I know how weary some of you must be when you come across recipes that claim to be the best. But this liver mousse really is the best I have come across to date. And if that hasn’t excited you, you’ll be thrilled to know that it’s one of those things that are deceptively complicated. It may look like many steps are involved, but this mousse is so ridiculously easy to make and makes you look really good at any food-centric gathering.
Since the recipe isn’t mine, I guess I’m exempt from the guilt of self-congratulation. This mousse by the great Michel Richard came to my attention a little over two years ago. A downsizing friend asked me whether I wanted to have her brand new copy of Richard’s jumbo-sized book, Happy in the Kitchen — a gift from her friend who obviously had no idea she couldn’t and wouldn’t cook.
Now, asking me if I want a free cookbook is like asking Dagwood Bumstead if he wants a sandwich or Cookie Monster if you may interest him with a cookie. Asking me if I want a free Michel Richard cookbook is like asking a leech if it cares for a squirt of fresh blood. In a phlebotomic manner, I lunged at and latched on to the book.
Monsieur Richard calls this chicken liver mousse, “Chicken Faux Gras” — a most appropriate moniker. He then goes on to describe it as “… absolutely the creamiest thing on earth …,” “… if you don’t tell people what it is, they will think it is foie gras and that you are an extravagant host …, ” and, to reiterate his point, “… you won’t believe how much this tastes like foie gras …”
You should see my copy of Happy in the Kitchen; several of its pages show undeniable evidence of having been licked. The pages where this recipe is found are warped and cockled beyond recognition.
What makes this chicken liver mousse different from the familiar terrine de foies de volailles or the various versions of chicken liver pâté is the fact that the chicken liver is not cooked before it goes into a mold. Instead, it’s puréed right along with the other ingredients to form smooth-as-silk liver cream. The mixture is then baked in a bain marie, resulting in the smoothest, creamiest, most delicious pseudo-foie gras you’ve ever tasted. It glides, slides, slithers, and glissades on your bread like soft butter. And why wouldn’t it, with one whole stick of butter in the mixture?
The question you may have at this point is – Is the gelée necessary? The answer is yes and no. Personally, though the fresh herbal taste of the gelée provides is definitely welcome, I don’t think this liver mousse really needs anything else to make it better. However, the gelée serves as a layer of protection against oxidation to which the surface of the cooked mousse is susceptible. This is why the French traditionally cover dishes such as this with some kind of gelée or aspic.
It also serves another practical purpose: to hide any surface cracks that may occur. Liver mousse is very much like cheesecake. If the temperature is too high or the baking time is too long, it cracks on you. Should that happen, having the gelée on top of your cracked mousse is a brilliant way to hide the unsightly mistake. You can also come up with personalized decoration, as I did, made of whatever edibles available in the fridge. (In this case fennel fronds and a cranberry are used to replicate Rudolph’s nose and antlers. Please don’t ask me what happened to his head.)
Having said all that, it is up to you to keep or skip this extra step of making the gelée. Should you opt to go without it, be sure to scrape off the discolored portion on the surface of the mousse before serving.
I’ve simplified Richard’s recipe a bit and also halved it as this liver mousse doesn’t keep very long. It’s so rich that only 5-6 bites will satisfy you in one sitting. But if you’re cooking for a crowd, by all means, use the full recipe by doubling what I’m giving you here. The full recipe makes approximately 1 quart of liver mousse which is enough as an appetizer for about 12 people.
To make 1/2 quart mousse, start off by getting some boiling water handy and deciding what serving vessel(s) you would like to use. I like to use my 16-ounce rectangular ceramic dish. You can use something similar or two 8-ounce ramekins. Whatever it is you choose, this will be your serving dish as the mousse is served in the same container in which it’s baked; there’s no unmolding involved. Metal is a bad idea. Glass is okay, though a bit strange to the eye. Ceramic, I think, is your best bet.
Once the issue of serving vessels is settled, find another pan big enough to fit your baking container(s) into and deep enough to hold hot water whose level is supposed to come half way up the sides of the serving container(s). If you’ve baked anything au bain marie before, you know the drill. Once that’s done, preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Then saute one small onion and one clove of garlic, both finely chopped, in 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan over medium heat. You just want to soften the onion and garlic, not caramelize them. Once the onion and garlic pieces are softened, add 1/4 cup of heavy cream to the pan, cover, and gently simmer 2-3 minutes until the onion is very soft.
Add 7 tablespoons of butter to the pan. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from heat and pour the content into the best blender you have (let’s hope you get a high-speed blender like a Vitamix or K-Tec/Blendtec this holiday season, because they’re awesome!). Add to the blender 1/2 pound of raw chicken liver, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Blend until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. (To be sure that your mousse is really, really smooth, I would take an extra step of straining your mousse mixture through a fine-meshed sieve once before baking it.)
Pour the liver mixture into the baking/serving vessel(s) of your choice. Tap the bottom(s) of the dish(es) lightly against the countertop to get rid of air bubbles. Then place the filled dish(es) inside the larger pan. Place the pan in the oven and carefully pour boiling water into the larger pan until the water is half way up the sides of the baking dish(es). Baking time will vary depending on whether you bake the whole thing in one big pan or divide it among smaller dishes.
It takes about 20-25 minutes for the mousse to cook in my 16-ounce ceramic dish. So if you use smaller containers, I’d check for doneness after 10-15 minutes have elapsed. You know the liver mousse is done when the mousse is set around the edges and the center is only very slightly jiggly. Remove the baking dish(es) from the pan and let the mousse cool to room temperature.
In the meantime, make the gelée. Choose your favorite green leafy herbs or vegetable (parsley and fennel fronds are used here). Take about a handful of it and blend that with 1/4 cup of water, a squeeze of lime or lemon, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar, until liquefied. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or coffee filter-lined sieve to get a completely clear, sediment-free green liquid. Whisk 1 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin powder into the herbal liquid and microwave it just to melt the gelatin. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
Arrange fresh herb leaves, shaved carrots, or whatever strikes your fancy on the top of the your mousse, then submerge and seal them in place by pouring the gelatin mixture over the entire surface of the mousse. Refrigerate the mousse for 4-6 hours. Refrain from touching the surface of the gelatin lest your fingerprints become evident for all party guests to see. Just let the thing set undisturbed.
The assembled mousse can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. For best result, let the mousse stand at room temperature for half an hour before serving.