Trying new foods is something I (and my adventurous palate) love to do, but there are a few things that I feel compelled to order off a menu no matter how recently or how often I’ve eaten them. Anything in the paté family is one of those foods.
I’m sure the attraction holds because I still consider dining out a treat, and decadent, rich paté fits so perfectly into that picture. These days, it seems the typical paté board has one of the usual suspects: smooth paté, country paté, rillettes. However, one style that is less easily spotted in the wild is mousseline.
Mousseline is closest to the smooth paté, but a little whipped cream folded into the processed livers gives it a wonderfully light texture. It’s easy to spread and easy to eat when you aren’t up for something quite as dense or rich as the other styles (“light” is relative, isn’t it?). The key to a good mousseline is getting just the right amount of whipped cream into the mix: too much and the liver flavor is lost, too little and what’s the point of adding it in the first place?
I love whipping up a little mousseline for parties since it’s so easy to make, can be prepared ahead of time, and it’s surprisingly affordable while feeling quite celebratory. For offal skeptics, mousseline’s a hair more approachable than the other paté types that have deeper livery flavors (granted, liver is still liver). Of course, I think mousseline also makes a fantastic dinner for one or two when served with a hunk of baguette and a simple green salad (though I’ve admittedly skipped the salad more than once).
Because this recipe moves quickly, it’s important to have all your ingredients prepped before you start cooking. Chopping thyme and shallots and measuring out the cognac and heavy cream are pretty straightforward. As for the butter, you’ll need 2 tablespoons for sautéing the livers, and you’ll need 4 tablespoons (cut into pieces and chilled) when processing the cooked livers.
After rinsing off the livers to remove any dark spots (you may need to use your fingers or a paper towel to help), cut the larger livers in half so that all the pieces are roughly the same size. Pat the livers dry and season them with salt and pepper.
Now you are ready to cook. Start by melting 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken livers and the thyme sprigs to the skillet with the melted butter and let them cook, without stirring, until the livers start to brown.
Stir the livers once, add the shallots, and cook until the livers are brown all over and the shallots are softened.
Off the heat, add the cognac, then return the skillet to medium-high heat and cook until the cognac is reduced to about 1 tablespoon.
Remove the thyme sprigs and transfer the liver mixture to the food processor. Process the livers for 30 seconds; then, with the machine running, add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, processing until thoroughly incorporated after each addition.
Transfer the mixture to a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl and press the mixture through the sieve using a 2-ounce ladle or a wooden spoon.
At this point, you have your pure, super smooth mousseline base. Set this aside.
Add the chilled cream to a separate bowl and whip to stiff peaks. Then add the liver mixture to the bowl with the whipped cream and fold until mostly incorporated. Add the minced thyme, season with salt and pepper, then continue to fold just until the whipped cream is completely incorporated.
Transfer the mixture to crocks or ramekins. I like to use 3 (5-ounce) ramekins since this allows some flexibility in how much you serve immediately and how much you freeze.
If you are going to refrigerate the mousseline before serving (it will keep fine for at least 3 days), press cling wrap firmly against the surface of the mousseline. Or you can freeze it for up to one month. Just make sure you bring the mousseline back to room temperature and gently rewhip with a knife before serving for that trademark fluffy texture.
Spread on crostini or baguette and enjoy!