Weird Crap I Cook: Venison Liver Pate

We had a solid Thanksgiving in Vermont with Kristi’s family.  Lots of eating, a couple gobbler sandwiches, and the time tested tradition of me bringing an odd food item to a family gathering, putting it out on the table, and hiding.

To backtrack slightly, Kristi and I visited Vermont a week and a half before Thanksgiving on the first weekend of deer season.  That Saturday morning, we got the call from Kristi’s father, Ken, that he had taken a four point buck from his stand.  And he saved me the heart and liver when he field dressed it.  As Janet would say, that’s exciting.

Not sure why I debated showing this shot, sometimes I forget that anyone who would be offended by the image of a dead animal isn't reading a blog with gleeful posts about eating testicles

Not sure why I debated showing this shot, sometimes I forget that anyone who would be offended by the image of a dead animal isn’t reading a blog with gleeful posts about eating testicles

After helping Ken hang the deer in the barn, I wrapped the heart up tight and left it in Ken and Carolyn’s freezer to cook with Ken when I returned for Thanksgiving.  The gigantic liver stayed in its’ shopping bag and went into a cooler for the ride back to Boston.  This seems like an opportunity to share a coworker’s photoshop of one of the bathrobes in the Wayfair catalog in honor of my recent ridiculous hockey hair.

The original was an equally creepy fellow enjoyign his morning coffee.  An absolutely seamless merging of my awful current hair and a mustache, a combo I haven't had the courage to attempt

The original was an equally creepy fellow enjoying his morning coffee.  An absolutely seamless merging of my awful current hair and a mustache, a combo I haven’t had the courage to attempt

Back in my home kitchen, I went through my usual hyping up session to prepare myself to deal with the gigantic liver in a Greg’s Meat Market bag.  Mostly the “hyping up” amounted to watching football and avoiding looking in the bottom drawer of the fridge.  Eventually I decided to get it over with and clean/package the liver for cooking the following weekend.  After a quick rinse in the sink to remove some grass and pine needles from field dressing (one of those “sh*t just got real” moments), I laid it out on the cutting board.

Thats the biggest cutting board in the house.  A big old yeesh on that one.  I'm not sure why I expected deer liver to be so small but this thing was a freaking monster

That’s the biggest cutting board in the house.  A big old yeesh on this one.  I’m not sure why I expected deer liver to be small but this thing was a freaking monster

When I placed the liver on the scale, it came in at a whopping 3.5 pounds.  That’s a lot of liver! I knew that I didn’t have enough friends or family willing to eat this in one sitting so I would need to cook it in at least two separate meals.  Which also gave me the opportunity to try a couple different preparations of the liver.

I removed the muscle that attached the liver to the body and cleaned out some of the area where the blood flowed in primarily before cutting the liver into two evenly-sized pieces.  Given that this thing was a day old, smelled extremely fresh, and was as organic and local as a food can be, I decided to (quietly, when Kristi wasn’t looking) be a bit adventurous with the meat.

You don't cut a piece that small unless you plan to sample it.  Yes, that is a sample sized piece of raw deer liver

You don’t cut a piece that small unless you plan to sample it.  Yes, that is a sample sized piece of raw deer liver

Given how strong cooked liver tastes, I think everybody (read: anybody crazy enough to try it) would be stunned by the taste of raw, fresh, natural liver.  It had very little flavor aside from a milky, nutty taste, almost like almond milk.  The texture was relatively enjoyable as well.  Very surprising.

The two halves went into separate vacuum sealed bags and into the freezer.  The freezer was necessary for keeping the liver tasty for the week lag before I was planning to cook it, but also helpful since, when thawed, the liver would purge a good amount of blood.

With Thanksgiving coming up and the opportunity to share the liver with Kristi’s family, aunts, uncles, and cousins, I decided to use the liver for something easy to transport and share.  I also wanted to dial back the overpowering liver taste as much as possible, so I elected to make a liver mousse (or pate).  I’ve made chicken liver mousse before with shallots and brandy, but I decided to make this one a bit differently.  First step was thawing half of the liver and soaking it in a salted water bath.

The salt makes the exterior look a lot less fresh and appetizing.  Right?  The salt water is what makes this look less appetizing.  Right?

The salt makes the exterior look a lot less fresh and appetizing.  Right?  The salt water is what makes this look less appetizing.  Right????

