- Food & Drink
My tolerance for salt has skyrocketed since I started at Ballymaloe. I’ve gone from a little pinch and a sprinkle to having seawater running through my veins. So it’s with a certain sense of triumph that I look back on my chicken liver pâté and the mark I lost for over seasoning it. I’d begun to think it wasn’t possible to add too much salt, but I achieved it and still my pâté was deemed servable.
The day began with students filling bowls with slippery, soft livers and taking them back to their sections to squeeze out black blobs of blood, strip away hard lumps of gristle and cut off iridescent green patches where the livers had rubbed up too close to the gall bladders.
Almost everyone had got in early to get to grips with the offal and we were slicing away with only the merest hint of ewww on our faces when the teachers arrived. They looked at the viscera spread around the classroom. They poked their fingers into the bowl of remaining animal parts and they sighed. “They’ve sent us the duck livers and the chicken livers mixed up together. Everyone make sure they’re only using one type of liver.”
Panic ensued. Students thrust gory handfuls of liver into the faces of their cooking partners shrieking: “Is this duck? Do you think this is duck?” The almost empty bowl of livers in the weigh up area was soon refilled with wobbly pink slices and students like me, who hadn’t weighed out their offal at the start of the day, had to fish about in the bowl, picking up liver bits and trying to work out if they’d come from big chicken livers or little duck ones.
With such an inauspicious beginning, it’s perhaps no surprise that my pâté ended up such a salty mess. And I was so careful when I started it: gently pan frying the liver over a low heat to get it evenly cooked without any crusty bits. Stripping thyme leaves from the stalks and adding them to the pan, I was struck with the thought: “Did I season this? I don’t think I did.” So I sprinkled the livers with a generous pinch/handful of salt, which turns out to be the second time that day I’d done that.
Blending the pâté, I tasted it and immediately started weeping blood, it was so salty. I tried adding more thyme. My teacher advised adding more butter. I fed lump after yellow lump of it into the processor, but a slab later I tasted the pâté and it was still a puréed salt lick. I gave up, potting up a little for presentation purposes and abandoning the rest of it to a steel bowl of shame.
An hour and a half later, my teacher tried it and said: “This isn’t that bad anymore. Taste it.” She was right. The sitting time had mellowed the salt and the pâté had matured into something edible (as long as you had a water jug nearby). It was deemed servable and a pot of highly seasoned liver spread went out into the dining room to ruin the kidneys of some unsuspecting luncher.
In addition to the chicken liver pâté from hell, I made hollandaise sauce (easy) and an orange layer cake of embarrassment. The cake itself was fine, but I wasn’t supposed to trim the edges or fill in gaps with buttercream to give a smooth icing surface. It had a rippled, uneven shape. But my teacher told me not to worry and demonstrated the best way to ice the cake for a seamless finish.
She held a bowl over the top of the cake, poured out the icing and scraped the bowl, saying: “The weight of the icing will pull it down over the cake and all you need to do is guide it over the surface to make sure you get an even spread.” And then she dropped the bowl on top of the cake.
It bounced off, taking a fine layer of sponge from the top, tilting the cake so it leaned to one side, and throwing precious glacé icing all over the counter. We did our best to fix it but the cake still had a bit of a wonk and there wasn’t enough icing to cover the whole thing. The back of the cake was quite naked. I put it in the dining room with its best side forward and it all got eaten, which goes to show that presentation doesn’t count for anything when there’s cake on offer.