Recipes: Calves’ liver Venetian style | Pigs’ liver with curried onions

Liver, cooked Venetian style. Picture: Paul Dodds
Liver, cooked Venetian style. Picture: Paul Dodds
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It’s tasty, versatile, nutritious and inexpensive. So why aren’t more of us eating liver?

There will be those amongst you who shudder on reading the word “liver” – but equally, there will be those whose spirits lift to see the subject of liver given some attention.

Liver is like Marmite – those who love it do so with a passion, those who don’t, positively loathe it. We love it (and Marmite too...) and those who share our enthusiasm benefit because liver, for the most part, is inexpensive to buy as well as being very versatile and extremely nutritious.

The priciest type of liver is calves’ liver, and it as well as lambs’ liver is wrecked when overcooked. Both pigs’ liver and ox liver – beef liver – on the other hand, benefit from a lengthy cooking time. A small amount of effort invested in the preparation of liver is time well spent. A sharp knife is essential, to trim away the fine outer membrane which encases the liver, as well as trimming away any tubes you might encounter. The lean trimmed liver can then be either sliced into fine strips, to be stir-fried in seconds, or cut into larger pieces and dusted with seasoned flour before being pan fried. And I recommend soaking the trimmed and prepared pigs’ liver in milk for several hours (6-8 hours or overnight), which both tenderises the liver and draws out any strength of flavour. The liver is then drained of the milk and patted dry with kitchen paper before cooking.

You will see how important onions are to liver – their sweetness on cooking really enhances all liver in all dishes.

Liver, along with all other forms of offal, has enjoyed a return to popularity over the last few years. If you haven’t tried liver for a while, do buy some and see how delicious it is.

Calves’ liver Venetian style

Serves 6

This does seem to be a huge amount of onions, but they wilt down as they cook. If you can, buy white onions, which have a much milder and sweeter taste. Alternatively, substitute the violet-fleshed banana shallots, using twice the number of shallots to onions.

4 tablespoons olive oil

6 onions, skinned, halved and very finely sliced

1 teaspoon salt, about 20 grinds of black pepper

¼ pint/140ml white wine

6 sage leaves

2lb/900g calves’ liver, trimmed and sliced into strips about 1cm thick

2 tablespoons olive oil and 2oz/55g butter

Heat the first amount of olive oil in a wide sauté pan and, over moderate heat, fry the finely sliced onions, seasoned with salt and black pepper, stirring from time to time, for 20-25 minutes – the onions should be completely collapsed, soft, and beginning to turn colour at their edges. Add the white wine and let it bubble amongst the onions.

Meanwhile, in another sauté pan heat the second amount of olive oil and melt the butter together and, over a high heat, sear the strips of calves’ liver, stirring all the time and turning them over, for barely a minute. Add the liver to the onions and wine in the sauté pan, taste and add more salt if you think it is needed. Serve with well-beaten mashed potatoes and spinach.

Lambs’ liver with roasted mushrooms and shallots

Serves 6

2lb/900g lambs’ liver, trimmed and cut into slices about 1cm thick

2 tablespoons olive oil and 2oz/55g butter

1½ lb/675g flat mushrooms, wiped and sliced

9 banana shallots, skinned and quartered lengthways

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt, about 20 grinds of black pepper

1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Line a baking tray with a sheet of baking parchment. Put the sliced mushrooms and quartered shallots on to this, and add the 3 tablespoons’ olive oil, the salt and black pepper. With your hands mix the oil and seasonings thoroughly through the sliced mushrooms and shallots, then spread them evenly and roast in a hot oven, 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes. Shuffle around the contents of the roasting tin, spread them evenly once more and roast for a further 15-20 minutes – the shallot quarters should be completely soft.

Meanwhile, towards the end of the roasting time for the vegetables, melt the butter and heat the olive oil together in a wide sauté pan. Over a high heat, sear the lambs’ liver strips, stirring, for about one minute. Then tip the roasted mushrooms and shallots into the liver in the sauté pan, mix thoroughly, add the finely chopped parsley and dish up on to a warm dish, or straight on to warmed plates.

Again, very well-mashed potatoes are my ideal accompaniment for this, with leeks and carrots in a creamy sauce.

Pigs’ liver with curried onions

Serves 6

2lb/900g pigs’ liver, trimmed and sliced into strips about 1cm wide

milk to cover

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the sauce

6 onions, skinned, halved and finely sliced

4 tablespoons olive oil and 2oz/55g butter

2 teaspoons medium-strength curry powder

1 teaspoon flour

2 tablespoons brandy

1 pint/570ml vegetable stock

1 teaspoon salt, about 20 grinds of black pepper

finely chopped parsley, for scattering over the finished dish

Put the prepared strips of pigs’ liver into a wide dish and cover with milk. Leave for several hours or overnight, then drain off the milk and pat the liver dry with absorbent kitchen paper.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and melt the butter together in a wide sauté pan and, over a moderate heat, fry the finely sliced onions, stirring occasionally for 25-30 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and flour, cook for a minute, then stir in the brandy, then the stock, salt and black pepper. Stir and let the onion mixture bubble gently for a couple of minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a wide sauté pan and, over a high heat, fry the dried strips of pork liver for a couple of minutes, then put it all into the onion mixture in the other pan. Cover the pan with its lid and simmer very, very gently for 30-35 minutes.

Serve with creamy mashed potato and spinach.