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 Who likes liver? A childhood aversion outgrown, and a stellar match with wine.
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Who likes liver?

"Eat your liver!"

Quite a few of us resisted this simple, healthful advice with all our might in childhood, needing to acquire age and maturity before we could overcome our natural aversion. There's something about the strong, funky earthiness of liver and other organ meats that calls for a grown-up palate, and that's without even getting into the texture thing.

My first breakthrough as a young adult was chicken livers, which are easy to like when they're breaded and crisply fried, or wrapped with smoky bacon and a bit of crunchy water chestnut in that '70s appetizer, rumaki. Trips to France and Italy helped me make my peace with the joys of calf's liver, not to mention the seductive if controversial foie gras. As for the stronger stuff, beef and pork liver ... erm ... it may take me a few more years to learn to like them.

The golden mean of the liver world, however, is calf's liver. Silken in texture and deceptively mild in taste, it balances liver's assertiveness with relative delicacy. Easy and quick to prepare, it makes a marvelous match with similarly earthy Euro-style wines, from Pinot to the fruity-but-acidic reds of Northern Italy. Take care to buy it and serve it fresh, don't overcook it, and I think you'll be able to banish that childhood aversion.

Here's a simple recipe that uses fresh butter, a little sage and a quick pan-reduction sauce to elevate mere diner-style liver and onions to something more reminiscent of April in Venice.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1/2 of a medium sweet yellow onion
1 ounce (30g) butter
1 sprig fresh sage or 1/4 teaspoon (1g) dried
1/4 cup (60g) white flour
12 to 16 ounces fresh calf's liver
1/4 cup beef or chicken stock
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon capers (optional)


1. Cut the onion into paper-thin slices and separate the slices into rings. Mince the sage, if using fresh. Cook the onion and sage in the melted butter in a nonstick skillet or saute pan over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or so, until the onions are soft and translucent and starting to brown.

2. Rinse the liver and pat it dry. Cut it into thin strips. For ideal presentation, cut out and discard any random large veins and gristly bits. They're edible but unattractive and detract from the texture.

3. Put the flour on a plate and season it with a little salt and black pepper to taste. Pat the liver slices dry and dredge them in the flour so they're evenly coated, shaking them to remove any excess.

4. Turn up heat under the onions to medium-high, put in the liver pieces, and cook, turning occasionally, until they're just cooked through, 5 minutes or less, depending on the thickness of your slices. You don't want them bleeding rare, but trust me on this: Tender and a little pink at the center is far better than well-done and leathery.

5. Remove the liver and onions to a warm serving plate and pour the stock and wine and capers into the skillet, stirring and scraping the bottom over high heat until the liquid thickens and reduces a bit. (You may omit the capers if you wish, but I think they add a nice tang.) Pour this quick sauce over the liver and onions, and serve. I served it with a simple salad and a small bowl of spaghetti tossed with butter and chopped fresh sage to match the flavors of the dish; but mashed potatoes, crusty bread or just about any starch would do.

As noted, try a Burgundy, other Pinot Noir or just about any good Italian red; it will work well with an aromatic white, too - try a Northeastern Italian Tocai Friulano if you can find one. It was a very fine match with an exceptional Merlot-based red from Umbria, the Falesco 2000 Lazio "Montiano" featured in the Jan. 11, 2005 Wine Advisor Premium Edition

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of these recipes, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Who likes liver?"

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Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Duck pasta (Feb. 3)

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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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