Serious Eats: Recipes

The Nasty Bits: Calf's Liver with Onions

"Liver is the ultimate quick-cooking offal."

Calf's liver. [Photographs: Chichi Wang]

Although I've been gnawing on chicken feet for most of my life, my love affair with viscera began in earnest in college. I was the student who, between mouthfuls of potato chips, voiced nitpicky objections to the argument. Due to an unlucky incident involving yours truly and a bowl of tikka masala, my Introduction to Western Philosophy professor instated a no-snacking-policy in the classroom, curry or otherwise. For the rest of the semester, I toiled through the class without the aid of food. This was unfortunate, because the further we moved into Greek philosophy, the hungrier for offal I became.

The ancient Greeks tell all sorts of delectable tales about the liver. Most famously, Prometheus, immortal son of the Titans, thief of fire, is punished by being chained to a rock while eagles devour his liver. The crux of the tale rests on his immortality: Overnight, the liver of our hero regenerates so that he is forced to suffer the same fate for eternity. What most don't read about Prometheus, however, is that he's deceived Zeus once before. As my professor recounted during one especially trying seminar, Prometheus tricks Zeus by placing before him two offerings—the first, a selection of meats placed within the stomach of an ox, and the second, a collection of the ox's bones hidden within layers of glistening fat. The significance of the tale is no longer clear to me, but I do remember that with all the talk of liver, tripe, and fat, I walked out of the seminar ravenous for innards.

Thankfully, we're never more than a few minutes away to a perfectly cooked piece of liver. Tripe may take a long while to stew; liver, on the other hand, is the ultimate quick-cooking offal. Poultry livers are good and well, but there's nothing quite like the flabby, glistening, massive presence of a calf's liver. Sweet and rich, a fresh piece of calf's liver is incomparably delicious, possessing the tenderness of a poultry liver coupled with the more assertive, feral taste that comes with eating a larger animal.


More so than Plato, calf's liver with onions defined my college years - I cooked it for myself before big exams as a stress-buster, after the exams to celebrate, and sometimes in between on rainy days.

One of my favorite calf's liver recipes comes from The River Cottage Meatbook, in which the pan is deglazed with balsamic vinegar after the liver has been seared. A well-aged balsamic pairs nicely, but recently I've been using an aged fig vinegar, a sweeter and much fruitier alternative. Flash-fried leaves of sage accompany the liver and onions, providing a welcome, herbaceous contrast to the heaviness of the dish.


Calf's Liver with Onions

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, My Chalkboard Fridge.

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