Thursday, February 19, 2015

An Offal Tale - Pan-Fried Calf Liver with Onions and Bacon

I'm a lover of liver, whether it be chicken, calf, duck, goose or beef.  Foie gras tickles my fancy, especially when it is served on top of a fried Krispy Kreme doughnut, the way they prepared it at a.lure Restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.  Right now a.lure is serving cornmeal-crusted chicken livers on their appetizer menu, while nearby Vic's on the River, another favorite in which I've ordered their chicken liver offering in the past, right now has fried chicken liver sliders on their menu of sandwich selections.  More proof that, as my friend Dave has explained to me more than once, Southerners really are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.  Also more proof of why I love Savannah.  OMG the food!  And by the way, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited.

Chicken livers are probably my all-time favorite, although my grandmother (she-who-raised me) made the most fantastic Jewish chopped liver using beef liver.  No hard-boiled eggs, either.  Her chopped liver was serious stuff, best consumed by people who came from Ashkenazic Jewish stock all the way back to the Russian shtetels of the nineteenth century.  In her mind, only Litvaks, Galicianes, and goyim ate chopped liver made from chicken liver, and as far as she was concerned, anyone adding chopped hard-boiled eggs to any chopped liver recipe was practically a heretic.

Preparing chopped beef liver was a production.  There had to be a lot of fried onions.  Substantial quantities of fried onions, which required peeling and chopping vast numbers of sharp yellow globes  capable of inducing more tears than Melanie's death scene in "Gone With The Wind."  Then you had to cook the liver, and I don't recall now if she broiled the liver (the kosher way to prepare it) or sautéed it in some of the onion-infused corn oil.  Her liver was never dried out, and she never kept kosher, so I'm voting for the sauté.

Finally, the cooked liver had to be eased into a meat grinder, which was of course, manual.  Mom still cooked like she was a young wife and mother back in the late 1920s, and wasn't big on any kind of electric appliances.  She did own a manual egg beater in addition to her hand grinder, which was pretty high-tech for her.

In time she came to appreciate the awesome qualities of true gehaktah leber made from chicken liver, which was a good thing since it was the way I preferred to make it.

When I was growing up in the Five Towns, our family used to go to a restaurant in Cedarhurst, the name of which I cannot remember. Two dishes I remember from the menu were Roumanian Tenderloin, which the rest of the world knows as skirt steak, and Liver with Onions or Bacon.  The liver was sliced thick - at least an inch, probably closer to an inch and a half, was crusty on both sides, and simply delicious.  I alternated choices, as the skirt steak and the liver were, and remain, two of my favorite foods in the world.  Ketchup was de riguere with both dishes (at this point, my beloved husband, who faithfully reads my blog posts, is no doubt shuddering with culinary horror.  Sorry, my love).

Chicken livers, and sometimes calf liver, are available in the regular meat case.  When available, I like to purchase organic chicken livers, but that's not absolutely necessary.  I do not buy the calf liver in the meat case,  just as I do not buy the veal, with the notable exception of breast of veal.  Veal is so expensive that it is rarely purchased by anyone, and it tends to sit there, passing the buy date while turning strange and unappetizing colors.

One day, when I was suffering major sticker shock while pricing brisket and ground beef, I decided to try the frozen calf liver, which seems to always be available at Publix.  I knew this was going to be something that only Rob and I would consume, because our son, who cheerfully eats all types of raw fish, eel, venison, elk, alligator, and ostrich, will not touch liver.  Take this kid into a Korean restaurant - or to Korea - and he will scarf down foods which leave me faint. Offer him a beautiful dish piled high with plump, sweet chicken livers cooked with tons of onions, garlic, and a touch of oregano, and he will run screaming into the night.

I blame it on a biology lesson he had, somewhere around fifth grade.



Anyway, if you are one of those people who think offal is awful, this would be a good time to jump ship.

1 pound of sliced bacon
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 -1 pound package frozen calf liver (it comes sliced, skinned, and deveined), defrosted.
Milk or Half-and-Half
All-Purpose Flour
Kosher Salt
Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
Canola Oil


The night before, rinse the defrosted liver under cool water and place in a flat plastic container with a lid.  Pour in enough milk or half-and-half to cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lay out the bacon in a large baking pan with sides.  When the bacon is cooked to your favorite degree of crispness, remove it to cool on paper towels.  Pour the bacon fat into a large skillet with high sides, and add an equal amount of canola oil.  Over medium high heat, start to sauté the onions.

Place a cup or so of flour onto a large plate, and season the flour with the salt and pepper.  Push the onions to one side of the skillet.  Remove each piece of liver from the milk and let the excess drip off, then immediately dredge in the seasoned flour.  Repeat until each piece is floured.  Working in batches, fry the liver alongside the onions, turning the liver when blood starts to rise on the surface.  You want the liver to be browned on both sides and cooked through, but not dried out.  Take your time and check the doneness as you go along.  Also continue to stir and turn the onions so that they brown evenly.

Serve the liver with the fried onions and the bacon. My all-time favorite side dish for liver is mashed potatoes, and because I love them with mashed potatoes, cooked sweet green peas.  Don't forget the bottle of ketchup. Yes, it has to be Heinz.


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