Despite the vast amount we ate that afternoon - soups, lobsters, pâtés, mousses, an array appalling in variety and amount - we drank even more, three bottles of Tattinger on top of the cocktails, and brandy on top of that, so that, gradually, our table became the sole hub of convergence in the room, around which objects spun and blurred at a dizzying velocity.
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
I remember very clearly the first time I made pâté. It was a Home Economics exam in Year 10; I think we had to make a 'gourmet sandwich'. My mum and I always spent happy hours talking through my Home Ec assignments, turning to her collection of cookbooks (and, often, my Granny) for inspiration. I have always loved pâté and thought it would be perfect for the exam.
I hadn't reckoned on being in a classroom with thirty fifteen year old girls. The smell of livers frying in butter attracted some less than positive attention. But I loved it, served on grainy bread with homemade pickles. And, once they tried it, some of my classmates did too. With all that butter, booze and cream in it, I think it's the perfect introduction to offal, especially if you're a little scared of it.
I've re-read The Secret History a couple of times now. The fate of the characters doesn't come as a surprise anymore, but the detail with which they are written and the masterful construction of the world still manages to floor me every time. In a bookshop last week, I convinced my sister to purchase a copy. I was reading it mere hours later, tapping her on the shoulder every couple of minutes and eagerly showing her my favourite passages - before she had a chance to discover them in my absence.
The dinner Richard and Bunny have in the scene above is one of those passages. It happens early on, before we have too much of a chance to get to know Richard's classmates and friends. These four pages tell us so much of what will be important in the story to come. It's a perfectly contained piece of storytelling - the extravagant meal, Richard's desire for aesthetic beauty, Bunny's sense of entitlement, Henry's attitude towards Bunny.
I wish I had the budget to recreate this meal in its full detail. Unfortunately for you (and me), you're just going to have to imagine the Tattinger and the lobster, sitting alongside this modest pâté.
Chicken Liver Pâté
Makes enough to generously fill two large ramekins
450g cleaned chicken livers
2 finely chopped shallots
1tbsp chopped thyme
80ml sherry or Madeira
50ml double cream
Large pinch sea salt
1tsp ground allspice
Grinding of black pepper
130g butter (+60g extra for the top)
Knife and chopping board
Large frying pan
1. Chop the livers into even pieces, about 3cm across. Chop the shallots finely. Bring the butter to a foaming heat in the frying pan. Fry the shallots for a couple of minutes until soft, then add the livers and thyme. Cook for a couple of minutes until the livers are browned on all sides, but still pink in the centre.
2. Spoon the shallots, thyme and livers into the food processor. Keep the frying pan on the heat. Add the sherry or Madeira to the pan and cook the alcohol for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat.
3. Whizz up the livers until they become a smooth paste. Pour in the alcohol along with the cream, the salt, pepper and allspice. Chop the butter into pieces and, with the food processor still whizzing on low, drop it in piece by piece. Leave the pâté aside to cool.
4. Pour the pâté into the ramekins and transfer to the fridge for an hour to set. Melt the butter in the saucepan, skimming the top to remove the white milk solids. Cool it slightly, then pour the butter onto the pâté to help preserve it. Return to the fridge until you're ready to serve it.
5. Serve with gherkins, sliced red onion softened in lemon juice and a pinch of salt, and toast. And Tattinger, if your budget will stretch.