Liver? OMG! Run! If a chunk of liver could be a movie star—which, if you have seen Toy Story, isn’t too much of a stretch—I’m thinking Mr. Liver would look like the beat-up young boxer Rocky Balboa, the big ol’ muscle-bound, gruff-speaking galoot with a heart of gold. Let’s face facts here: Liver has been given a bad rap!
There are perhaps only two other table turn-offs, Limburger cheese and lutefisk, that have a worse food reputation than liver. As you will soon see, Mr. Liver is usually served fresh and therefore has nothing to do with these two fermented products—but I digress.
At the risk of being a spoiler, this story has a happy ending. In the end, and after ten hard rounds of getting savage punches and body blows, Rocky triumphs over the bad guys. Yay! Let’s hear it for Mr. Liver, I mean, Rocky, no wait, I mean Mr. Liver. And, yes, I really do want Mr. Liver to win his way back to your table and into your heart as well.
LIFELONG LIVER EATER
If you didn’t immediately freak out and are still reading, I feel qualified to tell this story because I consider myself a specialist in getting liver-hating people to eat and even enjoy liver. I will admit that I know that I have my work cut out for me. So many people have been turned into “haters” that we’ve witnessed a health and culinary tragedy. Many are so hardened and jaded that they won’t even try my liver recipe once. This story is for those who might consider meeting liver an inch or two closer than they had before.
Fortunately, I was never among the haters. I grew up in a farm family where wild game and all sorts of cuts from homegrown meats found their way to our skillet and table. My dad and uncles would compete to see who would be first to snatch the tasty odd bits from the platter. Luckily for me, both of my parents were excellent home cooks, so we ate very well. My mother lived to be over one hundred and needed no prescriptions. She would join me in admonishing “Eat your liver!”
It’s my theory that there are at least two main reasons for liver’s bad reputation. I’m talking to you now, liver-haters. First of all, 99 percent of the liver being cooked in homes, and especially in restaurants, is wretched, smelly and toxic. This is because it is almost always liver from confinement (commodity feedlot) animals. That stuff could actually damage your health, and I wouldn’t blame you at all for hating it. And it just doesn’t taste good either.
Secondly, and equally problematic, I’ll bet that your mom has been cooking it all wrong! You will soon see how the cooking part can be easily cured.
Lastly, and as if the first two were not reasons enough, why would anyone (except a hater) curse a noble category of nutritionally healing meats as “offal”? What a travesty. I say we start calling organ meats “delicacies” or maybe just “num-nums.”
All of you liver-haters have plenty of company. Many of you even make gagging sounds and gestures when someone mentions the very word “liver.” I work for one of the largest and best 100 percent grass-fed gourmet beef producers in the U.S.: Minnesota’s very own Thousand Hills Cattle Company. In our local processing plant, we document the circumstances that can lead to the demise of the liver lovers of the world. Liver’s bad reputation, arising mostly from the widely circulated and erroneous myths, has turned off so many of our beef customers that we currently send the majority of our incredibly wholesome and tasty grass-fed liver to various raw pet food recipes—oh, those lucky dogs and cats! They are getting our best delicacies.
It is my mission to correct this miscarriage of justice.
RULE NUMBER ONE
You have been patient long enough, so here’s the secret: You have to start with good liver. I’m going to aggravate some readers here, but you gotta call a spade a spade. I recommend you avoid eating all feedlot liver, which is pretty toxic in all ways. In fact, liver-haters will quickly remind you that, “Hey, the liver is just a big bag of poisons, toxins and heavy metals.” Well, there’s some truth to that—but what if you kept those toxins out of the animal in the first place? We call that organic husbandry.
The liver of a healthy animal, contrary to popular belief, is not a “bag of poisons”; it’s the organ that stores fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other powerful nutrients. The good guys vastly outweigh the bad guys, too. Ever wonder why cod liver oil or other marine animal liver is such a valuable medicine?
Polar bear liver is one of the few species of liver that you cannot eat. Why? At certain times of the year, when the polar bear is eating moss, the liver contains toxins. The other is moose liver. Moose do not have gall bladders so their bile is stored in the liver, making them very bitter.
