One of my favourite foods, chicken livers are at their nicest when fresh. This may mean ordering them in advance from your butcher.
They are so inexpensive, so tasty and so good for us – no wonder I love them. They are also extremely versatile.
Recently I was watching Jamie Oliver making chicken liver pt. It reminded me of today's wonderful recipe, a world apart from anything shop-bought. It originates in Italy and although its ingredients – anchovy and grated apples – might sound a bit odd, it is completely delicious. It makes a perfect first course as it must be made in advance and keeps well for a couple of days under its clarified butter layer.
A warm chicken liver salad can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. In this recipe I include croutons and roast mushrooms, and the salad leaves can consist of whatever you choose, but for me they are watercress alone.
A stir-fry of chicken livers with celery, apples and green peppercorns makes a great lunch or supper dish. It is just as good eaten with boiled Basmati rice or with new potatoes, and a dressed mixed leaf salad on the side.
Chicken liver pt
Serves 6 as a first course
3oz/85g butter, very gently warmed (to clarify, put the pan containing the butter on the lowest heat on your cooker – the slower the butter melts, the better)
1lb/450g chicken livers, weighed when picked over
1 tablespoon olive oil and 2oz/55g butter
1 fat clove of garlic, skinned and diced finely
2 anchovy fillets, drained of their preserving oil and chopped
About 25 grinds of black pepper and a grating of nutmeg (no need for salt, the anchovies provide enough)
2 tablespoons double cream
1 apple, peeled and grated (do this just before you are ready to stir it through the processed pt, to preserve the colour of the grated apple)
Carefully pick over the livers, removing any greenish bits – an indication that they have been near the bile duct, which will give the pt a bitter taste if left in – and also removing any stringy bits.
In a wide saut pan heat the olive oil and melt the 2oz/55g butter until very hot, then add the prepared chicken livers and the diced garlic, stirring all together as the livers seize up in the heat. Stir and fry over a high heat for just a minute. Be careful not to cook the livers right through – they should remain pink inside.
Season the livers with pepper and nutmeg in the saut pan, then scoop the contents of the pan, juices and all, into the food processor and whiz, adding the chopped anchovy fillets and the double cream.
Scrape the smooth pt into a bowl and at this point peel and grate the apple into the pt, mixing it thoroughly.
Divide into individual ramekins or scrape the pt into a bowl. Smooth the surface even, and carefully pour the clarified butter from the small saucepan over the surface of the pt, taking care to leave the white curds in the bottom of the pan.
Leave the pt to cool, then cover the bowl or individual ramekins with clingfilm and store in the fridge until half an hour before you plan to serve. This is to ensure that the flavour isn't numbed by fridge-chill.
I prefer to serve this pt with crisp slices of melba toast.
Warm chicken liver, bacon and mushroom salad
1lb/450g chicken livers, weighed when picked over; cut any large livers in half
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
12 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, grilled till crisp, then broken into bits
1lb/450g flat mushrooms, stalks cut level with the caps, the mushrooms diced large (about thumbnail-sized) and mixed with:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 slices of bread, crusts cut off and the bread brushed on each side with either melted butter or olive oil, sliced into dice and roasted till golden brown and crisp on all sides, about 15-20 minutes in a hot oven, 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 (these can be roasted, cooled and stored in an airtight container for up to three days before using)
4oz/110g watercress, snipped with scissors to fork-able lengths
about 25 grinds of black pepper
This makes such a good main course. It is very sustaining and has everything on one plate.
Start by roasting the mushrooms – spread the diced mushrooms, coated in olive oil, over a baking sheet and roast in a hot oven, 200C/ 400F/Gas Mark 6, for about 25 to 30 minutes. They should be well roasted and almost crisp. Set them aside and allow them to cool slightly.
Heat the olive oil in a wide saut pan until it is very hot and then stir-fry the prepared chicken livers until they are just seized up but still pink on the inside. Squeeze lemon juice over them in the pan, and season with a good grinding of black pepper.
Assemble the salad by dividing the snipped watercress between six plates. Spoon the chicken livers over the watercress – it will wilt slightly in the heat – and divide the roasted mushrooms, croutons and crispy bacon bits over each plateful of salad. Serve immediately.
Chicken livers with celery, apples and green peppercorns
6 stalks of celery, each trimmed at either end, peeled with a potato peeler to remove the stringy bits, then sliced very thinly on the diagonal
2 onions, skinned, halved and diced finely
1lb/750g chicken livers, weighed when picked over
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, each skinned, halved and very thinly sliced
2 good eating apples, each quartered, cored, peeled and sliced thinly
2 teaspoons green peppercorns, drained of their brine
pint stock (I use a stock powder such as Marigold, made up as directed with boiling water)
1oz/28g soft butter mixed well with:
1 fairly level teaspoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
About 20 grinds of black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a saut pan and fry the thinly sliced celery and sliced onions together, stirring from time to time, for about 8 to 10 minutes. Half-way through this cooking time add the sliced apples. The onions should be just beginning to change colour and the celery should be soft. Stir in the green peppercorns, then scoop this mixture into a warm dish.
Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and, when it is hot, stir-fry the chicken livers for just a minute. They should be seized up but still pink inside. Scoop them into the bowl with the fried onions, celery and apples.
Add the stock to the pan with the soft butter and flour. Stir continuously as the liquid boils and thickens slightly.
Put the contents of the bowl in the saut pan and stir all together well, and season with salt and black pepper. Serve.
If you want to keep the contents of the saut pan warm, do so over a very gentle heat so as not to overcook the chicken livers.
One ounce of chicken liver contains 7g of protein but just 2g of fat and is packed with vitamins A, C, B6 and B12
• This article was first published in The Scotsman on 22 May.