Friday, September 04, 2009

Adam Perry Lang's Smoked Chicken Livers

I've mentioned before that I'm a huge fan of Adam Perry Lang's cookbook SERIOUS BARBECUE. I first heard Lang on The BS Report podcast over at ESPN and asked for the book for Father's Day. Within pages I knew that I'd found somebody whose thoughts about outdoor grilling and barbecue resembled my own ("it's all barbecue, and it all can be tremendously delicious"), who wasn't afraid to use high heat and leave the lid open, who didn't follow tried and true traditions and built flavors using marinades, brines, rubs, basting sauces, finishing sauces and more.

In the few months I've had the book I've made variations on several Lang recipes, everything from a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce to our new favorite pork chop recipe and some beer bathed brats that will be returning to the menu next weekend for NFL opening weekend.

But this weekend I decided I wanted to try his recipe for Smoked Chicken Livers. I don't know how you feel about them, but I love chicken livers – livers of any kind, really – which is a dramatic culinary turn that would make my adolescent head spin were I to go back in time.

I vividly recall attempts to get me to eat fried liver and onions as a kid, an experiment that failed miserably. These days, whenever I see it on the menu at a diner or as a restaurant special it quickly jumps to the top of my list of possible dishes. Frankly, I'd make it at home if anybody else in my house (dog not included) liked it and my wife wouldn't complain about the sites and smells that accompany its preparation.

With a trip to LBI coming up this weekend I thought it would be a great time to try the chicken livers. First, they take a fair amount of preparation and with a light work schedule I'd have time during the day for the cleaning and cooking required. Second, my father-in-law is a fellow chicken liver aficianado and I thought it'd be fun to give the finished product a try with him.

With two lbs. of chicken livers washed, trimmed and cleaned followed by an overnight soak in a bath of whole milk, I got everything ready for my first foray into what was essentially paté making. Here's how it went...

With the chicken livers patted dry and seasoned after their milk bath it was time to fire up the grill and soak the applewood chips for the purpose of providing smoke.

If you were ever wondering, that is what 2 lbs. of washed, trimmed, soaked and seasoned chicken livers look like!

My one complaint about Lang's cookbook is that it won't stay open on its own. There it is at top left jammed under our kitchen ledge. In the middle of the photo are the garlic, thyme and marjoram, salt and pepper, and sliced shallots that will be cooked in unsalted butter.

Cooking the shallots until just golden. Who doesn't love the smell of shallots or onions cooking in butter?

Time for the herbs and spices to do their thing. You have to be careful here. I had to watch this step carefully and stir frequently to keep the mixture from getting too dark.

You have to love a recipe that calls for almost a cup of bourbon. I went middle-of-the-road with Wild Turkey as opposed to the cheaper Old Granddad and the pricier Maker's Mark.

Remember when I asked who didn't like the smell of shallots cooking in butter? The aroma from the pan as the bourbon deglazes and carmelizes the whole shallot/spice/herb mix is another to die for.

With the pan deglazed and shallots carmelized it's time for, you guessed it, the heavy cream.

It's a tight fit on the grill. I probably should have gone with a smaller pan for the shallot mix. The middle and right burners are off with the smoker box full of applewood chips barely visible there in the upper left.

The temperature is about as low as I can get it but we're pumping out some nice smoke.

An hour later and here's the chicken livers combined with the cream and shallot mixture. You blend the two about halfway through and you can see that the smoke has turned the cream from white to a smokey brown. At this point I had to check and see how the chicken livers tasted and picked a plump one from the mixture. The smokey flavor is subtle and the meat inside is amazingly rich, moist and creamy.

After pulsing and adding some more unsalted butter the mixture is ready for cooling and refrigerating. Admittedly, the mixture neither looks great at this point nor does the flavors justice. The pepper is too overpowering and the room temperature mixture is a bit runny. Alas, even I was a bit skeptical that the end result would be a winner.

One night in the fridge later and the spread has really come together. Like chili or a stew that tastes better the next day the Smoked Chicken Livers are wonderful. Scooped from the serving bowl and served atop a cracker the taste and consistency is like a creamier, richer and more pepperty braunschweiger or even an upscale version of the liverwurst on rye I loved as kid (and still love today).

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