ago, during a very brief stage at Osteria Pane e Salute, I was given crostini with chicken liver pâté, prepared in the classic Tuscan manner. They were wonderful, flavorful but mild and smooth in texture. This was liver I could eat gladly.

Somehow, once I got home from Pane, my efforts couldn’t quite recreate the flavor of Caleb’s. The liver flavor was too strong. Something wasn’t right. I put it aside for years.

But this year I was tired of my wasteful practice of discarding the gorgeous livers from the whole chickens I buy from Forks Farm. I was tired of my lazy habit of freezing them — always planning to use them some day, which never came — and I resolved to master the art of chicken liver pâté.

Most recipes call for capers and/or anchovies, aiming for what Samin Nosrat would call a “layering of salt.” Usually I have both capers and anchovies on hand, but that day I had neither. And so, once again I learned the wonderful principle that mistakes or shortcuts often lead to better results. Since I didn’t have capers or anchovies, I just increased the proportion of onions — the sweet onions I grow on the farm — and crossed my fingers.

The results were great, exactly the taste memory I possessed. I still can’t eat a piece of liver straight, but this pâté is one of my very favorite foods. We serve it whenever possible as an amuse-bouche at the restaurant, a gentle and mild introduction to liver for the skeptical. I love the simplicity of this recipe, untraditional but good, and I hope it encourages you too to give chicken liver pâté a try!

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Crostini with Chicken Liver Pâté

Factory-farmed meat is always immoral and very unappetizing, but for organ meats it seems especially sad. The livers of a conventionally raised bird just look unhealthy. Pastured birds by contrast have nice looking livers, fresh and plump. This is a dish I would rather not make than make with factory-raised meat.

Begin by heating a large pan to high heat with a generous bit of olive oil, and when the oil just begins to send up faint wisps of smoke, add about 12 ounces of chicken livers (rinsed and dried) along with 4 to 6 ounces of coarsely chopped or sliced sweet onion. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt, some fresh sage if you have it around, and saute for just a few minutes until everything has lost much of its raw color.

Deglaze the pan with broth, water, or wine (or a mix), adding enough to come up at least a half-inch or so up the side of the pan.

Simmer in the oven at 325 degrees F° for about 20 minutes, then return to high heat and cook over all but a little bit of liquid. Add a pat or two of butter if possible.

Process in a food processor, adding generous grinds of hot pepper, along with broth and/or olive oil to create a smooth pâté. It should be smooth, but still have some texture. It might look very runny, but it will firm up after resting in the fridge.

Add a little freshly grated parmigiano and freshly minced parsley. Taste for salt, keeping in mind that a bland or mild pâté is an abomination. It needs to be aggressively seasoned. Allow to rest in the fridge for at least an hour or two until firmed up.

To make the crostini, lightly toast little cubes of high-quality bread. I do this in a pan with a little olive oil. Top each piece of toast with a little dollop of pâté and bake in an oven for about 5 minutes at 350 or 400 degrees F°.

Just before serving, garnish with additional parmigiano, pepper, and fresh parsley.

Justin Naylor (chef & proprietor, Old Tioga Farm)