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A Summer Spread

Local chefs dish on their favorite picnic menus and locales

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Waller Creek Picnic Basket
Five local chefs discuss their summer picnic favorites.  Photo by Clayton Aynesworth

There's no better way to usher in summer than to take off your shoes, throw down a blanket, watch the clouds and nosh on a delicious meal. Whether you partake with the whole family or just your significant other, a little unplugged time in the middle of nowhere (or your favorite park or your own backyard) seems like the fitting thing to do right now.

To get you started — and to make things a little easier for you — we asked a few chefs around town to tell us what their ideal picnic in Austin would be, from the menu and location to a special item and an extra touch. And as a bonus, they also share a recipe.

Sam Hellman-Mass, Odd Duck
"It’s always great to eat outside with friends. Fresh bread and great summer ingredients are a fun and delicious way to enjoy an afternoon meal in the sun." 

Menu: Ciabatta bread, whipped goat cheese, Texas peach preserve, cured salami, fresh basil, field pea hummus, grilled and marinated zucchini 

Spot: St. Edwards Park

Must-have: "The bread is the backbone of a great picnic meal. Everyone can make their perfect bite with light and crusty ciabatta bread and their favorite toppings."

Add-on: Hops and Grain canned beer and a Frisbee 

Field Pea Hummus

  • 1 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 quart cooked and drained field peas such as creamer peas or purple hull peas 
  • 1 clove minced raw garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced raw ginger
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Salt to taste

Purée the toasted sesame seeds and extra virgin olive oil in a blender until smooth, adding more oil if needed to make the mixture smooth. Transfer the purée to a food processor and add cooked drained peas, raw garlic and raw ginger. Process until smooth and add fresh lemon juice, salt and extra virgin olive oil to taste.  

Albert Gonzalez, Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar
"Growing up in Chicago, we didn’t have much easily accessible outdoor space, and some of my fondest memories are picnicking with my mother in the backyard. You don’t need a lot, just the right person. And beer."

Menu: Cheese and salumi (they taste best at room temperature, which means you have one less thing to keep cold and more room in the cooler for beer), fried chicken (cook this earlier in the day and just keep it warm), and beer (you now have a ton of room in your cooler so no excuses to run out). 

Spot: I’ll picnic anywhere, any time, but I prefer to do it at the falls. I want my dogs to be with me. The water gives them a good source of entertainment.

Must-have: Beer

Add-on: As the proud owner of a gas-powered blender, I like doing piña coladas for dessert. Just try to do this away from a lot of people. I attract a crowd every time, as it sounds like a helicopter.

Fried Chicken Recipe

  • 4 chicken legs
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • Lard

Soak the chicken completely submerged in the buttermilk for at least 6 hours. Overnight is better, but don’t go longer than 12 hours. Mix the flour with all the spices and place in a Ziploc bag. Remove the chicken, making sure to allow all excess buttermilk to drain off. While the chicken is draining, heat a cast iron pan with lard to around 325 to 350 degrees. Cast iron is best because it retains heat and will help the oil to not lose temperature when you put the chicken in. You need enough lard only to cover the chicken a little more then half way up but don’t submerge it. Your breading will adhere better and be crispier this way.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper in addition to the seasoning in the flour. Be aggressive, but remember there is also seasoning in the flour. Place the seasoned chicken in the bag with the flour and shake until completely covered. Dust off excess and you are ready to fry. Cook the chicken until it is nice and crispy on both sides and has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Don’t crowd the pan. The chicken should never be touching another piece or the sides. Make sure not to cover the chicken right when it comes out of the oil — it’s still hot and the steam will make your crispy crust soggy.

Roman Murphy, Bess Bistro
"As a young chef, one doesn’t get to spend a lot of time relaxing with family/friends/a significant other, so picnics are the perfect setting for quality time surrounded by nature — removed from the hustle and bustle of the city."

Menu: Charcuterie spread and accouterments (chicken liver mousse, pork rillettes and sobrasada), a baguette from Walton’s Fancy and Staple, cheese selection from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, last season’s pickled vegetables, seasonal mixed fruit and a nice bottle of Cuvee Rosé Brut.