After an hour in the cold salted water bath, a decent amount of blood had been purged from the liver and I moved it to the cutting board to slice thickly in preparation for cubing it.

Even a week old and having gone through a freezing and thawing, this liver still smelled very fresh

Even a week old and having gone through a freezing and thawing, this liver still smelled very fresh.  You know, if sniffing liver is your thing

Once cubed, the liver went onto some paper towel to drain off a bit more blood and I started the extremely tedious process of peeling and slicing a half pound of shallots.  The shallots would probably be the nicer thing to show here, but also boring.  So lets look at a pile of cubed game liver on a paper towel.

Like meat beets.  I am really struggling with this post for some reason, hence the three weeks to complete it

Like meat beets.  I am really struggling with this post for some reason, hence the three weeks to complete it

After the liver had drained on the paper towels for 10-15 minutes, I patted it dry to remove the last of the excess liquid and heated a large pan over medium-high heat.  Once up to heat, I put a couple tablespoons of safflower oil in the pan, seasoned the liver with salt and pepper, and browned the cubes on all sides.

The amount of additional liquid that cooked out was remarkable and confusing given the effort I'd made to remove the excess liquid from the meat.  This is very similar to the chicken liver mousse at this point

The amount of additional liquid that cooked out was remarkable and confusing given the effort I’d made to remove the excess liquid from the meat.  This is very similar looking to the chicken liver mousse at this point

Once well browned, and looking like dark brown iced cubes, the liver was removed from the pan and reserved on a plate.  Then the shallots headed into the pan along with a couple cloves of chopped garlic and tablespoon of bacon grease.

These almost immediately leached up all of the color from the remnants in the pan, but they also made the apartment smell appetizing so it was really a wash.  I would cook with shallots every day if I didn't find the process of breaking them down insanely annoying

These almost immediately leached up all of the color from the remnants in the pan, but they also made the apartment smell appetizing so it was really a wash.  I would cook with shallots every day if I didn’t find the process of breaking them down insanely annoying

Once the shallots & garlic were soft and fragrant, the liver went pack into the pan along with a half cup of red wine and a half cup of port.

Yes, I used Charles Shaw red and Taylor port.  I am extremely cheap with my cooking alcohols, the only way that will ever change is if I am using your alcohol.  Otherwise, expect me to take notes when I see what hobos drink so that I can cook with it at a later date

Yes, I used Charles Shaw red and Taylor port.  I am extremely cheap with my cooking alcohols, the only way that will ever change is if I am using your alcohol.  Otherwise, expect me to take notes when I see what hobos drink so that I can cook with it at a later date

Once the wine was added, I covered the pan (slightly askew) and let the wine reduce by about 3/4 over medium-low heat.  It took about 15 minutes to get to this.

I prolly reduced it too much but the nice thing about liver mousse is you can just add that moisture back in the blending process.  You'll see.  Aren't you excited to see?

I prolly reduced it too much but the nice thing about liver mousse is you can just add that moisture back in the blending process.  You’ll see.  Aren’t you excited to see?

I moved the pan off the heat and let it cool for 5-10 minutes.  The goal was to have it stillwarm enough to blend smoothly but not so hot that it melted my Cuisinart.  Once cool (to my eye), I scraped all contents of the pan into my food processor along with a couple tablespoons of cold butter and pulsed it a few times to start breaking down the contents.  Then, I left it on a steady run while slowly pouring in half and half until the consistency looked about how I was hoping.

Quick side note on the butter addition.  I’d always assumed that liver mousse was primarily made of just liver, but there is such a wide divide between the strong flavor of straight liver and the mild flavor of a pate.  A few food shows cleared this up for me in the past year where I’ve seen chefs use butter, sometime in a 1:1 ratio, to smooth the texture of liver mousse.  I wasn’t going to go close to that ratio, but it was definitely a change from last time around.  This note came out far less interesting than I expected when I started writing it.  Back to that bowl of brown.

The power cord on the Cuisinart is approximately 4 inches long.  There is no way to get a picture of the contents of the Cuisinart that is well lit unless I unplug it and lug it across the room.  Long way of saying it wasn't this dark

The power cord on the Cuisinart is approximately 4 inches long.  There is no way to get a picture of the contents of the Cuisinart that is well lit unless I unplug it and lug it across the room.  Long way of saying it wasn’t this dark

Once the consistency looked right to me, I added a splash of balsamic vinegar on the recommendation of the internets and ran the food processor for another 30-45 seconds attempting to get the texture as smooth and uniform as possible.

