There are times when one looks in the mirror (and I'm speaking metaphorically here because there are no mirrors in our kitchen, though I suppose that if I wanted to check my hair or something, I could look in a knife blade or the door of the toaster oven, but I pay as little attention as possible to my hair, so it's unlikely to ever come up) and does not like what one sees. It is probably unreasonable to expect to achieve one's forties without having erred gravely at some point or another, but there were certain practices that had been, or so I thought, safely confined to a misspent youth, and last night I was forced to face the fact that I will, apparently, do almost anything in the name of expediency. Those of you with more tender sensibilities may wish to look away for a few moments, and I'll let you know when it's safe to return.
Last night, I used a double boiler to make a custard. I mean, sure, I was cooking two things at once, so I didn't want to stand over the custard and whisk constantly and risk either neglecting the other pan or curdling my yolks, but still: a double boiler. I felt decidedly unclean. And I'm not sure it was even necessary since the other pan was getting along just fine for several minutes at a time, and if I hadn't used the double boiler (which, you must understand, was not a true double boiler, but a Pyrex bowl set over a saucepan, which is just as bad, even if it is more attractive), I could have easily made the custard while the onions were sweating or the apples were cooking, instead of waiting forever for the custard to cook over the simmering water. But I didn't. I whisked my egg yolks and milk and mustard together and let it just sit there, heating gently. Egad. I can only begin to imagine where this lowering of standards will end. If you here in the news that a gay man in suburban Maryland was found dead in his kitchen with a can of spray cheese clutched in his cold, stiff hands, then you'll know exactly where the descent started: with a double boiler.
OKAY, IT'S SAFE TO COME BACK NOW.
Chicken liver mousse, or anything involving liver of any sort, is something that I can't easily make when V. is around. His feelings about liver are identical to those of a typical seven-year-old boy, and no matter how one transforms the liver, he's having none of it. My own feelings about liver were similar until I was in my early twenties and started having good pâtés, mousses, and terrines in Boston, and then I was hooked. I have never yet produced what I would consider to be a wholly satisfactory pâté, but neither have I tried very hard. It is something of a lengthy process, what with all the baking and weighting and lacy cauls and what have you, and while I will doubtless undertake the undertaking at some point, the chicken liver mousse is a lot easier.
There's a perfectly good recipe for a similar concoction (it may be called a pâté, but I'm too lazy to look) in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I wanted to try something a bit different. The mousse I produced had rather more the consistency of a dip, but it was tasty enough. It also made entirely too much for one person, and I doubt that it can be successfully frozen. Fortunately, V.'s dog has already expressed tremendous interest in it, so when I inevitably can't eat it all, I at least know that it will be appreciated.
Chicken Liver Mousse
2 T. butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 apple, cored, peeled, and diced
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 pound chicken livers
1/2 cup cognac
3 eggs, separated
2/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
8 oz. cream cheese, cut into eight pieces
In a saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the apple and thyme, cover, and cook for about three minutes. Turn the heat to medium high and add the livers. Toss or turn for three minutes until the livers are cooked all over on the outside but still somewhat rare on the inside. Add the cognac, ignite, and cook until the flames subside. Set aside to cool.
At more or less the same time, combine the egg yolks, the milk, the mustard, and the salt in a small saucepan or in the top of a double boiler. Cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens to coat well the back of a spoon. Grind in the pepper. Set aside to cool.
When both mixtures are approaching room temperature, place the liver mixture in the bowl of your food processor and puree until smooth. Add the custard and puree to incorporate. Add the cream cheese and process until smooth again.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the liver mixture. Refrigerate the mousse for at least four hours.
The above picture was taken after two hours of refrigeration. I do not think that the mousse will ever become truly stiff, but it may become more spreadable and less of a dip. An additional egg would likely have been a good idea, or perhaps the substitution of whipped heavy cream for the cream cheese. Or, indeed, I could have incorporated some gelatin. I do not, however, mind a soft mousse. Which is a good thing, since that's what I've got.
After overnight refrigeration, the mousse was somewhat stiffer, but still too soft. I have decided that I am more displeased with the texture than I am pleased with the flavor. I don't get enough opportunities to make something like this to be satisfied with pretty good, so I'm going to dump it and try again with a somewhat different recipe. Liver is cheap, after all. More later.