If you’re a hunter of wild things, there’s a natural habit you get into: you keep going back to the places you know where things grow you like, since you can count on it. If you’re like me, your time is precious, and you want to make the most of it.
This year, I didn’t get to go outside as much as I wanted, but when I did, I made a point of going to new places to just see what I could see. I found some great new spots, but one of the things I kept on running into was something I’d been neglecting: crab apples. Apples are easy to come by, especially when I can just tell my sous chef’s to call a sales rep or type an order into a computer for whatever we need, and have it delivered the next day.
The legacy of John Chapman is really all around us though, and it’s a shame to not enjoy the myriad of wild apple species around us. Some are tart, some sweet, some are ugly, some are pristine-you never really know what you’re going to get.
I developed this recipe to showcase what’s great about most crab apples: their tartness. They may be ugly and mishapped, wormy and unbearably tart depending on the species, but that’s exactly what you want here.
Apples and chicken liver mousse is a little secret I gleaned from Chef Filippo Caffari, an acquiantance of mine from Rome, mentor to my mentor, Andy Lilja (Executive Chef of Oxcart Ale House in St. Paul) and the Executive Chef of The Butcher Block restaurant in Minneapolis.
The way the tartness of apples offsets the gamey-ness of liver is great, but super tart crab apples really bring it to another level.
The elderberry jelly is an embellishment, but a useful one. Livers contain a lot of iron. Besides giving us the gamey taste we associate with eating organs, (In Italian they call them “regali”, or gifts) iron reacts quickly to air exposure, which means that the surface will turn rusty, crusty and brown faster than you can blink if it doesn’t have plastic wrap pressed directly onto it, or more traditionally, fat, or aspic.
There’s another way to prevent oxidization of your liver pate though, and that’s using fruit jelly, jam or even a compote-anything that covers it and prevents the air from getting in. Just so happened I had been making an elderberry jelly at the same time, so it made for a great seal on the mousse.
The elderberries, or another sweet fruit jelly are really good with this, since the crab apples aren’t too sweet themselves, so you don’t have to worry about it becoming cloying. It ends up being a great combo of flavors: savory, sweet, tart, and most importantly-silky smooth.
Duck Liver-Crab Apple Mousse, with Elderberry Jelly
- 1 lb duck or chicken livers cleaned and trimmed
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 tsp pink salt optional
- 2 cups peeled diced, very tart crab apples
- ½ cup cognac or brandy
- ¼ cup shallot chopped
- 8 oz chilled diced, unsalted butter, plus 2 tbsp for sauteing
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- High heat cooking oil as needed for browning the livers
- Elderberry jelly as needed for sealing crocks of the mousse
- Combine the milk and pink salt and heat gently just to dissolve the salt. Cool the milk, then add the livers to it and allow to soak overnight.
- Remove the livers from the milk, then pat dry. Season the livers to taste with salt and peppers, then brown deeply in the oil, working in batches to prevent them from stewing. It's very important the livers get browned and caramelized, otherwise the finished product will lack depth. When the last batch of livers is done, discard the oil from the pan, then add 2 tbsp of butter to the pan and add the shallots and crab apples and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the chicken livers, sugar and salt and cook until just cooked through, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cognac and flambe the mixture, then cook until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Puree the mixture in a highspeed blender, or food processor gradually adding the diced, cold butter until the mixture is very smooth. Pass the mixture through a chinois strainer or sieve, then place in a container. Cover the mouse with plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the pate to prevent oxidization if refrigerating. The mousse can also be frozen.
- Once the mousse has chilled, remove the plastic wrap, then gently melt some of the elderberry jelly in a small saucepot. Spoon a thin, 1/4 inch layer of the jelly on top of the mousse, then refrigerate, covered, until needed.