The Nasty Bits

Recipes and stories for everything but the oink.

The Nasty Bits: Beef Liver

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[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

At the post office yesterday the man behind the counter, upon seeing that my envelope was marked for Manhattan, asked me whether I was "sending a top secret chile sauce recipe to the big city." There is really nothing you can say that will be half as funny, but I told him that if I did have a top-secret chile recipe, I would serve it with liver.

Since I've come back to New Mexico, I've been smothering everything in either red or green chile. Red chile sauce makes for a much better accompaniment to liver than green. Smother liver in green chile, and you feel like you're eating some deranged liver salsa. But paired with red, the liver tastes rich but not intensely so, and the spiciness of the sauce complements the strong taste of the organ.

Of the most kinds common kinds of liver you can find—chicken, veal, pork, and beef—the last is perhaps the least used and understood. Veal liver, so tender and mild, is my favorite mammalian liver, second only to various poultry livers that are richer and creamier. Beef liver loses much of that tenderness. Truth be told, I could live out the rest of my days without eating another bite of beef liver. But I say, why not diversify one's consumption of all the livers available to us?

Both pork and beef liver have the same kind of metallic matured flavor that so many find distasteful about liver. Which is why, while cooks may sauté or sear poultry and veal liver in a little butter and eat it without much embellishment, you don't find too many recipes asking you to slap a piece of pork or beef liver into a pan. But this does a disservice to how pleasant a fresh piece of pork or beef liver can be so long as you have something very strong to go with your entrée.

For years red chili sauce confounded me. It was as dark and mysterious as the green chiles were bright and translucent. Green chile sauce was ostensibly a purée of chiles, but what exactly was in this velvety-smooth red liquid, which dripped slowly off the spoon like honey? The taste of red chile sauce was both deep and shocking in its rawness, as if it really was conjured in a kitchen full of secret ingredients and well-guarded recipes.

As it turns out, red chile sauce is nothing more than a gravy with red chile powder in it. The most basic recipe for red chile sauce contains a flour and oil roux, water, salt, and red chile powder. Common variations include adding tomato paste, stock, and other flavor-boosting ingredients to the mixture, but it is perfectly acceptable—and very tasty—to make it with only water and dried red chile powder. The chile powder you get here in New Mexico is made from a combination of chilies, like guajillo, but almost any flavorful powder you have on hand will do.

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Pan-seared liver in red chile sauce.

Liver and red chile sauce: it is a very favorable match, save for one little detail, which I didn't think about until things were already set in motion in the kitchen. Now I know that if you cover a protein that is brownish-red in a sauce that is completely red, you end up with an entrée that looks really bloody. Details, details.

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About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.

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