Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Chicken livers with baby leeks, sweetcorn, crispy skin and nasturtium

Chicken livers used to really weird me out. As a child, I would pull a squeamish face if I accidentally peeled open the wrong tub in the back of the fridge, revealing grey and pungent pate. Yuk! This liver phobia stretched out for a large chunk of my young adult life. Even when working in a kitchen just after finishing university, making huge vats of delicately set chicken liver parfait was my most hated job. There’s nothing worse than the sight of a mountain of uncleaned livers whilst nursing a dangerous hangover. 

Then something changed. One evening out at a restaurant, a plate emerged as part of a set menu. To avoid any social awkwardness I got stuck in, and suddenly became aware than I quite liked the smooth, rich and earthy morsels that had for so long been my nemesis. I guess there’s no real explanation for this shift in taste, other than just growing up and liking different foods. Around that time I also re-embraced mushrooms, discovered that bitter greens weren’t best shoved to one side of the plate, and that a good pinch of salt makes a world of difference to pretty much everything.
With anything as strong and distinctive in flavour as chicken livers, the key is creating a balance with the other ingredients on the plate. Sweetcorn season is in full swing right now, and creates a wonderful sweet contrast. Add a few chicken wings to create a binding sauce and some irresistible crispy skin, and some peppery nasturtiums picked from my front garden, and everything is tied together.
Serves 2
For the chicken livers:
300g chicken livers, halved and trimmed of any sinew 
1 good knob of butter 
1 garlic clove, crushed 
1 sprig of thyme
For the baby leeks:
6 baby leeks
For the sweetcorn puree:
2 sweetcorn, kernels cut free from the cobs 
2 shallots, finely sliced 
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped 
2 knobs of butter 
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
For the charred sweetcorn:
1 sweetcorn, kernels cut free from the cob
For the chicken sauce:
4 chicken wings, skin removed and retained 
2 shallots, quartered 
1 carrot, chopped 
1 garlic clove, finely sliced 
3 sprigs of thyme 
1 large glass of white wine 
500ml good chicken stock
For the crispy chicken skin:
The skin from the chicken wings
To finish:
Nasturtium leaves 
½ a lemon, juice only

Start by making the chicken sauce. Heat a large saucepan to high temperature, and add a good glug of olive oil. Season the wings and brown well on all sides in the hot pan, then transfer to a side plate. Slide the shallots into the pan and fry for a minute or two on each side, until caramelised. Add the carrot, garlic and thyme and continue to cook for a further minute, stirring frequently. Return the chicken wings to the pan and pour in the wine. Allow the liquid to boil and reduce by half. Pour in the stock, then return to the boil before reducing again, until only a small amount of thickened sauce remains. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a small saucepan and set aside to reheat later. 

Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Sprinkle in a generous amount of salt. When the water is hot, blanch the baby leeks for 2 minutes, then drain and set aside until later.
Bring a saucepan to a medium heat and add half the butter for the sweetcorn puree. When melted, add the shallots, garlic and thyme leaves, and cook gently for 3-4 minutes, until softened. Tip in the sweetcorn kernels and season well. Stir everything together, then cover the saucepan and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon the contents of the pan into a food processor and add the mustard and remaining butter. Blend really well, until a smooth puree is formed. Loosen with a little water if necessary. Taste and season if needed. Pass the puree through a sieve into a bowl, then spoon into a plastic bottle.
Preheat the oven to 190⁰C. 

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and rub with a little oil. Stretch the chicken skin onto the tray and season with salt and pepper. Cover with another oiled sheet of greaseproof and top with a second baking sheet. Slide into the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the skin is golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
Cut the kernels from the remaining sweetcorn cob, trying to keep the kernels together in clusters if possible. Using a blowtorch, quickly char the outsides.
Put the butter for the chicken livers into a non-stick frying pan along with a splash of olive oil. Bring to a high heat. When the pan is hot, season the chicken livers and add to the pan, along with the thyme and the garlic clove. Cook the livers for 1-2 minutes on each side, until still bouncy and pink in the middle. Transfer to a warm plate to rest quickly. Add the blanched leeks to the now empty liver pan and heat through for a minute.
While the livers and leeks are cooking, reheat the sauce.
Dress the nasturtium leaves in a little lemon juice and olive oil.
To plate up, squeeze a decent blob of the sweetcorn puree onto each plate. Arrange the leeks to one side along with the livers and charred sweetcorn. Top with the chicken skin and nasturtium leaves, then finish with a small amount of the chicken sauce.

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