Jeff at Culinary Disaster posed a challenge among a few friends recently to make a dish using chicken. I think we’ve all made many a chicken dish before, and seeing how dessert is where I seem to have the most fun, I thought it would only be appropriate that I try to do something a little odd and make a chicken-based dessert since I thought (a) that has to stand out and (b) that sounds like a hell of a challenge. I know…dessert…and chicken? You didn’t misread, so let that one sink in and bear with me (have I ever steered you wrong, dear reader?). Trust me, this one has a happy ending!
Obviously, one has to tread carefully to get a dessert out of a chicken, and leaning too heavily on eggs seems like a crutch (given how obvious they are in dessert, anyways). So I thought I might be better off looking away from the usual breast/thighs and to the richer parts of the bird, namely, the liver. Terry B at Blue Kitchen made a “faux” gras of chicken pâté somewhat recently which had caught my eye and seemed like a great springboard for this. Plus, I’ve had duck fat handy for a while now, and nothing has ever seemed duck fat-worthy…until now.
I mulled this over for a while. I wanted the pâté to be rich but not push too heavily into the savory realm. So I tried to bend some of the necessary flavors to fit a sweet interpretation a little better (e.g. roast shallots and garlic rather than sauté so as to make their flavors more muted and nutty). I also diverged away from the usual cognac/port/sherry and opted for a more authentically foie gras styled flavor that is unquestionably sweet: Sauternes. To add to this, I poached a pear in the Sauternes with a bit of honey, among other things, and then pureed this mix. Yes, now we’re talking.
Now, I realize a pâté isn’t quite dessert material, and even this might still have ambiguously starter/dessert-friendly flavors. So the next issue: even with a pâté, you need something to do with it. Its sort of like having butter, honey, or salsa…you need an excuse to eat it–something to serve it on. I originally thought I’d take a chicken-and-the-egg sort of approach, where I wanted to make meringues (shaped in hemispheres like a half of an egg), pipe a pâté/mousse on top (like the yolk of the egg), and then sit this in a caramel nest. While this had the looks in mind, the taste just didn’t seem like it would be right…at all, lol.
So instead, I opted to seek yet another vessel for serving a liver mousse on as baguette doesn’t scream dessert. Carol of French Laundry at Home somewhat recently made pear chips, and those seemed like they would pair (*rimshot*) beautifully what with poached pear being at the core of the pâté. And so I made sweetened, rigid pear chips to serve the pâté on.
So after hearing the lengthy thought process behind this bizarre ideas, you might be wondering to yourself how this actually tastes, since I hope its beginning to sound like it might actually be a good idea? I mean really, you’ve got shallot and garlic slow roasted with butter and duck fat for something meaty, sweet, and nutty. Chicken livers, sautéed gently in more butter and duck fat for something incredibly rich and flavorful. Pear and dates, poached in honeyed, sweet, golden Sauternes with a hint of clove for something that is sweet and stunningly complex in the mouth.
My judgement: with all of this together in mousse form, the result was stunning. The duck fat definitely brings you closer to foie gras (but foie gras, of course, this is not), and the flavor and texture of this was phenomenal. It just worked. It was meaty and rich, coating every surface of your mouth. It was just decadent. There was a hint of sweetness underneath it all, but the richness and meatiness of the liver obviously dominates the flavors. But this where the magic of context comes into play. Serve this on a lightly oiled, salted, peppered, and toasted baguette, and you have a delicious starter. Serve this on the pear chips and you’ve got yourself a delightfully sophisticated and completely non-traditional dessert/snack.
So chicken for dessert? Yes, please.
- Pear chips
- 1 Bosc pear (its not enough for all of the pâté, but I was obviously unsure of myself I’d make more next time)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- sprinkle of demerara sugar
- 1 lb chicken livers
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- a bit of duck fat (I probably used about 1/4 cup…you could use butter instead, but you lose 10 cool points)
- 1 shallot
- 1 garlic clove
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- dash ground allspice
- Sweet Poached Pear/Sauternes mash
- 1 bosc pear
- 4 pitted dates
- 1/2 cup sauternes
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 clove
- juice of 1/2 lime
Begin by making the pear chips. If you have a mandoline or some other precision slicer, this is a great place for it. I don’t so I got to assess my knife skills on a pear that should have been less ripe for this kind of task.
