Serious Eats: Recipes

The Nasty Bits: Duck Liver

[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

Greenmarket farmers' markets in New York City are my favorite new place to hunt for offal. You may not think of your farmers' market as a source for nose-to-tail cuts, yet these days the meat vendors are showing up in full force. Best of all, you never know what you might find in one of their coolers.

Over the past year, I've come across cuts of offal at farmers' markets that I haven't even found at sustainable or ethnic butcher shops. Why I was surprised to see cartons of livers and hearts in the coolers at the farmers' markets, I don't know. By the time animals arrive at a butcher shop, they'll have passed through plants where some percentage of the offal is discarded in an effort to expedite the process and keep the facilities clean. The farmers who slaughter as well as butcher, on the other hand, often take the time to save the offal from their animals. Though not all farmers possess the facilities and legal certification, some do have their own abattoirs on site. Even those who do not own their own abattoirs will send their animals to be slaughtered at places where the offal can be reserved.

On a Saturday morning at the Borough Hall Greenmarket in Brooklyn, I chatted with a turkey farmer who carried bags of turkey necks. In the adjacent stand, a pastured poultry farmer sold some of the most pristine livers I'd ever seen: plump and dry, with a matte gloss on the surface. Livers that you find in your grocery store often have a slickness to their surface and a slightly rank odor. These livers, on the other hand, smelled distinctly sweet.

Pairing Duck Liver with Produce

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If you've only experienced the creaminess of chicken liver, try to imagine the indulgence of duck liver. Its texture, though a far cry from foie gras, approaches the richness of something that tastes too good to be a humble cut of offal sold for a pittance. But cheap and delicious it is, and if you're strolling by the farmers' market, then you may as well pick up seasonal produce to pair with your livers. Rhubarb, with its tart flavor, cuts through the fattiness of duck liver. Cherries, which vary from tart to sweet, add more juice and sweetness to the sauce.

All livers pair well with acidic sauces, many of which are made with reductions of vinegar. Using fruit instead of vinegar adds more body and texture to the dish. Rhubarb is showing up more and more on restaurant menus as a complement to savory dishes, but given the ease of its preparation, it's also an ideal vegetable with which to experiment at home.

For an impromptu sauce to go along with my sautéed duck livers, I cut up the rhubarb and cherries and placed them into a small saucepan along with a few spoonfuls of sugar. In twenty minutes the rhubarb and cherries had broken down into a beautiful sanguine mass, akin to compote, with a flavor that puckered, then mellowed in my mouth. If you happen to have a fig or well-aged balsamic at home, you can finish the sauce with a splash of the vinegar.

Cook in Plenty of Fat

Finally, though I probably say this at least once a month, sautéing your livers on a very hot cast iron skillet is an ideal way to achieve a crispy surface while retaining a creamy interior that's barely cooked through. For duck liver, which is more delicate than calf's, I like to roughly chop the livers into 1-inch segments so that the surface of the livers do not have a chance to toughen. The livers should be cooked in plenty of butter for ultimate richness and flavor, though if you happen to have duck fat on hand, then cooking the livers in the fat will intensify the ducky flavor of the organs. Treading in a sea of red, the duck livers exude their own, fatty juices onto the plate. Liver and compote mingle; their union is thrilling and luscious.

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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Sautéed Duck Livers with Rhubarb and Cherry Sauce

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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