Chicken Liver Pâté With Bourbon and Cranberry Gelée Recipe

It's silky, smooth, and perfect for a holiday gathering.

Chicken liver pate spread on pieces of bread on a plate.
All-American ingredients like bourbon, apple cider, and cranberries are the stars of this holiday pâté.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Removing the livers from the skillet before deglazing with bourbon reduces the chances of overcooking them, which helps guarantee pâté with a silky texture.
  • Passing the pâté through a fine-mesh strainer produces an especially refined texture.

I read somewhere recently that pâté had gone out of style. That bothered me, because, as is often the case with superficial food trends, it makes no sense that an incredibly delicious food with a deep history can be declared a has-been just because there isn't a media frenzy around it right now. In protest, I'm pushing back. Pâté is here, and it's here to stay!

That said, I can understand why most of us don't make it too often at home. The fact is, it's rich, which means it's more practical to buy a small slice than to attempt to eat your way through an entire homemade terrine. But that's also exactly why a homemade pâté is such perfect holiday food—it's indulgent, special-occasion stuff, and with groups of people coming together for large meals, it's unlikely any of it will go to waste.

A ramekin of chicken liver pate next to pieces of toasted bread on a serving plate.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

I created this particular pâté last year and brought it as a contribution to my family's Thanksgiving meal. Instead of using the more traditional liquors like cognac or Madeira, I reached for bourbon and a bit of apple cider instead, to play up the American spirit of the holiday. And on top, in place of a classic aspic, I made a gelée from cranberry juice, which goes so well with all those other flavors. It was such a hit that it's been requested again this year, so I decided to perfect the recipe and share it here as well.

The method itself is very classic. I start by searing the livers over high heat until just browned on the outside but still pink in the middle. It's critically important that you don't overcook the livers, since well-done ones will produce a very grainy pâté. Some recipes have you deglaze the pan with liquor while the livers are still in it, but I find that this comes with too high of a risk of overcooking them. Instead, I take the livers out as soon as they're done, then quickly sauté minced shallots and some thyme, and finish by deglazing with the bourbon and cider—all with no worry of the livers spending too much time in the pan.

Close up of chicken liver pate in a ramekin.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Once that's all set, I transfer everything to a food processor with some butter and turn it into a smooth purée. The last step—pushing the pâté through a fine-mesh strainer—is admittedly a little tedious, but I swear it's worth it for the extra silky texture you'll get.

Once the pâté is ready, I transfer it to a large ramekin or terrine and smooth the surface, then pour the cranberry juice, which has just enough gelatin to set it, on top. The gelée acts as a barrier to air, which prevents the pâté from discoloring and also helps it keep for several days in the refrigerator. Just be sure to give it time to soften a little at room temperature before serving.

Author spreading liver pate on a piece of bread.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

I guarantee, no one will eat this and call it sadly passé. Lovely pâté, on the other hand, may be something you hear.

Top down view of a ramekin of chicken liver pate and pieces of bread with the pate on top.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

November 2014

Recipe Facts

Active: 30 mins
Total: 5 hrs
Serves: 10 to 12 servings
Makes: 1 terrine

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds chicken livers, trimmed of sinew and fat

  • 1/4 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 shallots, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

  • 2 ounces bourbon or American whiskey

  • 2 ounces apple cider

  • 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter

  • 1/2 envelope unflavored gelatin

  • 1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice (see notes)

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Directions

  1. Pat livers dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet until smoking. Cook half of the livers, turning, until browned on both sides and pink in the middle, about 4 minutes. Transfer livers to the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 more tablespoon oil, heat until smoking and repeat with remaining livers.

  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet, add shallots and thyme and cook, stirring until softened, about 2 minutes. Add bourbon and cook, scraping up browned bits from bottom of skillet, until almost evaporated (you can flame the bourbon, but use caution as flames can leap high from the skillet). Add cider and cook until slightly reduced. Scrape shallots and any remaining liquid into food-processor bowl with livers.

  3. Add butter and process, stopping to scrape down sides, until a smooth purée forms.

  4. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large mixing bowl and, using a wooden spoon or ladle, press and plunge liver purée through it. Season liver purée with salt and pepper and scrape into a large ramekin or terrine, tapping against counter to remove air pockets. Smooth surface, then press plastic wrap directly against surface and chill in refrigerator until set, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

  5. In a glass measuring cup, sprinkle gelatin on top of cranberry juice and let stand for 15 minutes.

  6. Transfer cranberry juice and gelatin to a small saucepan and stir in sugar. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and juice is simmering. Remove from heat and let cool.

  7. Gently pour cooled cranberry juice on top of liver purée. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until cranberry juice sets, at least 2 hours. Pâté can be refrigerated for up to 5 days before serving.

Special Equipment

Fine-mesh strainer, food processor, 1 or 1 1/2-quart ramekin or pâté terrine

Notes

You can use sweetened cranberry juice, but if you do, omit the sugar.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
265 Calories
20g Fat
7g Carbs
14g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 10 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 265
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 20g 25%
Saturated Fat 9g 43%
Cholesterol 350mg 117%
Sodium 204mg 9%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 3%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 6g
Protein 14g
Vitamin C 21mg 103%
Calcium 16mg 1%
Iron 7mg 38%
Potassium 208mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)