For the Love of Liver and Butter

By Alejandra Cleves | Illustrated by Becki Kozel


Alejandra Cleves
Illustrated by Becki Kozel
Illustrated by Becki Kozel
Illustrated by Becki Kozel

After more than 15 years, she may have finally done it. 

“It should be a butter substitute,” says Cara Luff, chef at Boxcar Restaurant in Avon, Colorado. “My mother keeps small vacuumed-sealed bags of it in her freezer.” This precious, hoard-worthy commodity is Luff’s chicken liver pâté, which has a hard-won, superlative formula that pushes it over the edge from pure delight to salacious perfection: a 1:1 ratio of liver to clarified butter. 

Luff first began developing her recipe while a culinary student, and took her pâté 1.0 on the road to posts at Eric Ziebold’s CityZen in Washington, D.C., and Jason Wilson’s Crush in Seattle, where she played with the ratio and added duck liver to the mix. 

“I learned how livers can be different, and played with different ratios of butter to liver, different temperatures, salts, ovens, bacons to wrap it—even different altitudes.” 

At Boxcar, Luff keeps it casual (and food costs low), using 100 percent chicken livers. For the fat, she experimented with whole butter but couldn’t get the pâté to emulsify. “It completely broke down and became mealy. The smooth, silky texture comes from clarified butter. I’ve used expensive to mediocre butter and never noticed a flavor difference, but I’ve found that more expensive butters yield more during the clarifying process.”

Throughout the recipe’s evolution, unsuccessful batches failed due to poor quality livers or temperature inconsistencies. Temperature is crucial: “This is my favorite part because it becomes an art form,” says Luff. “During the emulsification process, everything must be perfectly cold-ish. The livers, the butter (borderline solid), the wine reduction (the consistency of cold syrup).”   

Another imperative: Do not overcook. Luff also notes that when baking, the pâté will expand (it “literally explodes a little”), but when cooled, it relaxes back into the terrine mold—a moment of fleeting flawlessness. But it will only recline into its own perfection until Luff decides to move forward with the next evolution of her lifework, for the love of liver and butter.

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