Welcome back! I’m cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook and today’s recipe comes from one of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s golden age.
Gary Cooper is famous for his Frank Capra films and his westerns but he got his start in the silent era, specifically supporting Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky in The Winning of Barbara Worth. Cooper made a successful jump to sound with The Virginian and the rest is cinematic history.
Ah, but can he cook? That’s what we will be discovering today.
I should note that, as is the case with other Paramount stars, Cooper’s recipe is actually plagiarized from an earlier cookbook. I wasn’t sure if Mary Brian was a sneaky recipe thief when I tried out her pudding but it seems that Paramount just swiped recipes en masse and slapped star names on them. In Cooper’s case, they made the curious decision to assign him a fussy luncheon dish, which seems off-brand for a burgeoning cowboy (Cooper released both The Virginian and The Wolf Song in 1929) but maybe they were trying to tap into the “young lover” thing. This recipe was stolen word-for-word from Fannie Farmer’s 1912 A New Book of Cookery.
As stated before, it’s unlikely that many of the stars actually made their recipes and some even merrily confessed to this fact but it’s fun to pretend that they did. So we can imagine Gary Cooper slaving over a mortar full of liver mush if it gives us pleasure.
Timbales are extremely old school. I had seen them pictured on mid-century menus and in mid-century cookbooks (especially veggie-based ones) but I had never tasted one, let alone prepared one.
The liver variation is similar to a pâté but it is lightened with both whipped cream and beaten egg whites. The livers and chicken meat are to be mashed as finely as possible, resulting in a smooth and dainty dish.
One thing you should know: If it’s reasonably safe, I’ll eat anything that doesn’t eat me first. Pig and chicken feet? Bring it. Fermentation? Oh yes. Tentacles, eyeballs, weird cheeses that are banned on public transit are all on my radar.
I have recently started expanding my diet to include more organ meats and other parts of animals that are generally met with an “ew” by people who happily munch on a pig’s buttock with salt and nitrates. (Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with just plain not liking offal, I simply object to people dismissing it as repulsive by definition when they also eat the rear ends of assorted creatures.) You can read my sweetbreads experience here.
Like kidney, liver is definitely on the more gutsy side of the flavor spectrum. Hearts and sweetbreads lack that musty taste and are far better intros to the world of offal eating but Gary wanted liver (well, not really but we’re humoring Photoplay) and liver we shall have. That being said, chicken livers are pretty mild by internal organ standards and this recipe has enough cream, chicken breast and egg to further dilute the possibly off-putting livery taste. By guts standards, this is the easy stuff.
The recipe does not state how the chicken and livers are to be prepared. I had an entire breast from a chicken I had roasted the night before. (I made a fresh herb and lemon zest butter to rub under the skin, in case you were wondering what those flecks are.)
For the livers, I soaked them in milk overnight after cleaning them and then I dried them on paper towels. What did I do then? I heated up some bacon fat. (I know, I know, I should have saved it to help crush Axis submarines. In my defense, the war is over.) A quick sear in the fat and oh my! I was ready to eat them right there but more work was called for.
White stock just means a delicately seasoned chicken or veal stock. I used low sodium chicken broth. The paprika was Hungarian and the pepper was freshly ground. I used a lighter hand on the salt because the chicken breast had been dry brined so it was pretty salty.
I combined the chicken breast, livers, egg yolks, stock and spices in a bowl. I know the recipe calls for a mortar and pestle but I am the proud owner of an immersion blender, darn it, and I’m going to use it. A food processor or a classic blender should work as well. Or you can pestle the sucker, if you’re feeling historically accurate and/or masochistic.
I blitzed the ingredients until I had a paste/batter the approximate thickness of stiff pancake batter. If yours is too thick, add a trickle of stock. Then I beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and the same with the cream and then I folded them into the meat batter. Once the white streaks were gone, I was ready to mold.
I greased my adorable square ramekins with bacon fat (in for a penny, in for a pound) and poured in the batter into four of them. You can still buy timbale molds but, come on, how many timbales are you really going to make? Ramekins are fine. I then placed the ramekins into a baking dish, covered them with greased parchment paper and poured in warm water. The recipe does not give a baking temperature but other timbale recipes are baked between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit, so I went with 350 for 25 minutes.
The timbales puffed slightly in the oven. I let them cool a bit before digging in. The recipe that Paramount stole calls for a mushroom cream sauce but it’s not in the Photoplay cookbook, so I skipped it. It’s not like this recipe needs the added calories. So, I just unmolded, garnished with parsley and dug in.
Score: 5 out of 5. WOW! Like all pâté-like substances, the timbales resemble cat food on the plate but are they ever delicious! The texture is gorgeous, silky and mousse-like, and the flavor is a delicate blend of chicken and liver.
I spread mine on toast points, as befits such a dish, but I’m sure a mushroom or tomato-based sauce would be very nice. And Photoplay is not kidding about these things being rich. After a few spoonfuls, I was ready to cry uncle. If you have a small family or only a few guests, I recommend halving the recipe.
Obviously, this recipe is extremely old school and may not be to modern taste but if you have some offal-eating friends who want a bit of mid-century decadence, this recipe delivers in spades. It’s also a perfect gateway dish for somebody who wants to expand their diet to include offal but isn’t quite ready to have their liver straight.
The success of the dish depends very much on how you season your liver and chicken but this is a great way to use up leftovers. Chicken livers are certainly cheap enough, assuming that your supermarket carries them. (Offal is becoming harder and harder to find but I have had good success at Mexican markets.) For a few dollars worth of ingredients, you’ll get a massive yield of mousse that would probably cost a fortune in a gourmet market, which is pretty awesome. Cheapskate epicures can rejoice.
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