Duck Liver Pâté

Sunday December 11, 2016

the first course of a French lunch is always the crock of smooth homemade pate

I was served this fabulous appetizer pâté de foie de canard at a cooking class with local chef Scottie McKinney three decades ago at the newly opened Hotel Meridien in downtown San Francisco. We sat in the empty dining room for the demonstrations, tables and chairs piled in the corners. Never having been much interested in eating smooth liver pâtés (you know, ugh liver), I flipped for this one.

It is so darn easy you won’t believe it. It is the basic recipe of livers, vegetable, spices, a splash of booze, and fat. It is not molded like commercial pâté, which are wrapped in pastry to hold it together, nor is it coarse or chunky, or baked in the oven. It is farmhouse style, served out of a crock or jar, and it appears on the table with fresh French bread at noon and evening meals as an appetizer. Every noon lunch in France always had a jar of homemade pâté on the table with those shatteringly crisp fresh baked baguettes to start the meal.

Fresh duck livers are considered the alternative to expensive, and controversial, foie gras, but I think it has a following all its own. Now that foie gras is persona non gratis in the culinary world by government decree, it is wonderful to have an alternative. It is incredibly mild flavored, much more than chicken livers, and ultra-smooth.  Serve with thin slices of French bread, or brioche toasts, and cornichons au certainment. This also goes well with some fresh cranberry sauce or a fruit chutney (make a rhubarb one). For catering I used to spread the pâté on the sliced apples and top with a smear of currant jelly.

Makes 2 cups


  • 2/3 cup (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 pound fresh duck livers, rinsed and connective tissue removed
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
  • 2 tablespoons Madeira wine
  • 1 small truffle, optional


In a sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter.  Sauté the onions over medium-low heat until soft.  Remove to a food processor.  Add 2 tablespoons more butter to the pan and sauté the livers over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until cooked on the outside and still pink on the inside. Sprinkle with salt. Cool to room temperature.

Let the onions cool slightly in the processor, then purée; you will have about 1/4 cup.  Add the livers and the dry mustard, nutmeg, cayenne, Cognac and Madiera.  Process until smooth.

Scrape into a crock or springtop jar, and submerge the truffle into the center, if using.  Cover with plastic wrap or close the lid, and chill overnight. Keeps refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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