But of utmost importance, I suspect, was the careful consideration I gave the option of vegetarianism or veganism once upon a time. While I ultimately ended up rejecting either option as a life doctrine, the impulses behind such choices are sensible and worthy of consideration. In an odd way, one does some sort of honor to the concepts behind adopting a vegetarian lifestyle by refusing to indulge in carnivorous activities while pretending what one is eating was not the result of an act of violence against a living creature. Put another way, saying it is perfectly acceptable to slaughter a chicken or murder a cow but please don't hurt that lamb or touch that rabbit is an odd act of moral relativism. Feasting hungrily on a plate of fish sticks but gagging at the sight of a head-on oven roasted trout is assuming a sort of willful ignorance. And tucking into a thick steak while turning up one's nose at a bowl of tripe or sauteed liver is to suggest that perhaps one would be better off attacking leeks or potatoes, rather than sacrificing an entire life so as to better pick daintily around the edges.
This is controversial ground, I'm aware, so time to back off the soapbox. But what never ceases to be surprising is how many supposed meat-lovers can't bring themselves to sample the rich variety and flavorful sections of those easily affordable cast-offs that butcher shops tend to refer to as offal. Perhaps it is our knowledge of anatomy that keeps so many from enjoying stewed kidneys or fried sweetbreads ("Enjoying your filter?" is how my wife tends to comment during the rare occasions I've been allowed to sample kidneys). One might suggest that if a hungry audience was simply not told what part of the body they were about to enjoy - if a variety meat-heavy stew was served up as simply consisting of "beef" - wary carnivores might clean their plates and ask for more. Tempting though such an approach is, I remain of the opinion that it's cruel and unfair to trick people into eating something they remain morally or digestively opposed to (except in the case of young children, of course - what they don't know can't hurt them).
So in the spirit of full disclosure, what follows is a recipe I whipped together after coming across a small container of organic chicken livers (one pound total) for sale at Whole Foods for $2.35. Any habitue of Whole Foods knows that there are very few items to be found on their shelves for $2 a pound, let alone anything of the meat variety. In the back of my mind, some sort of rich, onion-heavy, alcohol-laced dish began to assume formation, but the livers were purchased without a full mental inventory of what existed back home to help turn these cold lumps of chicken innards into something my lovely wife might sample. Call it a challenge.
The result was something I've named, for the sake of convenience, a Chicken Liver Pate, but don't think of this as an example of the traditional creamy, whipped terrine often found in better French restaurants. Rather, this "pate" was of the coarsely-ground variety, and rather than spreading it onto bread with a knife, toasted slices were instead topped with the crumbly mixture. It is a rustic yet elegant variation on bruschetta that incorporates diced scallions, drained capers, brandy, garlic and pancetta. The second most enjoyable part of making this dish was taking the cooked mixture from the pan, heaping it into a warm pile on the cutting board, and chopping the rich pyramid into coarseness, with glugs of olive oil added periodically. This was primal kitchen time. The most enjoyable part of making this dish was consuming it, and beaming with pride as my initially extremely-wary wife asked for seconds.
Chicken Liver Pate Bruschetta (or, if this sounds too gauche for you, try something like Terrine de Foies de Volaille)
1 pound chicken livers
3/4 cup olive oil
2 oz. pancetta
salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons brandy / Cognac
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped onions
2 tablespoons capers (rinsed and drained)
1 lemon, zest grated (and 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice)
toasted bread slices
1) First, clean the livers - an easy task. I used a small knife to disconnect the connecting veins, as these aren't necessary for the completed dish. After lining a plate with paper towels, place the chicken livers onto the plate and pat them with paper towels to remove extra moisture (this will really help the sauteing go smoothly). Season both sides with salt and pepper, rubbing in.
2) Heat one-fourth cup of olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat. One by one, add the chicken livers until the pan is full. Cook the livers until they turn a deep brown, 2-3 minutes per side. It may be helpful to cover the pan with a lid if the oil begins to spurt.
3) Add pancetta to the pan, reduce heat to low. Cook until pancetta fat renders, 2-3 minutes. Stir in garlic, cook for a few minutes.
4) Stir in the brandy (hopefully good Cognac), stir to deglaze pan, and cook briefly. Add onions, stir several times until softened, and remove pan from heat.
5) Dump the contents of the pan onto a large cutting board, and scrape the bottom of the pan for additional flavorful scraps. Add parsley, capers and lemon zest to the mound, and drizzle with lemon juice and 1/4 cup olive oil.