At the risk of sounding like a Portlandia sketch, I am a little obsessed with pickling. You take something yummy, plop it in some vinegar, sugar and spices and it tastes even better. And lasts longer! Win-win, right?
When Matt and I lived in Brooklyn, we used to go to this great place called Buttermilk Channel (I say that like we could just waltz right in, la di da, but there was almost always a line down the block. Damn you, Brooklyn!). Anyway, they have a chicken liver mousse that they top with two perfectly sweet/tart pickled grapes. Divine. Since we don’t live stumbling distance from them anymore, I decided to try to make it myself. I know it sounds weird but pickled grapes are really good.
If you swing that way, do yourself a solid and make this easy and delicious Chicken Liver Pâté with Thyme and Brandy and put a couple of these bad boys on top. You can thank me later (or invite me over and we can giggle maniacally about how good this combo is). You could also just put out a bowl of them and eat them by the handful. They would be great alongside a sharp cheese or even in a cocktail.
This pate – aka chopped livers – is a really versatile appetizer or party snack … and may even convert the non-liver-lover.
I’m not gonna lie. Like most (all?) kids, I grew up hating liver. During the Jewish holidays, just the thought of that bowl of chopped liver, in all it’s grayish-brown glory, was enough to get me to fake a stomach flu. As I got older (and my mom, who is an excellent cook, took over Passover dinner from my culinarily-deprived Aunts) I came to really like it. Now I make my own (boozy) Passover version which is similar to this Pâté but with a much more rustic texture (and no butter of course).
If you think you don’t like liver, this is the dish that will likely change your mind. It’s rich and luxurious, silky and smooth, with sweetness from slow cooked onions and apple brandy. Stop making that face and try it!
Liver is also exceptionally nutritious, full of vitamins A and B12, and essential nutrients like folate and iron. That’s not why you should try it though. You should try it because it’s delicious and it’s time to experiment with grown-up things.
Pâté is also the most affordable, easiest, make-ahead appetizer (look at how much chicken livers cost!). Even fancy organic ones are a bargain. Serve it with crackers or baguette slices, and some tart cornichons, or even better, Spiced Pickled Grapes.
Creamed pearl onions is one of those holiday dishes that seems so unnecessary… until one year you don’t make it and everyone gets mad and you realize it’s a tradition for a reason, damn it. There’s something about that soft (but not too soft) texture and that simple, pale sauce that just works.
It’s a little smoky from the bacon. A little boozy from the sherry. Pure holiday delight.
I may have mentioned that Matt and I went to the UK last summer and ate a lot of pork belly. It was consistently one of the best dishes we had all over several parts of England and Wales. If there’s one thing the British know, it’s how to make excellent crackling (that sound you hear is Matt furiously listing all the other things British people are excellent at. (So far; crackling, funny shows, more funny shows, chicken keeping). I’m sure there’s more but we’ll leave it at that for now.
This was pretty much a nightly conversation on our trip. Emily: “We have to make this when we get back” (distractedly tries to figure out recipe). Matt: “Stop looking at me like I stole all the crackling!” (whilst licking crackling-glazed fingers).
Well, we’ve been back for six months and our local shop now has lovely local pork belly and we thought we’d finally try to make it in our local stove. In England, it was often paired with bubble and squeak, and a hard cider sauce but I really wanted to try a soy and honey glaze combined with the crisp crackling we found on our trip.
If you can get (good quality, ethically raised) pork belly with the skin still on – you’ll need the skin to get truly crispy pork belly – it’s definitely worth seeking out. It’s a very affordable cut and it’s also very rich, so you’ll want small portions. That being said, I wouldn’t bother cooking a piece smaller than about 2 pounds because it will shrink a lot in the oven and could dry out. There’s also so much you can do with the leftovers.
It’s absolutely lovely paired with a fried egg and this Pickled Cucumber and Avocado Salad (really any crisp, vinegary greens would be great). I also really love it with Sesame Roasted Pears and a tart kale salad. But my all time favorite use of pork belly is Bánh mì sliders. So, so good.
It’s pear season! I love pears but I find it impossible to catch them at their perfect ripeness. They go from being hard as a rock to mush in what seems like minutes, don’t they? I also get an itchy mouth from most raw fruit (such a bummer during peach season) but pop these in the oven for 20 minutes and problem solved!
I know it sounds weird but this would also be a really nice addition to a Thanksgiving table. The sesame flavor is very mellow, almost a little nutty and would complement traditional Thanksgiving flavors well. You could scatter some toasted walnuts and Bleu cheese over them… oh my god, that would be so good. Must resist leaving work to make this right now.
It’s better to use slightly under than over-ripe pears but it’s a pretty forgiving recipe.