The Nasty Bits: Liver Meatballs

The Nasty Bits

Recipes and stories for everything but the oink.


[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

How much liver can you fit into a meatball? No, this is not the set-up for a bad joke, but a very serious inquiry—that is, if you happen to love liver and meatballs.

It would not surprise me to learn that the vast majority of meatballs containing liver have been fashioned for economical or nutritional reasons. But if you don't care as much about giving your meatballs a healthy dosage of iron and instead want to celebrate its liver-y flavor, then your thought process changes. Instead of thinking, can I get away with putting liver in my meatballs, you think, just how much of that delicious liver can I possibly cram into the meatball... and still have it count as a meatball? I like to think of it as behavioral modification for offal.

I started with very ambitious proportions. Fifty percent chicken liver, fifty percent ground meat. I did not really think that such a liver-intensive meatball would hold together or taste particularly good, but I wanted to see what would happen. The liver was finely chopped; the ground beef was very fatty. Combined with eggs, bread crumbs, and spices, the mixture was a loose gray mass that oozed between my fingers and could barely hold together when coaxed into little spheres. Roasted, the mixture had a vaguely gummy texture that tasted nothing like a meatball.

Take two: about 60% ground meat, 40% liver. The result could more legitimately be given the name meatball, but still, the quantity of liver was too much.

Take three: about 75% ground meat, 25% liver. My spirits were pretty low by this point in time. I had begun with high hopes of somehow biting into a meatball that tasted like it was perfumed with liver, and was now beginning to face the stark reality that my desire was not one grounded in reality.

Ground meat tastes like ground meat; and liver tastes like liver. When you mix the two, you cannot expect some magical alchemy to take place whereby the meatball still feels like a meatball but tastes exactly like liver.


In the end, I settled on an 80/20 percent breakdown. I tried not to beat myself up about it. Twenty percent liver is still a very respectable amount of liver to have in your meatball. It still imparts to the meatball a certain fatty, liver-y taste, all the while retaining the juicy textural pleasure of a meatball.

They can be pan-fried or baked in the oven, or formed around skewers and grilled. They can be spiced in a number of ways. They can be served plainly, or in broth or some sort of tomato sauce.