Duck Liver for Charlie

Michael Nagrant / 05.22.09

A couple of nights ago I drank away some of my recessionary angst at the new Humboldt Park watering hole, Rootstock (954 N. California). The tiny little wine bar is a joint venture from Webster’s Wine Bar vets Jamie McClennan, Tonya Pyatt, and Johnny Hap. It is a totally idiosyncratic spot that like the best places honors the whims of its owners and operators. The night I was there, both Hap and Pyatt were super-gracious, with Pyatt even pulling up a chair to hang with me and my friend for a spell and dish on the wonders of our other local fave beer joint, Archie’s bar (2600 W. Iowa).

Though I’d already eaten dinner I could not resist the new menu from Hot Chocolate chef Mark Steuer, particularly the Gunthorp Farms duck liver pate. The pate was almost light as air and exhibit number one that you don’t need to fatten up ducks in the foie gras fashion to make incredible duck liver products. In fact this pate was maybe the best liver pate I’ve ever had, maybe even better than Thomas Keller’s foie torchon studded with black truffles (though the hot brioche served on the side at the French Laundry is inimitable).

Because it’s not made with foie and just local farm raised duck livers, even noted foie opponent Charlie Trotter would love this one. I’d joked that the pate was like butter, and it turns out that’s because it’s not just like butter. With a ratio of 5 to 3 liver to butter, IT IS butter. I asked Steuer for the recipe to share with you all in case any one wants to get ambitious this holiday weekend. Obviously, it’ll be tough to come by 5 lbs of duck liver unless you’re a chef, but you can always reduce the recipe to a more manageable amount. You could also subsitute chicken liver, which will probably not give you quite the same taste, but should still be pretty incredible.

Adapted from Mark Steuer of Hot Chocolate

5 pounds duck liver (soak in milk overnight before cooking)
3 pounds unsalted butter (cut into small cubes)
2 large white onions julienned
1 cup chopped garlic
1 bouquet garnie (a couple sprigs thyme, parsley, and bayleaf tied up with butchers twine for easy removal)
2 cups brandy
1 cup apple cider
4 cups duck or chicken stock (watch for salt if its storebought)

one tablespoon each of the following:

ground nutmeg
ground cloves
ground ginger
garlic powder,
lemon juice


In a wide pot sweat garlic and onions until soft. Add brandy and cook out alcohol. Add bouquet garni and stock and bring to a simmer. Season liquid with salt and a drop of chili paste. Once simmering, strain livers from milk and poach livers for 7 minutes no more, no less in the simmering stock. Strain immediately, and discard poaching liquid and boquet. In batches, add liver, onions and gralic to food processor and pulse. If the mixture in the blender is too dry, add a few drops of cider, then drop in cubes of butter and blend until smoothe and glossy. Repeat process until livers are gone. Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve and season with one tablespoon ground nutmeg, ground cloves, ground ginger, garlic powder, honey, lemon juice and salt to taste. Keep in mind that as it cools and sets, the pate will lose seasoning. Pour the mixture in to a plastic wrap lined terrine mold or narrow pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Let it cool and set in the fridge for a day.