Duck Liver Pate
January 11, 2021 | Updated June 06, 2022
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I need to start this post by stating that I am not normally a liver lover. As an avid duck and goose hunter, for decades I’d searched for a duck liver pâté recipe I really, honestly enjoyed. To no avail.
Until now. I’ve finally cracked the code, and I’ll walk you through how I learned to love liver… at least in pâté.
Keep in mind this recipe works for pretty much any liver. I normally use wild duck and goose livers, but chicken livers, farmed duck livers and even the livers from larger animals will work, to a point.
If you do use mammal livers, my advice is to brine them overnight in a ratio of 1/4 cup kosher salt to 1 quart water, and/or another night’s soak in milk. This will strip some of the smell from, say, a deer or pig’s liver.
Now if you are using wild duck livers for your pâté, some are better than others.
See these? See how tan they look, compared to a normal, burgundy colored liver? This is what you want. This is the equivalent of wild foie gras, and yes, wild foie gras is real. I’ve seen similar livers in turkeys, pheasants, quail and even pigeons and doves.
You can make duck liver pâté out of any duck’s liver that is safe to eat, however. If you make it with lean livers, the color of the finished pâté will be darker, and you might want to double the amount of cream.
(Another great option for bird livers is my easy seared liver recipe.)
Now I did just use the phrase “safe to eat,” and I did because in some places, they are not. Where I live, there is a health warning against eating the livers of diver and sea ducks in the San Joaquin Valley and San Francisco Bay; it’s a mercury and selenium thing. These health warnings are rare, however, so chances are you’ll be fine. But if you are a hunter, it’s worth a check with your state health department.
Anyone using farmed bird livers is in the clear.
So, you may be asking yourself, what is so different about this duck liver pâté from all the other ones? Why is Hank so keen on this one? In a word, butter.
Yep, this is not a low fat pâté. No good one is. It requires a stick of butter, which is 1/2 cup. You’ll also want some lovely, flavorful strong wine or brandy, but that’s about it. This is very simple, and easy to make.
Once made, pack your duck liver pâté in glass jars or ramekins and they’ll keep in the fridge for a couple weeks. If you want to keep them longer, melt some butter over the top of the pâté and let it set like a cap over the pate.
And yes, you can freeze pâté. Definitely do the butter cap, and then put a lid on the jar and freeze. It will keep a few months that way, maybe 3 or 5. After that things could go downhill. When you want to eat it, thaw slowly in the fridge for a day or two first.
Duck Liver Pate
- 1 stick butter, divided (1/2 cup)
- 1 large shallot or small onion, minced
- 1/2 pound duck livers (see above for other options)
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 3 tablespoons Marsala or brandy (or something similar)
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Sweat the shallot in a pan over medium-low heat with 1 tablespoon of the butter. You want it soft, but not browned. Add the livers and cook, stirring often, just until browned on the outside, maybe 3 minutes.
- Sprinkle salt and the flour over everything and toss to combine. It'll get a bit gunky, but that's OK. Cook this gently over medium-low heat for about 3 to 4 minutes, just to cook out the raw flour taste. Add the brandy or Marsala and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits.
- Move all this into a blender, along with the white pepper. Let this cool for a minute or three, then pour in the heavy cream and start to puree the pate. Once it's going, drop the rest of the stick of butter in one tablespoon at a time, waiting for it to incorporate before adding the next one.
- Pack the pate into jars or ramekins immediately, while the pate is still hot. You will want to chill it thoroughly before serving.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Great recipe Hank. I did one thing different as I added duck hearts to the liver and soaked liver and hearts overnight in brandy and salt
I added a clove of garlic and also used the duck hearts. Turned out great too! The hearts will help to mild up the liver taste.
Just bought beautiful Lk. Superior whitefish livers! Made 1 batch w/lots of butter but need to try something again.
Should I try your recipe with the fish livers?
Ann Noble, food writer for weekly county newspapers in NW Wisconsin
Ann- Did this work with WF livers? I have some in the freezer and was thinking of giving it a shot.
Sam: This works with all sorts of livers.
I only have access to store bought farmed duck. I use a tbsp of duck fat to turn a lean liver into faux foie gras. Butter sounds interesting so I will give it a try. I use flour too.
I have a long history of paté making , but never heard of, nor seen the need for adding flour. I’m not really a fan of duck liver paté, too dark and dense tasting for me. My preference is chicken (or goose) liver, but all fowl patés follow the same guidelines. Some good advice has been shared here; lightly caramelize the shallots (AND the livers!), deglaze with brandy or cognac. A few more tips; after adding the brandy, be sure to raise the heat and quickly flambeé it to burn off the alcohol and concentrate the rich, caramel-y undertones. Also, no paté will ever reach its full potential without a generous pinch of allspice, EVER!
Living in Europe, I would love the recipes in metrics, too.
– Not so easy to figure of a stick of butter or 2/3 of a cup.
I’m a pâté “sommelier”. I do as you do, but no flour. And a tip especially for those who don’t like the livery “flavor”: Double the onion, caramelize a bit. It becomes wonderfully thick creamy and richer, if that’s possible.
Also soak the liver in milk overnight, takes the bitterness away
Never heard of flour in a traditional pate recipe before but if you’re using that to thicken it up, perhaps there’s too much cream or alcohol in the recipe? Or cook the livers down more? I’ve also read of recipes where the livers are boiled THEN mixed into the other ingredients.
Mine uses cognac or brandy, a tiny bit of mace or nutmeg. A wee bit of shaved truffle is also nice!
BTW: wrt covering with butter and then freezing…akin to getting candle wax out of glass candle holders by freezing them, the fat will shrink and the seal will break.
I used to make something very similar a long, long time ago. Stopped because of the selenium thing at Kesterson and never picked it back up. Need to start again. It’s delicious!
I prefer the pate recipe in your book. It is great!!!!
Oh, I gotta try this! Yum!
I just made duck liver pate’ last week. Searched for hours for a recipe that didn’t call for anise or Marsala/brandy. I didn’t understand the need for the Marsala or brandy. Didn’t have any on hand either. So I opted for the anise, didn’t have it so used a very, very slight pinch of five spice. I ended up with pate’ too thin because no heavy cream, improvised there, too. Eventually added extra butter. It’s great now. First taste the five spice is present, but after that it isn’t noticed.
What is the significance of the Marsala or brandy?
Pam: Flavor. The vast majority of people prefer pate with some sort of alcoholic flavor (the alcohol is burned off). In cases where it is not burned off, the alcohol helps preserve the pate.
Mary: It helps thicken and hold the pate together.
My experience is that the butter does that beautifully once pâté is refrigerated.