Caitlin Bensel
Active Time
50 MIN
Total Time
12 HR 50 MIN
Yield
Serves : 6

When I tucked into the Southern Sampler at the Rice House Restaurant in northwest Georgia, I swear could taste chef Evan Babb’s whole life story right there on one plate. The way the tart muscadine jam played off the velvety chicken liver mousse, the perfectly crumbly Peaceburg cheddar pimiento cheese, and those deviled eggs crowned with little salty pops of local Siberian sturgeon caviar! I couldn’t help but wonder what inspired these perfect little bites. Fortunately, the chef was very happy to indulge my curiosity.

“My mama is the only person I’ve ever known who eats fried chicken livers and eggs for breakfast,” Babb explained, tracing the legacy of his Southern Sampler to his childhood growing up in nearby Armuchee, Georgia. He mines those memories then refines them through a gourmet lens to inspire the dishes he crafts as the chef for the Barnsley Resort, just miles from his hometown. A generous teacher, Babb was eager to share the secrets that make all of the components of his Southern Sampler sing. 

The mousse is probably dearest to his heart. Chicken livers begin their transformation with an overnight bath in Tabasco and buttermilk, an auspicious beginning if there ever was one. Babb uses butter three ways in his mousse: he fries the livers in clarified butter, then processes them with cold unsalted butter to impart a fluffier texture before finally capping the finished mousse with a layer of nutty browned butter to provide a perfect counterbalance to the flavors of brandy and lemon. In one bite, it’s both nostalgically down-home and ultra-luxe.

When it comes to the deviled eggs, Babb's are traditional with a twist. He folds in a little Dijon mustard and a bit of the juice from a jar of pimiento-stuffed olives. But he likes have fun with an eggs-on-eggs here riff here, topping each with a spoonful of caviar he sources from nearby University of Georgia in Athens, where they’ve pioneered the aquaculture of the Siberian sturgeon. “This is the most local caviar I can get—not too salty, and real buttery; it brings a nice umami-ness to the deviled eggs.”

While there’s certainly no wrong way to enjoy the Southern Sampler, Babb showed me his preferred take: slather a slice of toasted baguette with that luscious mousse and then top with a dollop of muscadine jam that he makes from fruit gathered on property. The flavors check every box—bright, smooth, crunchy, and most of all, delicious. In between mouthfuls, I asked him what his mother thinks of his take on her breakfast standard. He got quiet and then a little wistful, telling me that she cried after tasting his food and that he had surpassed her talents in the kitchen. “You know, you can have all kinds of achievements and win all kinds of awards,” Babb said, “but when you hear your mama say something like that? Wow.”—Christiana Roussel

How to Make It

Step 1    

Place chicken livers in a bowl, and add the buttermilk and Tabasco. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Step 2    

Drain the livers; place them on a clean paper towel, and pat dry. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Step 3    

Melt the clarified butter in a large pan over medium-high. Add the livers, and sear until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate. Add shallot, thyme, and bay leaf; cook, stirring often, until shallots are translucent. Add the apple brandy and lemon zest, and cook until almost the pan is almost dry, about 2 minutes.

Step 4    

Remove and discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Add livers, shallot mixture, 1/2 cup cold butter, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to the bowl of a food processor or blender. With processor running, slowly add the heavy cream. Once the mixture is smooth, pour contents through a fine wire-mesh strainer into a bowl, pushing on solids with a plastic dough scraper. Discard any solids. Pour the mousse evenly into 6 jars, filling each about two-thirds full. Gently tap jars on the work surface to flatten the mousse.

Step
Step 5    

Wipe pan clean; add remaining 1/4 cup cold butter, and cook over medium until melted and browned, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly. Spoon enough melted brown butter into each jar to cover the mousse, and chill in the refrigerator until set, about 4 hours. Serve with pimiento cheese, deviled eggs, muscadine jam, pickles, cornichons, and grilled bread.

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