For his most recent television programme, Rick Stein embarked on a jaunt ’round Spain – exploring it’s culinary heritage. Whilst passing through the Basque country he called in at barbecue restaurant run by a man called Victor, who in turn stopped Rick in his tracks with his food.
Victor cooks on a barbecue that he designed, using home-made charcoal just the way it was done by his parents, and their parents before them. Steaks come from 12 year old Dairy cow rather than a young cow bred for beef – also in keeping with the ways of old.
Victor spoke briefly about how this journey of opening his restaurant was very much an emotional one. Through the translated English one could hear the word ‘niño’ popping up in the background. His restaurant is a time machine. A vehicle in which Victor travels back to reconnect to the past, to his childhood, family, traditions, and sustains deep ties to the ageless mountains and forests that make up the landscape of his terroir.
It all struck a chord with Rick who bubbled in effusive agreement that “…all i try to do is go back to my childhood and try to recreate those flavours [of] when I was little”.
He then proceeded to scoff one of Victors barbecued prawns and disappeared for a moment from this world into a rapturous stupor which left him speechless and incoherent. In fact, even the 12 year old dairy steak left him gasping in awe. Such was the effect of Victor’s time-travel food.
A recent post by Matthew Fort on his blog mentions that “Food is about taste and memory…” and talks of meals that “…I will be able to recall with pleasure as I sit drooling in a wheelchair with a rug over my knees waiting for my daily gruel in the Blue Bayou Sunset Home”.
And beyond the veil of weird science Heston Blumenthal constantly talks about his desire to recapture memory through food: “I wanted to do a dish that conjured up memories. Food has the ability to generate emotions because it’s the one thing we do that uses all the senses, and food has the ability to trigger memory and nostalgia”.
Of course none of this is news. The connection between food and memory, emotion and nostalgia is long established and has been discussed in depth and detail everywhere from Nigel Slater’s Toast to dissections of Proust’s Madeleine.
I’ve been struggling to recall the definitive meals of my formative years, and don’t seem to come up with all that much. Perhaps I’m trying too hard to force the issue. Memories of eating mainly consist of feasts unadulterated by human interference, knives or seasonings. I remember standing next to, or being perched in a tree and supping on fruit at the source, so to speak. Figs, grapes, mulberries, naartjies (clementines), peaches and more.
Not that my mum was not a decent cook, but not many meals really stand out in my mind. In fact, after much cogitation I can only really think of one just now. Every so often she would make Chicken liver paté which contained a thrilling and forbidden ingredient: Sherry. In our teetotal household this addition was as foreign and intriguing as some exotic spice. Perhaps in this recipe lie the roots of my predilection for Fino.
Fortified wine from Jerez is my own potable time machine, what is yours?
So despite the allure of Headcheese, for this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge I decided go back to the future and make my mum’s recipe for Chicken liver paté.
First onions are finely diced and fried in butter until soft and translucent
Meanwhile chop the chicken livers into small chunks
Add these to the onions, along with wine, rosemary and cook for a little while. Watch it cooking if you can – this is the last time it will look appetising.
When cooked add cream and sherry, then liquidise and strain. It will look hideous. I mean REALLY ugly. But it will smell and taste amazing. Honest.
Add gelatine and pour into bowls, then chill. Once cooled cover the top with a layer of clarified butter and decorate with bay leaves if you wish
For me, to have an authentic time-travel experience the following is also necessary: this paté must be eaten in the afternoon after school (work) with Melba toast, straight out of the crock, using the toasts as a ‘spoon’ whilst watching a classic ’90’s sitcom gem such as Frasier, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Or Family Matters, or Blossom(apparently popular in Spain), or Doogie Howser or The Wonder Years... having wrestled the telly remote control from your pesky little brother of course
Time travel chicken liver pate
This is best made 3 days in advance.
Serve with hot buttered toast.
2 onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
A few sprigs of rosemary
350g chicken livers chopped
250ml red wine
200ml dry sherry
150ml thick double cream
1 teaspoon gelatine dissolved in a little water, (stand in a cup in a
saucepan of hot water to dissolve)
Melt the butter and fry the onions garlic and rosemary, till the onions are translucent.
Add the chopped livers to the pan.
Throw in the wine and cover.
Cook on a low heat for 20minutes then set aside to cool
Once cooled liquidise in a blender
Work the mixture through a sieve (it will look like a grey sloppy mess)
Add the sherry and the cream and mix through
Add the dissolved gelatine before putting the paté in to crocks, allow to cool
Cover with melted butter to seal until use.
Garnish with bay leaves setting them into the butter before it solidifies.
Refrigerate until an hour or so before serving.