Traditionally, smooth liver pâtés are bound with large quantities of pork fat, butter, cream, and egg yolks, which give them their rich and creamy consistency. The question is, what can be used in place of these saturated fats to achieve the same delicious effect?
Unsweetened chestnut puree proved to be an astonishing answer. Although it may seem a rather radical approach, the flavor of chestnuts is quite neutral and, like fat, the puree has an extremely fine texture.
You can use it to replace fats in savory mousses, ounce for ounce, without substantially altering the other ingredients. In this recipe, inspired by French chef Michel Guérard, I substitute chestnut puree for most of the fat—240 calories' worth per serving of fatback and crème fraîche—to achieve nearly the same rich texture and marvelous flavors of the original.
Unsweetened chestnut puree imported from France is available in cans (see sources). Check the ingredients of the type you buy to make sure that type includes only chestnuts and water, no sweeteners. If you can't get the puree, you can start with 8 ounces whole chestnuts (see recipe).
You can double the recipe if you wish. However, the pâté must not be more than 2 inches deep, or it won't cook properly.
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
In a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup of the milk; set aside to soften. Place the raisins in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over to cover. Let soften for 5 minutes, then drain well and pat dry on paper towels.
In a food processor, process the chestnut puree, chicken livers, salt, pepper, and allspice until creamy. Add the egg yolks and Armagnac and process to blend.
Over low heat, heat the milk mixture until the gelatin is dissolved. Stir in the remaining milk and add to the liver mixture. Process for at least 1 minute, until perfectly smooth. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer set over a bowl, rubbing and stirring with a rubber spatula to force it through the strainer, leaving the filaments behind in the strainer. Stir in the raisins.
Pour the mixture into a 1-quart baking or soufflé dish. Place the dish in a larger baking pan and set on the center rack of the oven. Add enough boiling water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish. Cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake until the pâté is set, about 1 hour and 15 minutes; a thermometer inserted into the center of it should read 140°F. Remove the dish from the water bath and allow to cool completely at room temperature.
Because the pâté has so little fat, it will darken if exposed to the air for too long; gently press plastic wrap directly against the surface to prevent this. Refrigerate overnight, to chill completely.
Serve the cold pâté on thin slices of toast. If you wish, you can pack the pâté into small ramekins for individual servings.
In Advance: You can prepare the pâté up to 4 days ahead; wrap well and refrigerate.
Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider (Artisan, 2001). Copyright 2001 by Sally Schneider.
A former chef, Sally Schneider has won numerous awards—including four James Beard awards—for her books and magazine writing. She is creator of the lifestyle blog Improvised Life, a featured blogger on The Atlantic Monthly's Food Blog, and author of The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook. She has served as a contributing editor to both Saveur and Food & Wine, and her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Saveur, Food & Wine, SELF and Connoisseur.