Hannah Palmer Egan
Pork liver mousse with sage and brown butter
My friend Ben raises pigs, and this fall, my husband and I split half a hog with my mother. On slaughter day — also Halloween, by happenstance — several of our friends got together at Ben's to kill, gut and hang the pigs. (I was approximately zero help in this effort.) When it was all said and done, we were left standing in the kitchen with five pig hearts and livers to divvy up.
The hearts were an easy sell: lean and mild in flavor, steaky — even tender — if handled correctly. But the livers... Mature pigs' livers are big — several pounds each and large enough to overflow a dinner plate. And few people are fans of the organ's iron-soaked tenor and pasty texture. I took home at least a liver and a half myself, resolving to find something tasty to do with them.
Then I made this mousse — with sage and Champlain Valley pears and cider and a few shiitakes from Colchester's AH mushroom — and it was good: porky and a little sweet and just the tiniest bit tangy. So good, in fact, that I'm excited to share it, and make it again. And, now heading into the holiday hors-d'oeuvres gauntlet, I'm guessing I'll have the chance.
If you don't happen to have a friend who's giving away fresh pork livers, ask your butcher about it. Livers may not be in the display case, but anyone who butchers pigs can make them available with a little notice. And, the best part? This off-cut of meat goes for pennies on the dollar.
Shiitake-Sage Pork Liver Mousse
Makes six 4-ounce jelly jars
- 2 1/2 cups liver, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 or more cups whole milk
- 3-4 tablespoons bacon fat or fatback, rendered
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4-5 cloves garlic, minced (about 1/4 cup)
- Handful shiitake mushrooms, chopped
- 1 bunch fresh sage
- 3 pears
- Splash extra-virgin olive oil
- Generous splash tamari
- 3/4 cup fresh apple cider
- 1/2 cup dry white wine, plus more to taste
- 1 stick salted butter
- 1 lemon
- Salt to taste
- Wash and cut the liver to size, removing any veins and connective tissue. Place in a bowl and pour milk to cover. Stir gently, cover with foil, and place in fridge to soak at least four hours, or overnight.
- Drain the liver, spread on a kitchen towel (or heavy-duty paper towel) and pat dry.
- Heat the fat in a large skillet over medium flame. Add the onion, then the garlic, and sauté until translucent. Add the shiitakes and 5-10 sage leaves (stems removed) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to brown.
- Meanwhile, peel and core the pears; cut to a loose dice and add to the sauté mixture. If things seem a little dry, add a splash of olive oil. Add the liver to the pan and splash generously with tamari and about half a cup of cider.
- Cook until the pork is browned on the outside but still pink in the middle (you'll need to cut into it to see), about five minutes. The liver should release some liquid as it cooks, but if more than half an inch accumulates, increase the heat to boil off the excess moisture until about a quarter inch remains. Add the white wine and cook another five minutes, or until about about a quarter inch of foggy brownish liquid remains.
- Pour everything into a food processor and blend, adding more wine or cider (no more than a tablespoon at a time) until the taste and consistency seem right. The end result should be smooth and spreadable — something like grain mustard.
- Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve (this is tedious and messy) into a mixing bowl.
- In a small skillet, melt half a stick of butter over medium-low heat. Add the juice of half a lemon and 5-6 leaves sage and simmer, stirring almost continuously, 3-4 minutes, until the lemon and butter emulsify and begin to thicken. Remove the sage leaves and set aside; add the lemon butter to the liver blend, plus salt to taste. Stir well and spoon the mousse into jelly jars, leaving at least a half inch of space at the top. Use the back of a spoon to smooth out the surface, and wipe the rims clean.
- Return the buttered sage leaves to the small pan (do not rinse!), and add the other half-stick of butter. Brown the butter over medium-low heat until it's clarified and begins to brown, 7-10 minutes. Let the solids settle to the bottom of the pan, then cap each jar with a generous spoonful of clear butter (about 1/4 inch each). Place the lids on the jars and allow to cool.
- If possible, let the mousse rest a day or two in the fridge before serving — the butter-capped spread will keep in the fridge for a week or more.
- Serve with crusty bread, jam or grapes and (if available), cornichon or fermented pickle.