My love of food and eating is such that one of my biggest frustrations is the thought of wasting a meal experience – to me, the opportunity of having a wonderful meal is a joy, and frankly, one of the few meaningful life joys left to me these days – so I do all I can to make the most of those opportunities. As you can imagine, leftovers cause problems with this life philosophy – seldom is the second or third serving of something quite as good as when first cooked, with a few exceptions – stews for instance – and some foods are simply so nasty upon reheating that I will more likely pitch them than ruin a meal opportunity in the vain hope of satisfaction.
Liver is one of those foods for me. I love liver, good liver that is. My favorite is a nice thick slice (hard to find thick slices these days) of calves liver, quickly seared so as to retain a soft, pink interior. Sadly, I do not live in an area with a butcher who’ll custom cut meats, so I have to buy my liver in a frozen package – which is almost always four slices of about four ounces each. For us these days, four ounces of protein at dinner is about right, especially for something as rich as liver – so the two of us enjoy exactly half of that package at dinner, but what to do with the other half?
Personally, as much as I love calves liver, I don’t think leftover liver makes for a decent dinner! I just don’t enjoy the experience. It’s especially bad if you have to apply too much heat to it – overheated, recooked liver brings out all kinds of bad stuff out. Additionally, I’m well aware that the liver of any animal is perhaps the most delicate and fragile of that animal’s organs – so I resist gambling on continued refrigeration for later cooking – I just cook it all and usually wind up throwing out the leftovers.
But on Wednesday past, we had a simply delightful dinner of seared calves liver with some thickly sliced onions slowly sauteed in bacon fat – a really wonderful meal! Afterwards, I thought how unfair it would be to not try to make the most out of the remaining two pieces of this wonderful meat – I went ahead and cooked up the last two pieces, all the time remembering just having just seen an interesting recipe for a sauce to be served with liver – now, where did I see that recipe?
The Original Philadelphia Neighborhood Cookbook is a delightful collection of ethnic family recipes, hand collected by the authors, Irina Smith and Ann Hazen – with just enough interesting background info, to make for an enjoyable casual reading. as well as for its useful recipes. And on page 77 is a recipe for Kalbsleber mit Wien, German of course – not surprising in Philadelphia. However, sauces for liver is a little surprising, at least for me. Liver has always seemed to me to be best rather conservatively cooked and served -at least in my home- which usually meant quickly fried, and if accompanied by anything, it was always onions, and sometimes bacon as well. I never remember my mother serving liver with a sauce.
But what struck me here was that the sauce was made separately from the liver, and put together at the last minute – and what that meant for my purposes was that I could make the sauce, and then use the hot sauce to heat up the leftover liver – and maybe that would do justice to what was some excellent meat. So, with high expectations, I made the sauce, pretty much as outlined in the book -just a few changes- slipped the cold cooked liver pieces into the thickened sauce, and very quickly brought it up to serving temp – Time for dinner!
How was it? In a word, Spectacular! I actually enjoyed this dinner even more than I think I did the original – so, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more wine sauces with our liver in the future.
I’m going to give you the original recipe from the book without any changes, and then I’ll tell what changes I make for our dinner – as you may know, I use recipes for inspiration and seldom use one verbatim – sometimes it works; sometimes it don’t! However, my changes here are slight, but in fairness, you may wish to follow the original as printed.
1 lb of calves liver
3 Tbs butter
1 small onion, halved and studded with 4-5 whole cloves
¼ cup beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 cup good red wine
In a skillet, melt the butter and quickly saute the liver for 1-2 minutes. Try not to overcook the liver, as it may become tough. Remove liver from pan.
Add the onion halves to pan, as well as the beef stock, bay leaf, and wine. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce has been reduced by half and is slightly thickened.
Remove the bay leaf and onions.
Add the cooked liver to the sauce and quickly heat through.
Serve over rice or mashed potatoes.
I thinly sliced the onion and briefly sauted it in the butter (I liked the idea of having onions in the sauce – remember that I was using leftover liver, so I wasn’t sauteing the liver in this pan. And I simply added the cloves right with the sliced onions – simple enough to remove them later. BTW, I halved everything since I was only dealing with ½ lb of liver slices. I also added 1 Tbs of Balsamic Vinegar with the sauce ingredients. If you dredge your liver slices in flour, as I do, your sauce with be nice and thick – I love that, but not all would, so adjust accordingly. Next time I think I’ll sub some fresh finely minced sage leaves for the bay leaf – that’ll be a nice touch,
It’s hard for me to overstate my joy at finding out how wonderful this sauce is with liver – I’m not sure if this is because I’ve simply missed this wonderful dish all my life, or if suddenly, at this advanced age, my taste buds have made me ready for this experience! Maybe both are true.
Whatever – if you also like good liver, I would encourage you to give this a try – especially if you too dislike liver leftovers!