California’s on-and-off again ban on foie gras is back on. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal and sent the case back to the lower appellate courts, effectively reinstating the ban.
But even before then, many California restaurants have steered clear of foie — made from force-feeding geese to create fattened livers. Instead, they’ve been adding chicken liver mousse to their menus. While not as luxurious as foie gras, chicken liver mousse can delight the palates of diners looking for a creamy liver spread.
I’ve become a fan of chicken liver mousse, and several shops in the East Bay make it for those wanting to enjoy it at home. Nosh decided to compare the four main local contenders to figure out if there’s much of a difference between them.
First, a note about the “judging.” I used a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being best, and considered four areas: appearance, texture, taste and value.
Here are four versions of chicken liver mousse and how they each stacked up in this informal rating system.
Market Hall Foods
The deli section of Market Hall Foods offers up chicken liver mousse that’s displayed like a loaf. The counter people will cut off slabs for you depending on how much you want (sold at $12.95 a pound). Market Hall’s mousse, which has a layer of port jelly on top, was a 2015 Good Food Award recipient.
The dark port jelly provides a visual contrast to the muddy brown chicken liver and adds a nice sweetness to its mineral-like taste. The liver is deep and rich in flavor, like good chicken broth. My only complaints are it’s pretty solid and not that easy to spread, so it was a bit chalky when I tried to spread it on a cracker.
But since you can buy as much as you want, you can get away with spending about $5 to serve a group of four for a pre-dinner snack. The cost works out to be about 80-cents an ounce. Market Hall Foods, 5655 College Ave. (at Keith), Oakland; 1786 Fourth St. (between Virginia and Hearst), Berkeley
Clove & Hoof
This popular butchery and sandwich eatery in North Oakland has several items for sale in its charcuterie section, including a version of chicken liver mousse, which comes in a plastic container. A layer of fat on top serves to keep the mousse fresh until eaten.
Its nice pink color can turn slightly gray when exposed to air, but the mousse is soft and easy to spread, with a light, airy feel. It has an intense chicken flavor, and tastes almost as if it has an alcoholic tang (but don’t worry, you won’t get a buzz from eating it).
I noticed when Clove & Hoof first started selling chicken liver mousse, it was offered in cute, petit 4-ounce jars for $10 but it’s now in a half-pint tub for the same price. So, it now works out to be $1.25 an ounce, which is a good value for the quality of the ingredients. Clove & Hoof, 4001 Broadway (at 40th), Oakland
Fifth Quarter Charcuterie
This tiny butcher shop in Oakland’s Montclair Village technically makes a chicken liver pâté, but there’s enough butter in it that you probably wouldn’t notice the difference. The jar of pâté is different than the rest with its addition of bourbon cherries.
The top of the pâté has a layer of snow-white fat that’s a bit thick, but it has a rich color, almost reddish purple — possibly from the cherries. The texture is easy to spread, but it’s not as smooth as the more airy mousse.
The taste is also very much like intense chicken broth, with a savory flavor that’s reminiscent of sausage. The cherries add a nice sweetness that cuts the richness, and an unusual touch that makes this spread more complex. Fifth Quarter Charcuterie, 6464 Moraga Ave. (at Medau), Oakland
This Albany-based business won this year’s Good Food Award in the charcuterie category for its chicken liver mousse. It sells 4-ounce jars for $10 at the Berkeley and Kensington farmers markets on weekends. Soon, you’ll be able to get Picnic’s products when it opens its first brick-and-mortar shop in Albany this spring.
The mousse has a pretty layer of yellow-tinted fat on top. A sprig of an herb acts as garnish. The light reddish-brown mousse is smooth and creamy, so it’s easy to spread. There are hints of smokey bacon flavor and a deep chicken broth taste. Savory, but not assertive, the spread barely has that traditional mineral-like liver taste at all.
Picnic is the priciest of the bunch at $2.50 an ounce, but you get a discount when you bring back the jar on your next visit. Picnic currently has a stand at the Berkeley Farmers Market on Saturday and the Kensington Farmers Market on Sunday.
Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.