Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dr Lector, this chianti is divine...

Okay, I am about to admit something that people who are 30 are not supposed to admit.

I like liver.

Still reading? Oh, good. It's not something I admit often. I'd never say it at work, for example. Actually, it's more that people my age aren't supposed to like liver. All I can do is shrug. Is it fashionable? No, it invokes early bird specials and little old men smacking their lips. Or, Hanibal Lector smacking his lips. Which isn't an improvement. But sometimes taste trumps fashion.

Why don't young people like liver? I don't know. I guess because it's old fashioned, like cold tongue sandwiches and tomato aspic. I have an easier time understanding why the generations before me do like it. Those were the times before PETA, when people were closer to their food in general. Not everyone lived on a farm, but I think people were less likely to try to psychologically distance themselves from the "meat is murder" mindset (which didn't much exist) and understood that meat does, indeed, come from animals. Hermetically sealed packages in supermarkets weren't ubiquitous or, even, necessarily an option. Plus, liver is cheap. If people in today's economy can appreciate that, just think of those living in (or having lived through) the great depression. People couldn't afford to be picky, to want to eat only the breast meat of a chicken and ignore the rest. Getting hung up on the basic function of the liver (to filter and nullify toxins) was a luxury they didn't have. I think there was also more of an effort to eat the whole animal, not to waste. Our culture is blissfully unaware of how much food we waste, of how much of the animal we turn up our noses at. I'm far from the first to point this out, but if we truly cared about the noble animal who gave its life for our sustenance, we would honor it by eating or using every last bit. Then again, I'm 30. What do I know.

I'm not an organ meat kind of woman, in general. I don't fight over the gizzard at Thanksgiving, nor have I ever had kidneys (that I know of). Come to think of it, liver is probably the only organ meat I eat. (I do remember being a child and eating sweetbreads at my grandparents' house at Lake Latonka... I remember loving them. As an adult, I'm not sure where I'd even find sweetbread, let alone bring myself to eat it. Totally a psychological thing.)

There's something vaguely threatening about liver. Raw, it's slithery and slimy, an unpleasantly bloody color. Sliced thinly, the slices are almost too heavy for themselves, and fall limply with no structure at all. It tears easily in the way muscle meat does not. Pinch it too hard between thumb and finger and it crushes, breaking apart in an almost micro-fibrous way. It's almost like it's ripping. Cooked, the texture is still a problem. It's unbearably tender, even silky, but your teeth are still crushing and tearing instead of actually cutting. The taste is... well, it's like the essence of meat.

Western palates are familiar with sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes. The Japanese have proposed a fifth basic taste, which they call umami. Essentially, it's savory meatiness. Mushrooms also have an umami -ness. But then again, it's difficult to describe a basic taste. (Quick, assume I don't know what salt is. Describe "salty".) Regardless, liver is dripping with umami. In a good way.

I cook liver the way my mother does. I go to Gordon's Meat and buy it from the nice middle aged ladies there, one with a startling spider tattoo on her forearm. I dredge it lightly in flour and lightly fry it, served along with onions fried with bacon. Tonight, I actually achieved something of a country fried liver with half of it, as I dredged a bit too long before I fried and the moistness soaked the flour enough that I felt compelled to dredge a second time. This made for a rather crispy, almost defined crust which was unusual but not bad.

My husband is not a liver fan. He tried it, but the essential organness of it was a bit much. Too meaty, too creepy of a texture, I think. I don't make it often for this reason. I used to take the opportunity to make liver for myself when he wasn't home for dinner, or else I'd make something for his dinner that I didn't like. When we were first together, it was venison. Tonight, it was breakfast.

I'm only vaguely warming up to breakfast food in the past several years, but nothing throws off my chi quite like breakfast for meals other than breakfast. My Darling Husband, however, is a great big breakfast fan, and is happy to eat it at 9 o'clock at night. He got an omelet with farmer cheese, cheddar, mushrooms, italian sweet peppers, onions and a spoonful of roasted tomato salsa. And a couple pieces of bacon. We shared some potatoes cubed and done in a pan with what Sam's Club calls "perfect seasoning."

My dinner was wonderful and comforting, particularly with a dab of brown mustard. He enjoyed his as well, and is currently snoring gently on our big, red, puffy chair with our kitten curled up on his lap. We've got the Villanova/Duke game on TV, although I'm about to stealthily change the channel to Food Network.

Bottom line: Offal isn't awful!! (sorry, couldn't help myself.) It's actually quite wonderful, in my little corner of the world. There are worse things. Besides, it's not like I made fava beans with it...


  1. 'Offal isn't awful'??? OHHH, is that a groaner.

    And yeah, for me, my dislike of liver is probably 90% a texture thing. I'm not sure about this 'too meaty' angle. And it's definitely not the old man connotations, at least for me. I mean, I drink Manhattans...


  2. You do indeed drink Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, my love, and you appreciate Frank Sinatra and everything. It's one of the things I love about you.

    So, if you could take away the texture of liver, would the "organ meat" flavor still be off-putting, or no?

  3. Okay, so I feel a need to break my sit back and enjoy what everyone else has written and leave a comment.
    As you have squeamishness with raw chicken, I have an intense dislike for raw liver. My father loves it, my mother does not. I can remember being a child and watching her prepare it special for him, having the entire kitchen smell of liver and onions, and just imagining the slithery part. Never have been able to eat it. Of course, until you mentioned the organ functions, I had never given that a thought.

    Add to the list of those things the older generations ate that I could never even get past the textures and functions: headcheese, pickled pigs feet, and pickled herring....