Rated Mature: Sautéed chicken livers with bacon, pine nuts, currants and chicory salad

Sautéed chicken livers with bacon, pine nuts and chicory salad

Liver.  Old skewl, as my daughter Roxanne would say, wrinkling her nose and shaking her head, very old skewl.  Strange old people food.

Writing about liver’s a challenge.  No other common food pairs exquisite flavor with such

Onions and capers - good matches.

dreadful PR.  (I said common, so kidneys and brains don’t count.)  Do you try to drag chicken liver’s image over to the side of the angels or just plunge right in, acting as though there were no image problem at all?  Here’s my compromise: I’ll spare you the riff about Calvin and Hobbes, Hannibal Lector, my childhood trauma with overcooked beef liver and any attempt to declare Liver – the other offal.  In return, if your sole experience with chicken livers has been an exhausted, half-eaten paté mold at your New Jersey cousin Phyllis’s wedding or something incinerated with onions at your dotty uncle’s house, you may want to consider that’s not the complete story.

What makes chicken livers so uncommonly tasty are their richness.  Beef liver tastes strong, without any compensating richness.  Calves liver is tastier, but you have to mess with it a bit – slicing, pounding, maybe coating with egg and hazelnuts.  In contrast, chicken livers are fast – and rich.  Richness makes it possible for them to dance where other foods can’t lest they get overwhelmed.  Chiliheads love chicken livers because even in the painful ecstasy of Scoville unit overload the sane reassurance of the chicken livers flavor is never lost.  When people talk about chicken’s ability to go with anything, what they’re often saying is that it’s bland.  Chicken livers aren’t bland.  No matter what you do to them, you’ll always taste that base note of earthy richness.  They balance both acidic and sweet ingredients like balsamic vinegar and fruit compotes. Bacon is an excellent foil for chicken livers, as is just about anything caramelized–onions, shallots, whole garlic cloves.

This week’s recipe covers a spectrum of flavor–sweet, rich, earthy, bitter.  Good  umami bang for the buck.  And here’s the kicker, because they’re rich, you don’t have to eat many of them before you feel satisfied.  Old skewl.  Before the world was super-sized.

We hate many things as kids (scotch, girls, boys) that we love as adults.  Maybe even chicken livers.

Ken

Sautéed chicken livers with bacon, pine nuts, currants and chicory salad

Serves 4 as a main course

Ingredients:

  • 2 thick thick slices of bacon, cut into ¼-inch sticks (about ¼ pound)
  • ¼ cup +1 tablespoon cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, cut into ¼-inch rings
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon rinsed capers
  • 1 pound cleaned chicken livers
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • ½  cup toasted pine nuts
  • ¼  cup currants soaked in 1 tablespoon warm water and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 6 ounces bitter greens:  chicory, escarole, frisee, radicchio
  • ½ cup torn mint leaves

Directions:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large sauté pan over low heat.  Add the bacon and cook until rendered, but not crisp, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the bacon to a plate and reserve.
  2. Increase the heat to medium; add the onions to the pan, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until tender and they begin to caramelized, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and capers cook 3 minutes.  Remove from the pan and combine with the bacon.
  3. Combine the lettuces and mint in a large salad bowl.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pan.   Pat the livers dry with a paper towel, season with salt and pepper and sear on each side, 2-3 minutes, or until browned and cooked to medium. Add the bacon mixture, 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, the pine nuts, currants and soaking juices to the pan and toss well.  Remove from the heat.
  5. Drizzle the salad with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining tablespoon balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Spoon the livers over the salad.

Bitter greens, bacon, garlic, pine nuts.

Ready to rock.

Everything tastes good with bacon.

Crispy bacon + caramelized onions, garlic and capers.

Livers, onions, capers, garlic, currants, pine nuts - together at last.

Not your mom's fried liver.

Jody notes:

When I was growing up, it was was an unwelcome surprise to peek into the kitchen before dinner and catch sight of a slab of beef liver swimming in “Good Seasonings” salad dressing in a dish on the counter.  I knew it was going to be a slog through dinner.  My mother was an adventurous cook, but she was also a full time working woman with 3 girls and had a routine of simple affordable recipes for getting dinner on the table by 6:00 every night of the week.  The weekends and dinner parties were times of pouffy semolina gnocchi and chocolate pots de crême but our weekday suppers were built on frugality in time and content.

