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Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.
Today: Why you should feed chicken liver pâté to your children. And to yourself.
It should be clear by now, if you have been following this column all along, that it is a deeply flawed, wholly unhelpful enterprise, in which I recommend recipes that your child will never agree to eat and which you end up consuming alone, late at night, paired with a nice malt liquor. (This is the premise of the column, actually.) But in case you still harbored some quixotic hope that I’d throw you a healthy, time-saving, child palate-appropriate dinner, I should warn you that the rest of this column is about offal. Also, pâté.
On the plus side, your late night dinner will be lovely.
As a child, I ate enormous quantities of pâté. It came in shrink-wrapped mini-footballs manufactured by Oscar Mayer in a massive factory down the street in Madison, and it was called liverwurst, or Braunschweiger, but still: pâté. It used to come standard with a Midwestern childhood. It may still.
Children are the ideal consumers of innards. Grown-ups dislike offal mostly because we know what it is. (And sometimes because the taste is too weird but only sometimes -- heart isn’t a weird taste. It’s a weird thought.) Children, on the other hand, barely know what anything is. They eat in a state of glorious ignorance. They don’t even know they’re eating animals to begin with. Even if they’re explicitly told that (and I’ve tried). “I don’t eat cows, Dad,” a friend’s preschool son once corrected him. “I eat meat.” This might be how Jonathan Safran Foer famously made it to nine without realizing that chicken was chicken. And if it took Foer that long to connect the dots on chicken, it’ll take my children until at least eleven to realize that liver is liver.
And then they will become vegans, obviously. But until then, when I drag a whole buffalo home from the farmers market, I will feed them every part of it.
Until now, though, I have been in flight from my own childhood. My children haven’t eaten much pureed pork liver. Is this because in our new ingredient-paranoid age of parenting buying industrially shrink-wrapped packages of offal seems like a bad idea? Of course it is. These days you can’t write a column about children without inadvertently writing a parody of a column about children. Is the next part of this column the equivalent of how I reject the suspect Tupperware of my childhood and teach my children to craft small-scale, artisanal, acronym-free plastic containers using the bones of that buffalo?
More or less.
I made my liverwurst amends with chicken livers, not pork. Chicken liver pâté is pâté for amateurs, but my versions always have been muddy and tiresome -- the sort of pâté you trudge through on your way back to the cash bar. No longer. This pâté -- call it a spread -- from Odd Bits, Jennifer McLagan’s book on the rest of the animal, is the opposite: bright with capers and vinegar, it skips back to the bar. (It’s a cousin to this splendid Tuscan chicken liver pâté.) It keeps well but it is ethereal still warm -- light and lively but still sumptuous. Call it whipped offal. (You’re welcome to the brand name.) The toddler ate half of it before it even got to the fridge. By that night there was nothing left to pair with the malt liquor.
Slightly adapted from Jennifer McLagan's Odd Bits
Makes 1 cup
7 ounces chicken livers
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 sprig rosemary
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Photos by James Ransom