The tradition of making pâté is as old as the hills. Throughout Europe, pâtés, terrines and potted meats are still widely eaten today. Potted shrimp is such an easy favourite, you gently fry and season the shrimp before sealing it in a delicate blanket of melted butter so that it can be kept in a cold larder or still room for a lot longer than if left untended.
But in South Africa only two pâtés have survived and are still in general use: snoek pâté – made from partially cured snoek and cream cheese – and the perennial classic: chicken liver pâté. Both of these seem to have been born in the 1980s, when they were most widely eaten, often with seed loaf which was a new invention born out of the health craze of that era.
I remember how chicken liver pâté was a staple at the drinks parties of my youth. Those were the days when the grownups got together every Friday or Saturday night at each other’s houses. Us children got to play in the rest of the house and watch a video rented for the occasion. My favourite was The Neverending Story, which I remember in a distinctively non-linear way as the narrative was broken up in a different place each time as we got distracted by various excitements. There were usually snacks set out especially for us, the ubiquitous cheese and onion crisps, peanuts and raisins and a rather greasy but moreish savoury biscuit called Bacon Kips. Those were the days of raw vegetable crudités with cream cheese dip and cubes of cheddar and Vienna sausages threaded onto cocktail sticks and then stuck into half a pineapple.
Of course nothing could stop me from nicking some snacks from the grown-up’s table. I remember how, after the initial thrill of sneaking in, you soon realised that no one had noticed you were there, they were so engrossed in their conversation. I loved to peel off the foil of triangles of Kraft cheese or (if it were a more affluent household) little nuggets of Laughing Cow, which were as alluring as boiled sweets in their wrappings of cobalt blue, ruby red, emerald green and gold to denote barely perceptible different flavours. The children’s snacks didn’t include olives, so I usually made a beeline for these.
If I hosted a 1980s party today I would try to recreate how it really was – which was really quite the opposite of a Madonna video. In South Africa, it felt more like a continuation of the 1970s, everyone was respectable and talked about what they were reading. The men wore corduroy and ugly spectacles with their hair longish, abundant and curly. The women wore a lot of white with cinched fabric belts and three quarter heels. The hair was wild, there’s no denying it.
At my 1980s throwback party I would serve chicken liver pâté at the very centre of the table. There is a reason why it’s still a steadfast favourite of family parties. It is simply delicious and so simple to make.
Spicy chicken liver pâté with bacon
Serves 6 for lunch or 10 people for a party.
2 tubs of free range chicken livers, fresh or defrosted
3/4 punnet of cream
2 tsp tomato paste
½ tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp vegetable stock powder (not a cube)
½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 large onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
Cold pressed coconut oil, for frying
¼ tsp fennel seeds
¼ tsp whole peppercorns
1 pack of back bacon
3 T salted butter
1 T sweet chilli sauce
2 T white wine vinegar
½ tsp whole grain mustard
Sriracha sauce, to taste
Finely dice the onion and fry in a deep pan with coconut oil. Add the cumin seeds and garlic and sauté till fragant. When the onions start to caramelise, add a dash of white wine vinegar and reduce.
Meanwhile, finely grind the fennel seed and peppercorns with a mortar and pestle.
Then stir in the smoked paprika, ground pepper and fennel and cayenne pepper. Add the tomato paste along with a dash of water and a sprinkling of vegetable stock powder. Stir and simmer for a minute or two with the lid on.
Lastly stir in the cream, the chicken livers and the sweet chilli sauce. You can also add a dash of sriracha sauce at this point to make a spicier version. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the livers are still pink but cooked through. Then add the mustard and taste if it needs more seasoning.
Allow to cool for about 20- 30 minutes then blend in a jug blender until smooth and pour into a medium sized earthenware bowl. Chill.
In a separate pan, fry the bacon in its own fat and remove. When cool enough to handle, chop into little pieces. Sprinkle over the surface of the pâté. In the same pan in which you fried the bacon, gently heat the butter until melted. Pour over the bacon, coating it evenly.
Cover and chill in the fridge until needed. Bring to room temperature at least 40 minutes before serving.
Serve on top of a large platter with a cloth napkin folded underneath, to stop the bowl from slipping. Place a wedge of mature cheddar alongside, accompanied by a pile of small sweet-and-sour cucumbers and another of rosemary crostini or melba toast for dipping and spreading.