After a lot of sharpening and worrying about how much of a mess I’d make, I did better than I thought! Just slice very thin cross-sections of the pear, aiming for paper-thin slivers from top to bottom. Obviously omit the core, and yes, you won’t successfully use the entire pear, so just use the leftover chunks for something else.
With the thin pear slices, boil up some simple syrup by boiling both the sugar and water in a saucepan and then drop the heat so that it is barely simmering. At this point, gently place the pear slivers in, working in batches since a crowded pot will be difficult to work with. Give each batch about 3 minutes or so, after which you should fish out the pears and lay them on parchment paper on a baking sheet.
Once all of the syruped pear slivers are on the sheet, lightly sprinkle some demerara sugar on (think like salt on potato chips) and transfer this to a 275°F oven for 30-45 minutes to dry and crisp up the pears to become chips. Keep a close eye on them here–they’ll go from chips to charcoal very quickly!
With the chips out of the way, on to the pâté! I mentioned roasted garlic and shallot earlier. Since this takes some time, this should be one of the first things you get out of the way. So behead the garlic and shallot, dab on some softened butter and a dollop of duck fat, wrap tightly in tin foil, and transfer to a 400°F oven for 40 minutes. Once done, allow them to cool a bit and just squeeze the shallot and garlic out of their papery casings.
While you’re waiting on that, the next important element: the sweet component! If this is to pass off as a dessert, this is a very important step. In a saucepan, warm up the Sauternes, honey, clove, and lime juice.
As that heats up, split the dates, peel and core the pear, and since we’re not presenting some immaculately poached pear, feel free to dice it up a little smaller. Normally, you’d increase the poaching liquid to cover the pear. However, Sauternes is a bit pricey, so I’m more inclined to just make the pear fit under what is available.
Let this simmer (covered) gently for about 10-15 minutes so that the pear and dates soften up and take on the delicious flavors. Once time is up, fish out the clove and puree the mixture in a food processor/blender and set this aside for later.
Well so far, this has been comfortably in dessert land, but the moment is here where we must accept that this dessert includes chicken. So time to clean and trim the chicken livers!
Once the livers are ready to go, melt half of the butter and all of the duck fat in your pan and wave good-bye to your health–you can almost feel the cholesterol clogging up your nose.
Once totally melted, add the roasted garlic and shallot from earlier as well as the livers. Sauté the livers on no more than medium heat, constantly turning/moving for about 5-8 minutes. They should become slightly firm, lightly browned on the outside, and still be slightly pink on the inside. If you overcook them, they’ll get rubbery and taste stronger, but not in a good way. If some cook faster than others (to be expected since size varies greatly), remove them. Transfer all of the cooked livers to the food processor.
With an empty (but still oily) pan, pour in the pear/Sauternes mix from earlier, warming this up and reducing it a bit on low/medium heat for just shy of 5 minutes. Pour this into the food processor as well and puree the entire mixture until silky smooth.
Now, storing this is an issue as exposure to air is the enemy. So in a clean pan, melt down your remaining butter in a saucepan, and once totally melted, remove from heat and skim off the foam (so that clarified butter remains). Transfer the pâté into single-serve portions (e.g. I used 2 oz ramekins), smooth it out, and then pour on a layer of clarified butter. Once this cools, it will form a seal on the surface, protecting the pâté from exposure to air (if it is exposed, it will turn into a rather ugly greenish brown color). Feel free to add a little garnish at this point by sticking an herb in the butter (I used a dab of rosemary) and let this cool in the fridge for about 30 minutes before you wrap it up in plastic wrap (if you just wrap it up in plastic wrap with no cooling period, you get ugliness with the butter sticking to the wrap, as you can see in my next photo).
Let this firm up for another 2 hours in the fridge before you dig in. Whether you serve it on the pear chips or a toasted baguette, I would recommend a flight of Sauternes to go with it–it cuts through the richness and brings a great compliment to the dish.