The apéritif hour: Chopped chicken livers on toast
When I got hold of April Bloomfield’s new book “A Girl and Her Pig,” I zeroed right in on the Brit chef’s recipe for chopped chicken liver on toast. Just looking at the picture, I could tell this would be a definitive recipe. And it is. I expected no less from the chef and co-owner of the New York City gastropub Spotted Pig.
I made the recipe, which calls for 1/2 pound of chicken livers, which is just enough to spread on four toasts yesterday. And I have to confess, as soon as I was done snapping the photo, I gobbled up two of them with a glass of white Rioja. The flavors are so pure, with just a backbeat of sweetness from the port and a bit of nuttiness from the Madeira. I can see these toasts with a glass of Madeira, too. A great way to stave off hunger if dinner is a ways off.
I’ll let Bloomfield explain the recipe: “A staple at the Spotted Pig, this creamy, still slightly chunky mash of lovely, iron-y livers on toast makes a fine snack, but it’s substantial enough to hold you over while you wait for a friend or a table. Just the thing too, with a glass of wine. The liver mixture is a touch sweet from the Port and the browned garlic and shallots, with a whisper of acidity from the Madeira. Best of all, it takes just a moment to make. Be sure you get a nice color on the livers when you cook them. (I like them slightly pink on the inside for this dish). Be sure to take in the aroma as they cook -- toasty browning liver is one of my favorite smells.”
“I’m not much for pomp on the plate, for presentation that says, 'Look how pretty!' ... I like food to look as if the arrangement were almost accidental, as if it all dropped from above and happened to pile elegantly on the plate.”
That said, it’s hard to make chopped chicken liver look like a beauty queen. It is what it is -- earthy and primal. And Bloomfield’s version is one of the best I’ve tried, right up there with AOC’s Tuscan-style chicken liver crostini. You might want to try both side by side to see which your guests like best.
From “A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories” by April Bloomfield with JJ Goode (Ecco, 2012, 333 pages, $29.99).
Makes 4 toasts
About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Heaping 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dry Madeira
2 tablespoons ruby port
1/2 pound chicken livers, trimmed and separated into lobes
Maldon or another flaky sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
A small handful of small, delicate flat-leaf parsley sprigs
4 thick slices crusty bread, or 2 large slices, cut in half
Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a large sauté pan and set it over high heat. When it’s hot, turn the heat down to medium and add the shallots and garlic. Cook until they’re golden brown, about a minute. Add the Madeira and port to the pan and give it a good shake, then scrape the mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
Rinse the pan and wipe it out well with a paper towel, then set it over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil just begins to smoke, pat the livers dry and add them to the pan. Cook until the undersides are golden brown, 1-1/2 minutes or so. Carefully turn them over and sprinkle on about 1 teaspoon salt, then give the pan a little shake. Cook the livers just until they feel bouncy, like little balloons, about 30 seconds more. You want them slightly pink inside, not rare.
Turn off the heat and add the shallot mixture, liquid and all, to the pan.
Shake the pan, stirring and scraping it with a spoon to loosen the crispy brown bits on the bottom, then scrape the contents of the pan into a bowl. Let it all cool for a few minutes.
Drizzle about 1 tablespoon olive oil over the liver mixture and sprinkle in about a teaspoon of salt and a couple twists of black pepper. Use a large spoon to chop, stir, and mash the livers until some of the mash is creamy and some is still a little chunky. Coarsely chop the parsley, add it to the liver mixture, and give it all a good stir. Let it cool to room temperature.
Toast or grill the bread until crispy but still a bit soft in the middle. Drizzle the toasts with a little olive oil, spread on a generous amount of the liver mixture, and serve straightaway.
-- S. Irene Virbila
Photos: Chopped chicken livers on toast. Credit: S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times