Two summers ago my Goong-Goong (maternal grandfather) died. It was a difficult summer that year, I had just returned from my year abroad in Portland and was feeling unsettled, a major event occurred that changed us forever, my Goong-Goong had caught pneumonia and was in the hospital, and then, one evening, we got the call: he had died. The rest of that summer was a blur. My mother flew out to Hong Kong first to sort out the funeral arrangements, we were to come a few days later, we hastily started throwing clothes into suitcases: black, black, black. It was the height of summer in Hong Kong – the worst possible time for a funeral. Before we knew it we were back in Hong Kong and I felt lost. I clung to my mother’s arm like a child, feeling once again like that 10-year-old in a foreign city, my tongue numb and useless with a language I couldn’t speak. At the funeral I cried until I felt I could never cry again; the tears poured down my face into my lap, my throat tightened and my head throbbed. My Goong-Goong, whom I loved so much, was never coming back, my life was falling apart, and the sadness that overwhelmed me was indescribable. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t look at anybody, could only weep.
My Goong-Goong introduced me to pâté when I was very young. He loved food and was a real connoisseur of the good stuff. I remember the first time I tried pâté with him: he was visiting us from Hong Kong and it was summer time. We were sitting in the kitchen of our old house, both of us on little black wooden stools by the table, and he was spreading something on some crusty bread. He handed it to me. What is it? I asked, holding it up dubiously. Pâté. Try it. I took a small bite with him watching me and felt my world expand: it was delicious. The creaminess of the duck liver combined with the sharp tanginess of the orange jelly was unlike anything I’d ever eaten before. It quickly became one of my favourite foods and my Goong-Goong and I would often sit together in the garden or the kitchen, eating pâté.
Of course, pâté wasn’t our only mutual shared love because my Goong-Goong loved food. Every visit to Hong Kong would begin at the apartment he shared with his sister, the brown teapot covered by a tea cosy, the little fridge in the corner filled with soft drinks for my brother and I, cookies taken from the same tin in the side-cupboard, the TV blaring out a news channel. Every year the TV got a little louder and the biscuits a little more stale, but the fresh cakes and sweets my Goong-Goong bought for our visit were filled with cream and covered in chocolate and fruit. When he visited us in London it was the same: the day before his arrival we would descend upon Marks & Spencer’s, buying cream puffs, eclairs, scones, jam, clotted cream and, of course, crusty bread and pâté.
One time when my Goong-Goong visited us in Hong Kong, we went out for a very special dinner along the Thames, right next to London Bridge. I don’t remember how old I was but my parents always let us order our own food from a young age. I studied the menu and decided right there and then that I was going to have the lobster. My Goong-Goong was a) shocked that I was allowed to order my own food and that b) I would order the most expensive item on the menu… but I think he was also secretly proud of me.
When my mother was a girl my Goong-Goong was always the one who ordered for the family, he would order a few dishes and they’d all share, swopping plates every now and then. Of course this meant that even if you really liked the dish you were currently eating you couldn’t eat the whole thing, and with two brothers my mother was constantly fighting for her food. On the other hand I never had to share any of my food and it would drive me crazy the way that my Goong-Goong would dig his fork into my plate and eat the best bit, without even asking. I learnt to adopt a defensive one-armed shield, shovelling the food down my throat as fast as possible.
I think much of the beauty about food is the memory that comes with it. Ask anyone what their favourite dish is and it’ll come with a story, a smile, a fond remembrance. When I was making this pâté at first I felt an incredible sense of achievement – I never thought I’d be able to make something I loved with so much ease – but then I started thinking about the people I’d like to share this with and the only person I could think of was my Goong-Goong.
As I sliced the freshly baked bread, covered it with a liberal first taste of pâté and bit into it, I closed my eyes and wished that I could have shared it with my Goong-Goong. I can’t help but feel that he would’ve loved it – I would’ve gladly let him steal as much of it as he wanted.
Chicken Liver Pâté
Adapted from Ooh, Look… Food & Craft
400g chicken livers
185ml semi-skimmed milk
3 tbsps olive oil
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A handful of bacon lardons
2 tbsps brandy
1 tbsp water
1 1/2 tbsps pomegranate balsamic vinegar (the pomegranate lends a beautiful sweetness to the pâté, but if you can’t find it regular balsamic vinegar is just as good)
170g chilled unsalted butter, chopped
80g clarified butter (see method)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
x4 ramekins/x2 small bowls
1. To prepare your chicken livers use a knife to trim and remove the sinew – this is all of the yellow/green bits surrounding the pink liver. Place them in a bowl, cover them with a milk and refrigerate whilst you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Saute the onion, bacon lardons and garlic with a wooden spoon until the onion caramelises.
3. Add the brandy and water, scraping with the wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. It will bubble furiously then begin to solidify again, so work quickly. Pour everything into a bowl and set aside. If you have anything stuck to the bottom of the pan, I find it quite good to add a little water to the pan, basically deglazing it again. Pour the dirty water away and give it a quick wipe clean.
4. Drain the chicken livers and pat dry with a paper towel. Turn the heat back to medium-high and add the rest of the olive oil. When hot add the chicken livers and fry quickly, roughly 2-3 mins per side. You want them slightly browned but still pink inside. Add to the onion mixture and season well with salt and pepper.
5. Return the pan to the heat and add the vinegar to deglaze the pan again, then add to the livers. You’ll have to scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure you get everything.
6. Pour the entire thing into a suitable container, add the chopped chilled butter, and blitz with a hand blender until it resembles a liver smoothie (pleasant, I know, aren’t you glad I didn’t take photos of this part). Pour the entire thing into a fine sieve and force it through with a wooden spoon into a bowl – this’ll give the pâté a beautiful creamy texture.
7. Smooth the pâté into the ramekins or small bowls and set aside.
8. To make the clarified butter gently melt the remaining butter over a low heat. Skim the whey proteins (the white foam/froth) from the top with a spoon. When there is no foam left and the butter has stopped bubbling, remove it from the heat and strain through cheesecloth to remove the milk solids. Clarified butter will help to preserve the pâté for longer and will have a beautifully clear appearance, so it is worth doing, but honestly when I made mine I didn’t bother (as you can probably tell from the photos) as it was going to be eaten up fairly quickly! I would recommend it, however.
9. Pour a thin layer of the clarified butter on top of the prepared pâté ramekins/bowls and make sure it covers all of the pâté evenly. Top with a few peppercorns.
10. Cover the pâté with clingfilm and place into the fridge to set. Eat within a week and be sure to serve it with fresh crusty bread.
Until next time, peace and love.