Wednesday, May 9, 2007

How Do You Like Your Liver?

My father-in-law has returned home from major surgery so my wife and I volunteered to cook lunch for her parents.

And what do you suppose would be at the top of their list of favorite meals?


My wife will have none of it. She won't eat filtering organs. If the organ has been filtering, she figures there's something in it she doesn't want to put in her mouth.
("It's really the texture I can't stand," my wife tells me now. "It's gritty and weird.")

But when you think about it, liver can be pretty sublime. Where would we be, for instance, without pate de foie gras? Or what kind of world would this be without an occasional schmear of chopped liver on toast? Even a simple skillet of chicken livers with scrambled eggs lifts breakfast to another level.

At least it does for me.

So I was elated when the in-laws requested liver for the welcome-home meal. Naturally, our local Whole Foods was out of calves liver. They had some nice looking kidneys. But once again I found myself at the Customer Service desk asking the clerk to make some phone calls.

Soon enough I had about 1 1/2 pounds of fresh calves liver and three Vidalia onions. I figured this would be enough for four persons, or three as the case might be. My wife sliced the onions thinly and browned them to a silky confection before we left the house. This left only the cooking of the livers, which I proceeded to do in a heavy skillet after we arrived at the family home in Annapolis.

First, put the browned onions in a 200-degree oven to come up to temperature.

As for the liver, it should be sliced about 1/2-inch thick, or a maybe a little thicker. Season it agressively with salt and pepper on both sides. Pour a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil into the skillet over moderately high heat. The oil should be starting to smoke.

Cook the liver on one side until it is nicely browned. Then flip and repeat on the other side. The total cooking time will be around five minutes (or maybe three minutes, I wasn't really timing it. See Stephen's comment below).

Test for doneness by poking the meat with your finger: It should still have some give to it for meat that is pinkish in the middle. Or cut a piece open and take a look. Personally, I like my liver more toward the medium-to-medium-rare side. But some people can't stand liver that isn't cooked all the way through. It's up to you.

At this point, remove the skillet from the heat and pour a tablespoon or two of good brandy into the pan with the meat. Light the brandy, tipping the pan if necessary to get the liquid to collect at one end. Shake the pan until the flames subside.

Remove the meat from the pan onto a plate to rest. Meanwhile, drop two tablespoons of butter into the skillet and deglaze on the stove, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan.

Distribute the warmed onions onto dinner plates. Place the liver over the onions and drizzle the pan juices over everything. You could garnish the meat with some chopped parsley if you like. Alternately, smother the liver with the onions.

We served this with poached asparagus (thick spears--the father-in-law grew up with asparagus and insists on thick spears) and baby potatoes. I don't remember being hungry the rest of the afternoon.


stephen said...

Five minutes!?!! Isn't it stiff as plywood by then?

I'm just sayin'... ;-)

Ok, I know it's a matter of personal preference but give this a try when the anti-filtering-organ contingent is elsewhere: very hot pan, scant oil, 45 seconds a side (for your half-inch slices).

And by the way, I'm with your father-in-law: thin stalks are for people who like to look at asparagus, not eat it.

But back to liver...our exchange about offal the other day inspired me to pick up some pork liver (yes, in fact it was glistening) and I'll be posting the results in a day or two.

Best, Stephen

Ed Bruske said...

Forty-five seconds certainly is a lot quicker than 5 minutes, Stephen. Tell you what: Next time my wife's at work, I will try that.

How would you compare the pork liver with the calves liver? I almost hesitate to mention, but our favorite butcher also sells pork brains...

My father-in-law, who picked asparagus as a youth in Upstate New York, is convinced the industry has introduced a new pencil-thin variety. Somehow, I don't think that's the case. I need to make an appointment with our farmer friend Mike to pick some asparagus.