For food writer Molly Hannon her lifelong love of pâté began when she developed a taste for it at the age of 2. She still loves it—if more moderately—and gives us her favorite recipe.
Amongst anthropological jargon, there is little mention of the taste bud and its evolution. As a student studying the finer notions of “taste education,” I have come to witness taste in all its manifestations. From a molecular approach to sensory analysis to classes concerning the crucial role that cured meat, cheese, beer, and wine play in our lives, it comes as no doubt that taste moves at a rapid rate. It varies across our tongues provoking pleasure and, in some cases, disgust. Its evolution is tricky to navigate and perhaps our own personal taste history is the best clue. A companion since birth, it functions like a shadow mimicking our development until we reach some peak— or lose all our teeth rendering us back to that beloved baby food, even in some cases, the “bottle.”
Although I rarely eat or crave chicken liver now, I have had the good fortune to be graced by her refined sister, the pâté.
Our old tastes quietly haunt us from time to time and it did not occur to me until recently that my ardent love and loyalty to all livery pâté hailed from my early days of taste exploration. Swinging from a plastic highchair, I was a 2-year old connoisseur of the chicken liver. Paired with boiled Brussels sprouts, it has been noted by my parents that these were my preferred foods. Content, my mother was at ease that her first-born would not fall into the ranks of picky eaters. I sat, I ate, and I promptly went to bed at 5 p.m. An amenable appetite followed by an easy surrender to the cradle, my parents could not believe their luck. Unfortunately, the fates had not been completely satiated. The birth of my brother, James, revealed that the cradle had little allure and the gastronomical delights of his sister were not to be had. Stiff necked and determined to make a name for himself at an early age, he took our quiet country life by storm. It still remains a mystery as to whether he ever slept.
As James’ nocturnal activities still prove elusive, the mystery of taste evolution has slowly unmasked itself during my time here in Italy. It was upon my first visit to Florence that the chicken liver pâté quickly became a mealtime staple. Walking along the Arno singing my own song of Florence with the pâté lingering in my mouth, I began to think back on my wayward toddler days. With little garbage to corrupt my palate, I had gravitated toward something very acquired. Yet, it had not occurred until now that my first love, chicken liver, had morphed into something pureed and refined. Looking back, I realized I had always been drawn to pâté. My first visit to Paris and my discovery of the livery fare came to mind. I remember scurrying back to the hotel, baguette in hand with the pâté tucked under my arm. Slyly moving past the bushy eye-browed front clerk, I ran upstairs to my mother. We had decided to forgo a rainy Parisian night of hailing cabs and falling prey to more tourist traps. Tucked in at the Hotel de Suede, I sat on her bed dispersing crumbs everywhere, hypnotized by my new acquaintance yet unaware of my deeper connection to it.
Although I rarely eat or crave chicken liver now, I have had the good fortune to be graced by her refined sister, the pâté. From time to time she unmasks herself, gamey and whipped flaunting that brownish color. Crostini or country bread in hand, I take to this reunion quite well. As our tastes have grown parallel to one another, we are now able to recognize each other—older, sophisticated, perhaps a bit more cynical, but nevertheless amiable to one another’s company. From my own roots, to the infinite world of gastronomy’s subtle cultivation, I have been once again rocked to the cradle.
For those with a similar palate to quench…
Yield: 10 portions
Ingredient Amount Chicken Liver 1/2# Onion fine chop 1.5 oz. Celery fine chop 1.5 oz. Carrot fine chop 1.5 oz. Garlic cloves mince 1 ea. Extra virgin olive oil As needed Anchovy filets 2 ea. Capers rinsed 2 T Milk 1/2 cup Brandy 1 oz. Vin Santo 1/2 oz. Salt and Pepper T.T.
In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken livers, onion, garlic, carrot, garlic cloves, celery, capers, and anchovy filets along with some salt. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the livers are barely pink inside, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
Transfer the livers mixture to a food processor; process until coarsely pureed. Add the milk and then the Vin Santo (cognac also works well). Season with salt and pepper and process until completely smooth. Scrape the pâté into 2 or 3 large ramekins. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pâté and refrigerate until firm. Serve chilled.