At this point I had the option to press it through a mesh sieve to make the final product even more smooth, but this created a painful cleanup situation last time I attempted so I passed.  Just didn’t seem worth it; if you are willing to eat liver you won’t mind a little texture in your pate.  So, it headed straight from the bowl to the dish that I planned to refrigerate and let the pate set in.

This pyrex was a recent addition that seemed destined to eventually house either a pate or head cheese.  This is about 8" long by 4" wide and only an inch or two deep.  That's organ meat container dimensions!

This pyrex was a recent addition that seemed destined to eventually house either a pate or head cheese.  This is about 8″ long by 4″ wide and only an inch or two deep.  That’s organ meat container dimensions!

After a couple hours in the fridge, it was ready to sample.  Unlike a lot of other things I make, liver mousse is only sampled while cooking in tiny tastes to make sure the flavor is right, since hot liver pudding is not that enjoyable.  But cold, its like the boursin of Mt. Olympus, kept from the masses because they couldn’t handle its deliciousness.

When did stoned wheat thins take over the cracker selection at parties?  I will give a hearty handshake to the next host that puts out a tub of wispride and some keebler elf-made Club crackers.  Stoned wheat crackers are awful, I don't know why making the cracker less appetizing is somehow more respectful to the cheese

When did stoned wheat thins take over the cracker selection at parties?  I will give a hearty handshake to the next host that puts out a tub of Wispride and some Keebler elf-made Club crackers.  Stoned wheat crackers are awful, I don’t know why making the cracker less appetizing is somehow more respectful to the cheese

This one came out far better than the chicken liver mousse, likely due to some of the extra ingredients this time around.  The flavor was mild and slightly sweet from the shallots and possibly the liver itself.  The texture was smooth and not grainy, despite not pressing the pate through a mesh sieve prior to letting it set.  I attribute both the texture and mild flavor to using more half and half and a little cold butter when blending this time around.  I’m not sure what the balsamic added since it wasn’t a notable flavor, but it might have been what brought out the wine and port flavors.  Overall, very tasty, and I ate a ton of it over the following four days.

The biggest surprise was that I wasn’t the only one eating my offal product for once.  It went out as an app before thanksgiving and quite a bit of the family partook, including the hunter himself.  Most of the feedback was how mild the liver flavor was.  Kristi even ate some, meaning she’s rapidly on her way to full scale Ryan tastebuds.  She’ll be eating liverwurst subs with extra mayo in no time.

Merry Christmas!!!!!

Advertisements

Pete’s Burgers: The Wellington

In the midst of my 18,000 word missive on the food in Philly, I addressed my feelings on what should be considered a good burger.  I was sick of complicated restaurant burgers with foie gras and chutney instead of bacon and ketchup being considered the best in a city just because they essentially buy your taste buds.  So I ranted about it.  But you likely missed that since the post was intolerably long.

Allow me to refresh you on my thoughts.  A great burger is ground beef, heavily salted and peppered, charred on a rarely cleaned grill, and served on a simple bun with a strong cheese and mushrooms/bacon/onions/condiments as desired.  Simple and really delicious, it especially helps if the ground beef is closer to 80/20 than 93/7.

That doesn’t mean I avoid messing around with burgers and trying to come up with new delicious ways to eat them.  I love trying to make new stuff (very eloquent, Pete).  So, while I will address the perfect traditional burger and the famous Dupee burger at another time, let’s kick off this new post category with the burger we made in Naples, FL last week: The Wellington Burger.

My mom lives in an awesome condo in Naples with lots of perks; high-end community grills, great restaurants, and a butcher shop that has adventurous cuts. Most importantly: delicious tasting kiddie pool water, at least according to Janet

We made a Beef Wellington over Christmas in Michigan 5 or 6 years ago and I wasn’t the biggest fan.  Each component sounded awesome; beef tenderloin, liver pate, duxelles (mixture of mushrooms, onions, and shallots), all wrapped in pastry dough.  It ended up being way too much in my opinion; just insanely rich.  But stuffed in a burger…. that had some potential.

We started out by throwing a sliced red onion in a pan to caramelize and sauteing a half pound of sliced mushrooms in butter.

