Dili is a small town and at some point, you will know everyone and their uncle who works at this international organization or is related to some minister of something. I thought I had met nearly everyone in town until I got a Facebook message from Alva, a lovely lady who is championing the slow food movement in Timor-Leste and was interested in a TEDxDili collaboration. Then I run into her and her partner a week later, and we end up having a beautiful lunch of iscas (beef liver) fried in onion and white wine at Boca Doce, waxing poetic about all things food and the politics of food production. Then—she invites me to a gin tasting—with food pairings—in Dili!
My mother taught me to never show up empty handed so I asked if I could make a chicken liver mousse to pair with a gin. I threw on some Charles Trenet, broke out the Bible, and got to work. I scoured the pantry for herbs typically found in gin and unearthed some green cardamom pods, nutmeg, fennel, and coriander. Must have left the juniper back home but with a little lemon zest, I hoped the mimicry would still play on the tongue.
If you’re ever in the mood for bread slathered in tasty fat with some cornichon (when are you not?), this is the easiest thing to literally whip up and it keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Just find yourself some chicken livers, arm yourself with an unconscionable amount of butter, saute, and blitz. (Hypocrisy disclosure: Brazil is the largest exporter of chicken meat in the world, and can even be found in a small Timorese supermarket. I’m also arming myself with New Zealand butter so there goes my local food cred and righteous railing against industrialized food production.)
2 cups chicken livers
2 tbsp. minced shallots
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 c. vermouth
1/4 c. whipping cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. fennel
1/8 tsp. coriander
Double pinch of thyme
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 c. softened butter
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 c. clarified butter, melted
Bay or sage leaf or two or three
Sprinkling of peppercorns
- Toast your spices in a dry pan to release its magic oils and aroma starts to ascend.
- Remove any unsavory looking spots from the livers and cut away any sinew.
- Melt the initial knobs of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until foam has dissipated and sauté livers, shallots, and herb cocktail for 2 to 3 minutes until they’ve firmed up but still a bit pinkish on the inside. Overcooking these guys can lead to a granular texture that can prohibit the utmost silkiness of your mousse.
- Pour vermouth (or cognac, brandy, or any other type of fortified wine) into pan and add lemon zest, and let reduce down for a hot minute. Or you can add some drama with fire and light it up to burn the alcohol off. Sweep these little guys and any remaining liquid into a blender or food processor and let it whirl on high until you get a smooth, silky paste.
- Add the softened butter and cream and blitz again. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking (I think I’ll add more spice, maybe more coriander or even rosemary next time because I like things bolder than your average joe).
- Heap into a jar, bowl, terrine, tea cup, or whatever you can find on hand. Eat straight away! Or…
- Set a pretty bay or sage leaf on top and spoon over clarified butter and sprinkle a few peppercorns. Let set in the fridge for at least an hour. The longer it sets, the more time it has for all the flavors to really sink and settle. The clarified butter seal will keep the mousse for 1-2 two weeks as long as it’s not disturbed.
I think the mousse was well received on gin night but the true stunners were the cocktails and the food. I’ll have to share in another post.
P.S. What is it about padding around in my kitchen and whipping things up that makes me think of all of the French movies I watched back in the nineties? I was listening to Boum by Charles Trenet and then remembered one of my favorites, Toto the Hero.