Smoked mackerel pate

This is a lovely starter (or a light meal on its own), and looks a lot more complicated than it actually is, making it a great stand-by for dinner parties. I’ve prepared my smoked mackerel pate in little ramekins, but you can also take spoonsful of the pate and wrap them, Chinese dumpling-style, in a sheet of smoked salmon tied tight with a string of chive if you want something particularly pretty to serve. The finished pate is quite stiff, so if you line your ramekins or another mould with an abundance of cling film (saran wrap for Americans) you will also be able to tug on the edges of the film once the dish is cooled and turn out the smoked mackerel pate onto a plate. Smoked fish fans in and around Cambridge should head out to the River Farm Smokery in Bottisham for some very superior smoked mackerel.

I’ve used a generous amount of horseradish here. If you can find the whole root for sale, grab it and use a coarse grater (swimming goggles can come in handy here for minimising something similar to the effects of mustard gas) on it. Otherwise, the English Provender company does freshly grated horseradish in a little jar, which you can also use to make your own creamed horseradish by folding it into some lightly whipped cream with a pinch of sugar, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

I really like this pate with melba toast. See this crab pate recipe for instructions on how to make melba toast at home.

To make enough for a starter for four, or lunch for two, you’ll need:

200g smoked mackerel
200g soft cream cheese
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons snipped chives
1 tablespoon snipped chervil (leave this out if you can’t find any – it’s easy to grow at home and worth cultivating, because it’s often hard to find fresh in the UK)
2 teaspoons freshly grated horseradish
Salt and pepper to taste

You don’t need any machinery here – simply peel the papery skins off the mackerel, check for any stray bones, then flake finely with a fork. Stir the flaked fish vigorously into the cream cheese and lime juice with your fork (if you don’t have any limes use a lemon – I prefer the aromatic nature of lime here, but lemon will be just fine), and fold in the herbs, horseradish and seasoning.

Pack the pate into ramekins and chill until you are ready to eat.

Chicken liver parfait

…And we resume normal service.

Apologies for the last month’s lack of updates, and thank-you to everyone who emailed (or recognised me from the few photos on the site, came up to me in a pub, and demanded to know what was going on). Gastronomy Domine is now officially back in the saddle, so please start checking regularly for updates again.

This chicken liver pate recipe is hopelessly good, and chicken livers themselves are hopelessly cheap. You’ll find them occasionally alongside the boned, peeled, pale and sad chicken breasts in the supermarket, selling for less than a pound (cash) per pound (weight). They’ll be flopping wetly in a sad, bloody plastic bag. Ignore the aesthetics here and just buy as many bags as you can, and stick them in the freezer for the day you decide you want a very easy, exceptionally good starter. Defrost before you begin, and follow the recipe as below. A frozen liver will not cook as firmly as a fresh one, but we’re not after texture here, since the livers will be blitzed in the food processor and then shoved through a sieve.

Far be it from me to condone lying to guests. But if you have an awkward type who remembers the grey stuff with tubes in from school and says they do not like livers coming round for lunch, please feel free to call this something else, and make like it’s just lovely . . . meat. The really duplicitous among you will get away with calling this a duck pate; I defy anyone to tell the difference. The Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg and chipotle chillis may sound like curious additions to a parfait like this, but you can trust me here; they work, and are not overpowering.

To fill a terrine dish, serving eight for a starter or four for a boozy lunch, you’ll need:

1 ½ lb chicken livers
1 tablespoon salted butter for sauteeing
½ lb butter for puree
¼ lb butter for melting over the top (say a prayer to the cholesterol god at this point)
1 bulb garlic
1 medium onion
3 shallots
Freshly ground nutmeg
½ wineglass madeira
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chipotles in adobo

Rinse the livers carefully in running water and pat dry. Chop the onions, garlic and shallots roughly (don’t worry about being too even here; they’re going in the food processor shortly) and saute them in the butter in a large pan over a high heat for about four minutes. When the onions, shallots and garlic start to brown, add the livers, season with salt and pepper and cook for two minutes, keeping everything on the move.

Bring the heat down and keep sauteeing for another five minutes or so, until the livers are nearly cooked through. (You’ll be able to tell by prodding them with your spatula; they become less springy as they cook.) Add several gratings of nutmeg (I like quite a lot) to the livers with the Madeira, Worcestershire sauce and the chillis, and deglaze the pan. Turn the heat off when the liquid has reduced to half its original volume.

Turn everything in a bowl and leave to cool. Take half a pound of butter out of the fridge to soften at the same time.

When the livers are cool and the butter is soft, put the livers in the bowl of the food processor and puree. Add the softened butter a tablespoon at a time once the livers are pureed, and keep processing until it’s all amalgamated. Your mixture will be very soft (almost like buttercream icing), but don’t worry; it will firm up in the fridge.

Push the puree through a sieve into a terrine dish. The straining through a sieve is important; it’ll buy you a gorgeously smooth texture which you can’t get through processing alone. Flatten the top with a spatula and melt the remaining ¼ lb of butter, then pour it over the surface. If you are particularly fussy, you can clarify the butter first, but I’m afraid I don’t bother.

Refrigerate the mixture for a couple of hours before serving. I’m still in two minds as to whether this works most brilliantly with Melba toasts or with a nutty, rustic bread toasted in thick slices. Experiment for yourself and let me know what you think.

Crab pate with Melba toast

Something deep in the lizard-bit of my brain seems to be saying that I need to eat more fish. Ever alert to what my inner lizard is telling me, I’ve been eating a lot of seafood this week. And when the weather’s warm and humid, nothing is nicer than a glass of wine and some chilled crab pate on Melba toast.

Dressed crab is always curiously inexpensive in the supermarket – doubly curious, when you consider how delicious it is, and how easy it is to work with, all ready-shucked and packed in its own carapace, so you don’t have to be a chef at Hotels in Blackpool or a Michelin Star winner to be able to turn it into something incredible. To make enough pate for two smug fish-lovers, you’ll need:

1 dressed crab
2 tablespoons melted butter
Leafy parts of a stick of celery
½ teaspoon quince jelly (if you can’t get hold of quince jelly, use redcurrant)
1 teaspoon tarragon leaves
Small handful chervil
Juice of half a lemon
½ clove crushed garlic
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

Put all the ingredients in the blender and whizz until you have a fine purée. Pack the resulting pate into a greased mould (I used a silicone muffin mould, which looks like a timbale mould in shape, but is easier to handle) and chill for an hour, until the pate is firm enough to turn out in one piece. Dress with chives and some more chervil.

The tiny amount of fruit jelly in this really brings out the strangely fruity sweetness of the crab. We ate the pate with Melba toast, which is delicious and looks dreadfully complicated. It’s actually simplicity itself. Just toast white sliced bread in the toaster as usual, and when it’s done, slice off the crusts. Separate the two sides of the slice of toast from each other by pushing a sharp knife through the soft bread in the middle of the slice, and grill the white side of each bifurcated toastlet under the grill until it’s golden and curling. Pour a glass of Semillion Chardonnay and get munching.