Adding To Your Repertoire

There are two items in my culinary repertoire that, when I mention them to people, evoke the most questions. One is chicken (or duck) liver mousse, and the other is fresh cheese. Neither recipe involves a lot of ingredients, and neither is particularly complicated, but the results are almost uniformly good. 

In the case of the poultry liver mousse, that’s due at least in part to the fact that about half of the finished dish is made up of butter – and butter is delicious. Pair it with some good bread and you’re in business. The basic idea is to barely cook the livers by poaching them – preferably in something like port – then push them through a fine-mesh sieve before adding about their weight in unsalted butter. All you really need to do at that point is season with salt and the chill it in a ramekin or mold for about an hour. You can also add whatever other seasoning you like: fresh thyme, finely minced garlic, a little ground nutmeg – use your imagination. 

The technique for making fresh cheese is even more simple. Bring milk to a simmer and add an acid; lemon juice works well. The milk will immediately separate into curds and whey. Stir a bit, then pour the curds/whey through a strainer lined with cheesecloth and set over a large bowl. 

The bowl will catch the whey, which is supposed to be great for plants and for cooking beans. Our adopted cat, whom I have named “Cat Cat the Cat” likes it, too. 

Once you have the curds separated, you’ve got options. Leave them as-is and you’ve got a product that’s crumbly and mild. If you squeeze out as much of the remaining whey as you can, wrap the curds in the cheesecloth and put them under a weight, you’ll end up with a firm product that you can dice and cook in a pan like extra-firm tofu. If you’ve ever had paneer (or panir) at an Indian restaurant, you’ll know what I’m describing. 

Just as is the case with the mousse, you can add whatever seasoning you like at an early stage and achieve a very different result. Fresh oregano turned out to be fantastic when I made it last, and I’ve had good luck with freshly ground black pepper and finely minced garlic and black olive, as well. 

Like just about anything else, practice makes perfect, and your first efforts may not be earth-shattering. But I encourage you to try these techniques out, because there’s a lot of room to improvise once you get the basics down. There’s something satisfying about having the chops to do something creative with a basic recipe of this nature, and if it impresses your friends and neighbors, so much the better. 

Do let me know if you have a particularly interesting variation on these or any other deceptively easy recipes.



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