It wasn’t until I was in college and cooking for myself that I started to understand what it meant to produce supper day in and day out on a budget.  My roommate Amy and I each had $30 a week for food which did an amazing job of stretching over 7 days.  Liver reentered my world, but I chose chicken livers.  We cooked them with lots of caramelized onions finished with red wine vinegar – balsamic hadn’t hit the wings, let alone center stage, in my culinary world.  I learned to love them.

This salad builds on the simple principle that rich livers marry well with sweet and sour combinations.  I’ve also added lots of other big flavors like bacon, capers and mint, which I can get away with because, as any child will tell you, there’s absolutely no masking the bold flavor of liver. 

Bitter greens and mint.

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15 thoughts

  1. Totally yum-o-rama. Sweet & sour. Plus, the bacon & capers. I’ve been fooling around with chicken livers for many years, and the recipes have always included elements of this combination, but this looks definitive. And I love the salad part, which I don’t think I’ve ever done. All-in-one main course. All righty. Got to do it. With a little fresh-squeezed lemon. And crushed red-pepper flakes. What I really like about this recipe: fearlessness about the vinegar. And the mint.

    • Looking at some of the comments I’m beginning to think this may be a generational thing, i.e., you had to grow up in a household where chicken livers (as opposed to other kinds of liver) were prepared well and loved, or you had to be around when French cooking, especially with Julia Child’s influence, began to take off. CRPF, good idea. The odd thing is, there are other organ meats that strike me as an acquired taste, but chicken livers, especially with anything sweet or garlicky in the sauce, strike me as instant goodness.

      • Some people hate liver no matter what. My mother didn’t do chicken liver but she did do calve’s liver, with bacon & marsala, & I felt tentative. I can’t remember if she soaked in milk but I bet she did. She was a savvy cook. My father in fancy restaurants in Europe & elsewhere often ordered liver. Actually, I was appalled. Ick. But then I grew up & learned. The main thing, as you point out, are the offset flavors. Vinegar & bacon & in my experience, some kind of wine, and also the lovely sweetness of currants or raisons. Balsamic also adds sweetness, natch. So delicious and satisfying. And yes, economical.

  2. Can’t wait to try this recipe! And maybe a glass of smoky Lagavulin with (who could drink Chianti with liver anymore?). Abhorred Thursday night dinner when I was growing up, ours usually swimming in marsala – nice try, Mom!

  3. Sounds wonderful…I am a long time fan of old fashioned chopped chicken liver as my grandma Sadie made it (still part of all of our Jewish Holiday dinners) but this recipe will be a winner I’m sure (who doesn’t like bacon?) So far, I’ve made almost everything you two have posted with awesome results!

  4. This is Jewish Soul food: Whether in a pate, tossed in egg then coated with bread crumbs and baked or your wonderful (very Italian) liver & salad…Can’t think of anything better. I soak my livers in milk for 30 minutes.Just something I was taught.

  5. Wow! What a great recipe! In college, during the late seventies. my roommates would run for cover when I started sauteeing the chicken livers. I could not explain the earthy flavor to them and they would not try it, ha ha. My mom would cook them in butter for my dad and I was the only one that would join him for the rare delicacy….yummm! Thanks for the recipe and the well written blog :-)

  6. I was just telling my mom how I missed her chicken livers. She dusted them in flour, seved them medium rare fried in bacon fat, smothered with grilled onions and bacon. She lived in France for two years. It rubbed off. Your recipe looks marvelous. I am printing it and will make it. My husband will be reluctant, but that is because he remembers HIS mother’s chicken livers! Too funny! I saw his mother make calves liver once. Truly frightening experience! LOL!

    • I love chicken livers. After college I lived on them because they were so cheap and delicious, a fact a may live (or not) to regret some day. We don’t eat them often because our daughter isn’t a big fan. Calves liver is a real treat. If I trust a restaurant, I sometimes order it out, confounding my daughter, but making the restaurant kitchen love me. I think you’ll enjoy this–the bitterness of the radicchio contrasted with the sweet balsamic vinegar is a great complement to the rich meat. Enjoy. ken

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