Growing up in Southern California in the 70s, we rarely ate liver. On those occasions when it was on the dinner table, my mom would serve calf liver with onions and bacon. For my siblings and I, the reaction was always the same. Liver? For dinner? Yuck. Unanimous. Every time. “It’s good for you,” Mom would say. I can’t really explain why liver was unattractive to eat. Perhaps the overcooked liver posed a textural challenge for a young, underdeveloped palate. The texture of liver is very different from muscle meat that we are accustomed to eating. And we didn’t have it that often. In a nutshell, I’ve come to realize that as kids, we never learned to like liver. Or appreciate for that matter.
Our Slow Food Russian River Book Club has just finished reading a thought-provoking book on what we eat and why. Inspired by reading The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber, I am reacquainting myself with parts of the animal that perhaps here in the United States, we have forgotten or choose not to eat. If we want to be more sustainable, we need to change the way we eat. We should try and use the whole animal, and try to be open to the idea of eating other parts of it, other than muscle meat. It is not environmentally or ethically smart to raise a pig just for its chops, tenderloin, ribs, and bacon. It took energy and resources to produce the animal.
So, the question is why don’t we eat more liver and animal organs (offal) in this country? When did it become uncommon to do so? And how can we get people to start eating it again, or at least think about eating it?
The 1920s and 30s saw an increase in the availability of cheaper cuts of packaged muscle meat when the cattle industry consolidated. Pre-packaging and economics lead to the decline and availability of home butchered meats and charcuterie. Eating offal and the more unusual cuts became associated with the poorer classes, and poverty. With both men and women working after World War II, families could afford the better cuts of beef and whole chickens, and the big meat companies encouraged people to do so.
Also, organ meat takes more time and care to prepare. With less time to cook after work, offal doesn’t seem so great anymore. Today, we simply do not know how to cook it. The most common mistake is to overcook it. Overcooking ruins the creamy, light, and delicate consistency of the liver.
If we look to European, Asian, and Latin American cuisines, we see that these cultures have all incorporated liver in their everyday diet. Even children eat pâté in France. Simple is best, so how about a simple French style pâté? After some research, it turns out this is really easy to make at home.
Before the cooking starts, we need some fresh local organic pork. Luckily here in Sonoma County, we have small farmers that produce wonderful organic, antibiotic and hormone free pork. My friends at Green Goose Farms raise heritage breed Large Black Hogs. They are all grass-fed, and live out in the open pastures. Please visit their website at www.greengoosefarm.iconosites.com
The meat is ethically raised and tastes amazing. The process of requesting the liver was easy enough, and the butcher was kind enough to clean, package, and weigh it for me. Photo by Rebecca Black
1 lbs. pig’s liver at room temperature, cut into pieces
3 tablespoon of butter
3 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon fresh or dried herbs (thyme or rosemary), chopped
¼ cup red wine, port, or cognac
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add shallots and garlic. Cook until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Do not brown or fry. Add liver. Cook until the livers change color, 2-3 minutes. Add wine or brandy, and cream. Cook 3-4 minutes only. Take off heat and let cool. Pour into blender and mix until smooth.
After, pour through a sieve to make it silky smooth. If you like a courser consistency, you can skip this step. Pour into a jar and put in the refrigerator. It takes about 4-5 hours for the pâté to set. This will keep for about a week in the fridge.
You can also make great sandwiches with the pâté, including one of my favorites, a Banh Mi, which is a Vietnamese Sub sandwich. The key to this sandwich is having a really good French baguette. Traditional condiments are pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro, and some hot sauce or chilies to put on it.
And this killer sandwich is super easy to make.
Pork Liver Paté Banh Mi sandwich
1 French baguette
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
8-10 oz. pork liver pâté (and any leftover cooked or cured meat)
1 cucumber, sliced in half, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch pieces
pickled, shredded carrots
a handful of chopped cilantro
several sliced jalapeños or other chili peppers
Sriracha sauce and Soy sauce to taste
Cut the baguette into 6-inch sections. Slice in half. Slather both insides of bread with the mayonnaise. Cut generous slices of the pâté and add to the bottom slice. Top with ¼ cup shredded, pickled carrots, several cut cucumber slices, a handful of fresh cilantro, and some sliced chilies. Squirt with Sriracha hot sauce and soy sauce.
I hope these recipes will inspire others to try pork liver. Am I saying you should give up steak and chicken breast? No, absolutely not. But try to be open to other possibilities when it comes to cuts of meat. Branch out. It is a more sustainable way of living and cuts down on food waste. Organ meat is cheaper than filet and breast meat. And it’s delicious if prepared properly. You might be surprised and fall in love with a new dish.
Jo Ann Gleason lives in Santa Rosa, CA, and is a member of Slow Food Russian River.