Offal certainly divides opinions! One of my favourite ever dishes is liver, bacon and onions – so simple, really just three ingredients – I’ll order it in a pub whenever it’s on the menu, but sadly it’s often a disappointment. When it comes to liver, freshness is everything. It doesn’t reward maturation! Lamb’s and calf’s livers are the ones to choose – pig’s liver has a nasty bitter flavour, which some people seem to believe can be mitigated by doing things like soaking the liver in milk before cooking. Don’t bother! Get the best, freshest lamb or calf liver you can, it needs very little preparation, and makes a wonderful meal.
As much of our meat as we can manage comes from the little farm-shop butcher just up the road from us. Chris, the butcher and farmer, knows us quite well these days – so when my husband was in there last week, Chris happened to mention he’d just that very day come back from taking a few lambs in to slaughter. He had the ‘plucks’ (the slaughterhouse term for the heart, lungs and liver). A lovely fresh lamb’s liver, inevitably, made its way into the shopping bag!
Good fresh liver is dark burgundy in colour, firm but yielding in texture. There will probably be some blood in the packaging, wash this off and pat it dry. Fresh raw liver has almost no smell. It shouldn’t be mushy, crumble, or disintegrate under gentle pressure – if it does, then a process known as ‘autolysis’ has started, and the liver is starting to break down. Blotchiness and pale areas can also suggest less than ideal freshness, or issues with the health of the liver. This liver, in thick slices, was beautiful.
There will be some fibrous tissue in the liver, you can trim this away as you slice the liver into pieces. I like my liver in bite sized pieces, cut on the diagonal from the original thick slices. Try to keep the pieces as even sized as you can, so they will cook evenly.
Decide what you want to serve with your liver, bacon and onions – mashed potato is traditional, but don’t let that stop you. Ours was for lunch, so we enjoyed it with a little gravy, and warm buttered toasted muffins. If you want side dishes, get started with those first – the liver will take less than ten minutes, and you want to serve it as soon as it’s ready.
As well as your lovely fresh lamb’s liver, to serve two you will require –
- One onion, peeled and sliced thinly from root to tip
- Four slices – or two thick pieces – of dry cured bacon, cut into chunks
- Pepper, olive oil, flour or gravy granules (optional)
Slice an onion into thin slices from tip to root, some dry cured bacon into pieces. Use the very best bacon you can – my home-cured maple bacon is perfect – the last thing you want is that nasty bacon-water from commercially produced bacon leaking out into your pan.
Fry off your bacon and onion in a large frying pan until starting to caramelise. Add a very little bit of olive oil if you need to. Once it’s starting to show a little colour, push it to one side in the pan. Now add the liver and fry off until the pieces are just a little bit pink in the middle. You’re nearly done – just time to make the gravy. Mix the onion and bacon back among the cooked liver.
Now add a generous splash of boiling water to the pan, and stir it all around to capture all the lovely pan flavours. If you want your gravy a little thicker, thicken it by your preferred method. Gastropub recipes often have red wine in the gravy – I’m not sure this is an improvement, simplicity is everything here! You probably won’t need to add any salt – the bacon has enough – but season with pepper to your taste.
Serve, and enjoy! This is such great comfort food – it’s food for the soul as well as the body! And a timely reminder to me that I need to remember to enjoy offal much more often!
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