Tim is such a nerd, he looked up a recipe for caramelizing onions. Admittedly, he did an awesome job and even cooked in bacon grease which got my nod of approval. But, honestly, who looks up a recipe to pan cook an onion?

Kristi prepared the mushrooms and didn't even need a recipe to do so. Tim was completely blown away! He was all like, "how did you know how to do THAT?!?!?" Friggin jerk, I'll show him

While those cooked, I got the other ingredients prepped.  First, the duck liver mousse.

Annnnd prepped! Went with the pre-made gourmet food store variety since I can't fathom taking the time to make a liver mousse then stuffing it into a burger. That's a Bells Two Hearted in the background. For those keeping track, Naples has Michigan beer, Philadelphia scrapple, and a Skyline Chili franchise. Great place

The selection of what kind of liver pate to use wasn’t that complicated since Mommy Ryan had a block of duck liver mousse in her fridge.  She is a Ryan after all, and odds are that if you look in a Ryan fridge or freezer there will be some form of liver product somewhere.  Makes choices in these situations easy.

The ground beef headed into a bowl for seasoning with lots of salt and pepper.

I know it looks like a ton, but you need a lot of salt for two lbs of meat. It didn't taste salty. Side note: I mysteriously dropped my rant on the stupidity of ground Kobe beef and people paying more for it because Mommy Ryan bought ground Wagyu (American Kobe) despite my pleas not to do so. Lets just move on and pretend it's regular 85/15, OK?

With the ground beef mixed and the onions and mushrooms cooked, the burgers were ready for final prep before grilling.

Wow Tim, those look great! And it only took you 45 minutes of research and 30 minutes of cook time? Amazing! Can you blame Tim for wanting to start a blog about how awful I am at cooking?

I combined big spoonfuls of the onions and mushrooms and a thick slab of the duck liver mousse in a bowl and mashed together for each burger.

Pre-mashing. On it's own it looks decadent, then you remember it's heading inside of (Wagyu) ground beef. Diet still isn't going well, thanks for asking

On wax paper I flattened out large thin patties of the ground beef to roughly the same size.  The idea was that two patties would surround the filling and be pinched together at the edges.  Each burger got a hefty spoonful of the filling.

Burger #1. You know that looks absurdly delicious, even if you're not a huge poultry liver fan

Burgers #2 and #3. They weren't just for Tim and I, Mommy Ryan was extremely into the idea as well. Kristi sat out, she's still not on the liver bandwagon

Throw the 2nd half on top, pinch the corners, and you have what looks like an innocuous normal burger.  Albeit an extremely large one.

Even without seeing the size of the plate you can tell these burgers were enormous. That plate is the equivalent of the tags on my shirts

The three stuffed burgers went onto a hot grill along with three normal burgers (Tim and I both wanted the best of both worlds).  Big error was putting them all on the grill at the same time since we only wanted the stuffed ones to cook well done with the lid down.  Pretty stupid; the regular burgers ended up medium-well, which is how you narrowly avoided this being my preachy post about a correctly-made real hamburger.

A little perspective on the difference in size. Also, I should give credit where credit is due, Tim really pushed his Wellington burger into a different world (of unhealthiness) with that handful of blue cheese on top. I was extremely jealous once I had time to think about it

From the grill directly onto the essential toasted Martin’s potato rolls, served along with extra condiments and toppings as needed.

Added a little mayo for richness on the Wellington burger. Also, because mayo is awesome. Look, these love handles weren't going to maintain themselves. Wait, what? I already did that one? Dag, how long ago? Oh well

I had to slice into the Wellington and check it out, it would have been less enjoyable without doing so.

I wanted the filling a little more runny for picture purposes but it was warm and mushy throughout. In a good way. Best part was that the filling ran up to the edges of the burger

Despite my previous complaints about traditional Beef Wellington, you can’t combine this many delicious ingredients, in this type of preparation, and have it come out poorly.  The flavor was rich, very decadent, and delicious.  A stuffed burger is the only case where well-done is an acceptable temperature because the contrast of textures is great and the meat stays moist from the filling.  Really amazing, but not really a hamburger.

Next week will either be the crazy surf and turf I referenced previously or something else.  I pickup a cooler full of cow organs this weekend courtesy of Uncle Billy, so, you’ve got that going for you.