Sunday, October 14, 2007

Eat Like a Dane

If I had to guess which country consumes the most paté per capita, I would bet my money on Denmark. Of course, I’ve seen no statistics to back up my speculation (nor do I actually intend to look up this silly fact). My only evidence comes from living there for 2 ½ years. So I know what I know, and I know the Danes love them some paté.

The best recipe I’ve tried for Danish-style liver paté comes from a cookbook called Frøken Jensen’s Kogebog. It’s the Danish version of that Betty Crocker (or was it Better Homes and Gardens??) cookbook so popular a couple of generations ago. There’s not one picture in this entire cookbook. Each page is so dense with text (the recipes are presented one right after another) that I literally have to follow each line with my finger or I’d get lost. And like it’s outdated American counterpart, there are recipes as unappetizing as a savory gelatin mold (is there really such a recipe or is it urban legend??). Yet, I have a warm spot in my heart for Miss Jensen’s book. It reveals an entire culture’s past eating habits. And while many of the recipes are probably outdated, hidden in the dense text are some gems to be found. Recipes like Danish rice porridge, fish cakes, pancakes and the paté (actually 2 different versions).

The Danish paté can be eaten cold or warm. When cold it will spread creamy, but when warm it’s loose. It's also well suited to freezing due to the high fat content. I recommend freezing before you bake. Then when you want to eat it, just put it into the oven frozen. I’d guess you’d need to extend the cooking time by 20+ minutes (depending on the size of the form you use).

Leverpostej (Danish-style pate)
  • 10 ½ oz liver (recommended pork or chicken liver)
  • 5 ¼ oz pork fat
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 3 anchovy filets
  • 3 oz butter
  • 2 ½ tbs flour
  • 10 oz warm milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 to 3 tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Start by making a roux with the butter, flour and milk. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the flour while whisking vigorously. You should get a uniform mixture. Make sure to warm the milk and whisk vigorously while adding it slowly. At first, the mixture will be thin. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until it thickens and bubbles lightly, about 5 minutes. Pour the béchamel into a large bowl and press plastic wrap onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Put it aside to cool completely.

Cut the pork fat into very small chunks. Do the same with the liver. Throw the liver, fat and onion into a food processor and process until uniform. Stop to scrape down the sides if necessary. There shouldn’t be any large chunks of fat or onion left. Add the eggs and process until incorporated. Pour the mixture into a large bowl. Add the spices. Add the cooled béchamel and mix very well. Pour into a greased loaf pan (I recommend mini loaf pans or small 3 or 4 inch ramekins) and bake in a waterbath at 350ºF until center springs back to the touch. It will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour in mini loaf pans. Alternatively, bake until the internal temp is about 160F. The way I usually tell it’s done is to slightly tip the form. If the liquid is clear, then it’s done, but if the liquid is still pinkish, give it another 5-10 minutes. Don’t worry about overcooking these. There’s so much fat in here, it’s virtually impossible. Besides, the Danes re-heat this all the time and when it cools down it’s still creamy. It can be served cold or warm with Danish rye bread (called European rye bread at your local Trader Joes, or bake your own with this mix from Ikea). I prefer it cold because it spreads nice and creamy. It’s still delicious when served warm, but the texture is looser. Don’t forget the sweet pickles, pickled beets or pickled red cabbage on the side! To make it extra special, the Danes will also dress it up with sautéed mushrooms and crisp bacon.

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