You may think you don’t like liver and onions, but we would encourage you to try it once with our grass-fed beef liver following this easy recipe. Not only is liver a powerhouse of nutrients (even compared with “superfoods” such as kale and blueberries!), but it is inexpensive, filling, and contains several nutrients that are extremely difficult to get elsewhere in the modern diet, such as Vitamin A and B Vitamins. Check out this chart comparing the relative nutrient content of blueberries, kale, beef, and beef liver (used with permission from http://chriskresser.com/got-digestive-problems-take-it-easy-on-the-veggies):
Did you know this about liver?
Sometimes we get requests for “calf liver,” with the inquirer scoffing at the idea that they would buy regular “beef liver” instead. This is a bit misleading. The only thing you can buy at the supermarket is calf liver due to USDA requirements for the age of slaughter of conventionally-raised beef. The conventional beef animal is slaughtered by the age of 30 months (the upper age of a “calf”) for two reasons:
1. Fear of mad cow disease disallows cutting through the spinal column of an animal older than 30 months, which means you’re not allowed to cut T-Bones from a 3-year-old cow.
2. Feedlot-grown animals tend to develop liver abscesses within a year or so of the stressful life and inappropriate diet of mass confinement grain-feeding, so the USDA requires the animals to be harvested before 30 months of age, else their livers must be discarded, even if they don’t show signs of abscess. This is not universally true at all slaughter plants; it likely depends on the inspector’s interpretation of the rules. We have worked with inspectors that allow older livers to be used for food, and inspectors that do not.
That said, we keep the livers (when possible) from all our animals, even the older retired cows. What is wonderful is that their livers are just as firm, dark, and vibrant-looking as our younger cows—a sign of great health. So when you are buying from a quality grass-fed operation, the age of the animal doesn’t matter so much. But you’ll still probably get “calf liver” when you buy this wonderful, traditional food, not because of rules in our case, but because most of our animals are less than 30 months old at finishing.
Enough information, right? Now for the recipe:
Liver and Onions
1 lb sliced beef or pork liver
2-3 cups raw milk (pasteurized will work, but nonhomogenized is best)
2 medium onions
3 lb white potatoes
3 Tbs flour mixed with 1 tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper
About 6 Tbs of stable cooking fat, such as lard, tallow, butter, or coconut oil
Cream and/or butter and/or milk for mashed potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Soak the liver in milk for 30 minutes or longer. Reserve the milk (yes, it will be pink!).
I find that beef and pork liver have a very strong, liver-y flavor, and a texture that, on its own, is a little too foreign to me. So I soak liver in milk for at least 30 minutes before I cook it. Liver is often a fast food in our house, so the milk can help to speed the thawing process if I didn’t think ahead.
2. Cube potatoes and put them on to boil. Typically mine take about 15 minutes to get tender for 1” cubes.
3. Heat 2 Tbs of fat over medium in heavy skillet, preferably cast iron. Saute onions, uncovered, until soft and rich medium brown. Add more fat as necessary to keep the pan nice and lubricated. The onions only need to be cooked as much as you like them cooked. We like them on the more done side, but not caramelized. Remove and keep warm.
4. Add more fat to pan if necessary—enough to thinly coat the bottom of the skillet. Add the liver in a single layer with about ¾” between pieces. (Overstocking the skillet will prevent good browning and will tend to steam the liver.) Allow to cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. Check for brownness. If richly browned, turn pieces and allow to cook on other side, adding more fat to keep a thin coat on the bottom of the pan.
*Tip: A splatter screen works great for operations like this to keep your stove clean(er).
5. Here’s the trickiest part—knowing when the liver is done. If you are using grass-fed liver, don’t worry if you still see blood trickling out of the pieces. The idea is to cook the liver hot and fast so the inside stays tender and moist, and the outside has a nice caramelized flavor. It’s always better to undercook it than overcook it. Should you find that a piece is still red inside (say, if the liver wasn’t totally thawed when you started), you can always slice it and quickly pan fry it again. But you can’t undo overcooked, leathery liver!
I usually call it done when the edges are no longer red and the outsides have some rich browned sections. I remove the sliced to the same pan as the onions and keep them all warm together. This allows the liver to cook a bit longer, so again, don’t worry about a little blood. It will cook up.
Continue cooking the pieces in batches until all are done.
6. By now your potatoes should be done, so drain them, mash them, and add whatever fixings you like (butter, cream, milk, chives, salt, and pepper). Keep warm.
7. Gravy. Add enough cooking fat to your pan to thickly coat the bottom of the pan. When you hold the skillet at an angle, you should see a few tablespoons worth of fat collect at the bottom.
The easiest way to make gravy is to pre-mix the flour, salt, pepper, and liquid (in this case, the milk marinade you used to soak the gravy). You can do this with a gravy shaker mixer, or simply in a bowl with a whisk. Using this method, you simply and slowly whisk the liquid mixture into the hot fat over medium heat, stirring to prevent scorching. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings.
Alternatively, you may add the flour to the fat in the pan with a whisk, taking care not to add so much flour that the mixture clumps, but enough to soak up all the fat. Cook for a minute or two over medium heat, whisking constantly, then add milk, whisking constantly to prevent scorching. Once thickened, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings.
8. Serve the liver with plenty of onions, gravy, and mashed potatoes! You’ll never believe how much you like it!