If you eat the estrella pasta at Upland without being told that the meat component is chicken liver, you might very well mistake it for beef. Chef Justin Smillie has developed a technique that gives the liver a meaty texture, while accentuating the ingredient's inherent earthiness. You might think you are eating dry aged beef or lamb. To achieve this, Smillie starts off by building what looks like a patty of liver in the middle of the pan, then topping it with diced shallots and rosemary. He allows that to gently warm, while a crust forms on the bottom of the pan — what's known in the cooking world as a fond. The quality of the liver is very important. The chef is looking for a dark crimson color. "The blood is what combines the whole dish, and this technique stops you from over cooking the liver and losing the creaminess" says Smillie.
Once the fond has developed, the chef breaks the patty apart, causing the liver to form small pebbles that look a lot like the ground meat in a standard bolognese. Next Smillie deglazes the pan with sherry, which cuts the richness of the liver with its acidity, before adding chicken stock and the house made estrella pasta. All the while the pan is in constant motion, so as to insure that the sauce remains emulsified. Smillie uses fats sparingly, almost as seasoning rather than to give the dish more body. "Handle the starch correctly," he says, "and you don't need a lot of butter and cheese." The dish is a big seller, with 30 to 40 portions going out per night. That doesn't surprise Smillie: "New Yorkers have a good relationship with chicken liver."