Spot: River Place Nature Trail — at the north end where the rock flats are next to the river. 

Must-have: I chose the chicken liver mousse because I’m originally from East Texas and grew up eating chicken livers with my family. This is an elevated adaptation of a family tradition, and chicken liver mousse is my wife’s personal favorite charcuterie recipe of mine.

Add-on: A bouquet of peonies and an assortment of salted caramels, my wife’s favorites.

Chicken Liver Mousse

  • 1/2 pound of chicken livers (cleaned and soaked in milk overnight)
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Fresno pepper
  • 2 ounces of thyme, leaves picked
  • 2 sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 4 ounces melted butter
  • Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon pink curing salt

Pour 2 ounces melted butter into a sauté pan over medium heat. Sweat onion, garlic and Fresno pepper. Once tender, remove and set aside. Season chicken livers with salt and pepper. Sear in melted butter for one to two minutes on each side, without overcooking. Add sweated vegetables and herbs into sauté pan with livers. Deglaze pan with brandy and reduce by half. Add heavy cream and reduce by half again.

Remove mixture from heat. Pour into Vitamix, add the pink curing salt, and blend until smooth. Taste purée and adjust with salt, pepper and lemon juice as needed. Strain purée through a fine-mesh bowl strainer (or chinois). Spoon into 4-ounce mason jars. Bake in a water-bath at 350 degrees until cake tester (or small knife) inserted in center comes out clean (about 25 to 35 minutes). Remove mousse from water-bath and refrigerate overnight. Serve.

John Lichtenberger, Péché
"I remember one time on a beautiful day in the spring we took the kids out of school and had a wonderful family picnic. They learned more that day then they would have in school."

Menu: Rabbit and chicken terrine and Bing cherries. The wine would be a Sancerre. For dessert, a bottle of absinthe with some crushed ice.

Spot: I would go to the botanical gardens with my wife. I discovered them when I first moved here.

Must-have: Cherries go so well with the liver, and when in season, I can live off of them.

Add-on: We love to bring our dogs, too.

Rabbit Pâté (Adapted from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon)

Spice mixture

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pink salt
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced thyme
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves

Grind the salts, thyme, nutmeg, peppercorns and bay leaves in a coffee or spice grinder. Set aside.

Pâté

  • 13 ounces rabbit meat (from 1 whole rabbit or 3 to 4 legs)
  • 1 1/4 pounds chicken livers
  • 9 ounces (8 to 9 slices) white bread
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • canola oil
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1 1/4 pounds thinly sliced slab bacon
  • 9 ounces fresh unsalted pork fatback, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons cognac or other brandy
  • Dijon mustard
  • Cornichons
  • Radishes
  • Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the rabbit into 1-inch cubes. (You should have about 1 3/4 cups.) Place in a medium bowl. Clean any fat, sinew or dark spots from the livers. Add to the rabbit, then add the ground spices and toss well, being sure to coat the rabbit and livers evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or up to six hours.

About 30 minutes before grinding the meat, remove the crusts from the bread and tear the bread into pieces no more than an inch across. Place in a medium bowl, add the milk and set aside to soak.

Brush a 12 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-3-inch high lidded terrine with a light coating of oil. Line the terrine with plastic wrap, leaving about a 6-inch overhang on all four sides. Arrange the five bay leaves in a line down the bottom of the terrine.

Sarah McIntosh, épicerie

Menu: Salumi or any kind of shelf stable meat. A sturdy bread and cheese — von Trapp Farmstead’s Oma from Vermont, a washed rind raw cow’s milk that will stand up to the heat; Ossau Iraty from France, a sheep’s milk cheese; and Roquefort Carles from France, a sheep’s milk mind-blowing blue cheese. Pair it all with a light red wine or Grenache. Something that doesn’t need to stay cool.

Spot: Shaded spot

Must-have: Cheese

Add-on: Salted chocolate chip cookies 

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