As a perishable organ meat, liver ranks among the parts of a freshly-butchered animal that should be eaten quickly. So, in my quest to cook an entire goat kid, liver made it to the plate first. And since I hesitated to prepare the entire liver for one meal, it was featured in the second meal, too.
Here’s the kid’s liver on butchering day. Left shows the whole thing, complete with gall bladder, the greenish thing filled with bile. Removing the gall bladder without spilling bile everywhere is high priority. Bile is reportedly highly bitter, so whenever I cut out a gall bladder, I make a point of keeping my mouth closed…just in case (credit to Joel Salatin for that advice). The right photo shows the trimmed liver ready for the kitchen. Perhaps it is possible to get rid of the gall bladder with less trimming, but I really don’t like bitterness, and I only sort of like liver.
In fact, liver is a food that I want to love, but so far have only managed to tolerate. I did not grow up eating liver, and it does have a strong/distinctive flavor. Plus, what little I know about the organ’s functions doesn’t stimulate the salivary glands. Learning to love such a food in adulthood is likely to take repeated exposures. Yet liver is loaded with nutrition, and every animal we butcher has one, whether bird or mammal, so we keep experimenting with it.
Eric usually prepares liver as a pâté, but that combines a bit of liver with a whole lot of delicious pork fat. I wanted to find ways to use liver that didn’t rely on also raising pig, since we didn’t this year. So I decided to try a classic, liver and onions.
Liver and Onions
After typing “liver and onions” into Google and reading various recipes, including this one, I headed for the kitchen. Most such recipes assume the liver of a large animal, say cow or pig. Applying the recipe to a kid liver means figuring out how to adapt the technique to the raw material from a much smaller animal. As I cut up the liver, I debated whether I should slice through it at a different angle to mimic the larger slab that would come from a large liver, but I ended up going the simplest route, making vertical slices through the organ, such that the slices ended up being only a little wider than they were thick (~1/4-1/2 inch or so).
I debated the the advice of the online recipe to soak the liver in milk. I made this dish at the end of our milking season, when each frigid a.m. goat-milking session yielded only a couple of cups of milk, and I wasn’t about to use most of a day’s milk yield to marinate the liver. But I really don’t like bitterness, and the recipe suggested that the milk could help to counteract that. So, I compromised. I took about a tablespoon each of milk & yogurt, and added enough water to cover the slices of liver. Why the yogurt? I’d recently learned that yogurt has enzymes that can help to tenderize meat, so I figured, why not? Moreover, Eric had just emptied a container of our yogurt, and a rinse could salvage the residue and perhaps put it to good use. I put the dairy-marinated liver slices back in the fridge and let them soak for a couple of hours.
As lunchtime neared, I headed back to the kitchen. I wasn’t sure about how the liver would come out, but I know I can make some darn tasty onions, so I set about ensuring that those would be as delicious as possible. I thinly sliced 3 medium-to-large yellow onions (Australian Browns, our favorite storage variety). Meanwhile, I heated a skillet on medium heat and melted some butter. Then the onions went into the pan, and cooked for a good long time, with occasional stirring. I added some salt early on, which helps draw liquid out of the onions so that they “melt” into a tender mass. Later, I made a trip to the herb garden for a few fresh thyme sprigs, and stripped the leaves into the onions.
The savory flavor umami was also on my mind, having just read a review of a book all about that taste, so I decided to make use of our best farm source for that flavor: dried shiitake mushrooms. I figured that rehydrating a few shiitakes, mincing them, and adding them to the pan should make these onions truly top notch. As the liquid evaporated and the onions started to brown, I paid a bit more attention and stirred as needed, tasting to adjust for salt. Serious yum. (Why are we adding liver to this again?) Total cooking time for the onions was about half an hour.
As the onions were approaching perfection, I turned my attention to the liver. I preheated a cast iron skillet on medium heat, giving it about 10 minutes to heat thoroughly. I pulled the liver out of the liquid, then removed a thin membranous filament on the outside of the liver, because a book told me to. This filament was barely even noticeable; perhaps removing it is more important for a larger &/or older animal? I patted the slices dry on a paper towel, then dredged those in a little white flour that I had seasoned with salt/pepper. Once the pan was well heated, I added a bit of butter to the pan, cooked the liver slices about 2 minutes on one side, then about a minute on the second side. Given how small the pieces were, I knew I needed to be very careful not to overcook the liver, and I think I got it about right, with a bit of remnant internal pinkness, as suggested by multiple sources.
This preparation was definitely a success. Eaten alone, the flavor had the distinctive and strong liver flavor that can be a little overwhelming, but combined with the flavor balance of the onions, it was quite good. Eric pronounced it “satisfyingly meaty.” And it was plenty tender. Nor was there any hint of bitterness, whether due to my careful removal of the gall bladder or to the credit of the milk/yogurt, I don’t know. We served this with a cup of home-fermented kimchi. My notes suggest that I thought even serious liver skeptics would likely be won over if the liver & onion combination were stuffed into a pita.
Liver with Vinegar, M’chermia
The liver and onions had used up roughly half of the liver, and I had another half pound to go. I found a “liver with vinegar” recipe in The Africa Cookbook that sounded both simple and interesting. Vinegar often helps to balance other strong flavors, so I thought it would work well with the liver.
As I prepared this recipe, I found that the directions provided enough “how to” to get me through the recipe, but they didn’t give me an advance understanding of what would actually happen in the pan. The recipe begins by sauteing garlic and minced, dried hot peppers in oil; standard enough. After that, I’d describe what actually happened as a reverse braise, with cubes of liver being simmered in liquid until that liquid evaporated off, such that the liver was browned at the end of the cooking, when the pan dried out. The vinegar–and I used chive vinegar–was added right near the end, with just a few minutes of cooking to go.
The recipe suggested serving with rice, but I had decided to use an on-farm carbohydrate instead, and so had baked some potatoes in the oven. We served this with kimchi, as well.
Eric quite liked the results, and he was more enthusiastic about the dish than I was. Maybe it was because I had recently been simmering the tripe, and sniffing it repeatedly to see if the aroma got any better over time, and now organ aroma was reminding me of that. In any case, the kimchi provided a nice robust flavor to go along with the dish, even if this was basically a meat & potatoes meal.
Next up: Heart & tongue