Spring can be a tough time for the seasonal chef. The winter vegetables are long gone (not that you could stomach another acorn squash if you found one in the back of the pantry). Meanwhile, summer’s show-off vegetables – sweet corn, ripe tomatoes and juicy cucumbers – are nothing more than little, hopeful seedlings.
But Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City and Creative Director of Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, doesn’t have time to lament over the lack of local greens. He’s got hungry customers to feed – so he focuses on maximizing the few flavors that are available at his back door.
Barber particularly swoons over ramps – an early-arriving member of the onion family that, with their neon pink stems, resemble a scallion’s punk rock older sister. “They’re the first sign of spring, and they’re so fleeting,” he told The Jew & The Carrot. I like to see them on every dish.”
More and a recipe for Chicken Liver Mousse with Spring Herbs below the jump. He’s also revolutionizing the way chefs (and eaters) relate to the mother of all unethical meat products, foie gras. Stone Barns is already a leading force in the world of pasture-raised, humanely-slaughtered meat. The Gastronomer’s Guide reported: “The  cattle at Stone Barns are fed a diet of grass with the exception of hay in winter.” Similarly, their chicken and sheep munch on 40 different varieties of indigenous grasses.
Now, Barber is turning to geese, experimenting with two different methods of humane (or at least less dreadful) methods of foie gras production – one that eschews force feeding altogether, and one that replaces the sharp metal tube with a softer, rubber version. “Our first geese just arrived!” he said, excitedly. “We’re going to see how they do on the pasture.”
When it comes to spring’s most seasonal holiday – Passover – Barber said he relishes more than the food. These days Barber spends more time in the kitchen (and traveling around as a guest speaker and teacher) than at the table, so Passover offers the rare opportunity to share a meal with family. “I still try to steal the afikoman from my niece and nephew,” he said. His Passover recipe for Chicken Liver Mousse infuses the traditional tastes of Ashkenazi cooking with the undeniably fresh taste of spring-time herbs like chervil, parsley, and chives.
Chicken Liver Mousse
1 pt fresh chicken livers
1 pt sliced shallots
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 Tbsp oil
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
½ cup Madeira or Sherry
2 eggs, hard boiled
1 Tbsp sherry wine vinegar
2 Tbsp chopped mixed herbs such as parsley, chives and chervil
salt and pepper
Pat chicken livers dry with paper towel and remove any sinews or veins; season well on both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a medium skillet over a medium-high flame; add livers and sear for about 1 minute on each side; the livers should be quite rare. Remove from pan.
Lower the heat to a low flame and add the additional 2 Tbsp oil along with the shallots and garlic; slowly caramelize for about 10 minutes.
Return the seared livers to the pan and stir in thyme.
Deglaze with the Madeira and reduce by ¾.
Transfer the livers to a food processor along with the hard boiled eggs and vinegar and puree until the mousse is smooth.
Stir in the herbs and chill.