Grass-fed, calf liver is almost always the best place to start. Try for “organically raised” or “beyond organic,” if possible. Second, in spite of people’s presumptions about pigs, you will find that pastured pork liver is fantastic; it has a very mild flavor. These pigs probably do eat grain (or acorns) but like chickens, they are omnivorous and can actually digest good, non-GMO grain in a wholesome way. If you can find it, also try healthy lamb and goat liver. These animals are typically killed when very young, which means a sweeter, more tender and more delicious eating experience. Once again, whenever possible with the small ruminants, opt for 100 percent grass-fed liver.
When you buy liver, examine it carefully. It should be smooth as glass and dark colored (a deep purplish red). It should have sharply defined edges and a distinct firmness—not mucky or crumbly (ick), but not hard as a rock either. Avoid liver with yellow spots or blotches, and be particularly careful about commercial, commodity poultry liver, which is almost always yellowish. Don’t eat yellow snow or yellow liver! Birds that are truly free-range and organically raised typically have dark, healthy and delicious livers.
The so-called “liver smell” that so many liver-haters are quick to point out is actually not from the liver! This foul odor may be from the outgassing of poisons, toxins and excess bodily waste products from commodity feedlot animals. The livers of animals raised in this manner are inclined to be filled with toxins such that most of the animals are in a state of pre-death just before they are harvested, with livers that are slowly becoming necrotic (dying) as well. No wonder people hate the smell. As any chronic alcoholic is doomed to discover, the liver—which is the hardest-working organ in the body (we call it the “James Brown organ” for a reason)—takes the heat if there is an abusive lifestyle.
All feedlot cattle, as well as most dairy animals and confinement hogs and birds, have a chronic condition known as hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome) due to the excess commodity grains in their diets. Yes, I know, I just described foie gras, which almost deserves its own chapter. (Let’s just say that I’m not here to recommend the typical foie gras to your plate either; however, it’s possible, with some searching, to find “healthy” and even humane foie gras these days.)
Confined animals are usually more exposed to manure and bad air as well. You don’t want to be eating their liver. If the animals are on antibiotics, wormers, insecticides, hormone implants or other drugs, guess where these drugs are concentrated? On the other hand, liver and other organ meat from deer or elk tends to be extremely delicious and nutritious, especially if it’s harvested and field-dressed properly. Never waste it. Even liver from trophy-sized animals (older) is usually delicious.
Overcooking destroys nutrients in all foods. The less one cooks liver, the better the nutrition and flavor. There are only four common cooking fats that will hold up under fry heat: lard, tallow, coconut and palm. These are good fats, in spite of what the politically correct doctors try to tell us. (On the other hand, don’t overheat butter, as it is quite fragile under heat. Butter is fine for lightly cooking eggs under low heat, for example, but nothing more.)
Do not cook liver in one of the all-too-prevalent, so-called “vegetable” oils such as canola, soy or corn oil (they are not really from vegetables!), which will break down quickly when heated. These unfortunately still-popular vegetable oils are also all GMO products, and they are loaded with inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Heart attacks and even strokes were virtually unheard of before Crisco and margarine came into the American diet. Crisco is a made-up word that stands for “Crystallized (hydrogenated) Cottonseed Oil,” a waste product that clever marketers turned into “pure white” death in a can. In fact, all the solid oils except pure virgin coconut and refined palm oils are hydrogenated—terrible killers hidden within processed foods.
In short, saturated fats are the only way to go, and we need them in our diet. For frying liver, I particularly recommend lard or bacon grease. However, unless you know the source of the lard, be careful—grocery-store lard is usually hydrogenated and therefore has been turned into junk food. Instead try to buy lard directly from the farmer who raised the hogs, or buy the fat and render your own. It is not difficult (see “Rendering animal fats, made easy” by Andrew J. Gardner in the Winter 2019 issue of Wise Traditions). Farmers markets are also a great source of good-quality lard and tallow.
FRYING AND BEYOND
This article only scratches the surface of the topic of cooking liver (and other organ meats). The main goal is to overcome previous phobias and teach new flavors—and frying liver is an easy first step (see recipe below). However, the real fun begins once one has broken the ice and begun to savor the true flavor of liver. I make several liver paté dishes that could be gateway foods for liver novices. I highly recommend them—especially my liver paté with four medicinal roots which includes the roots from fresh horseradish, ginger, tumeric and beets (see page 60). In addition to paté, I’ve made many great old-world sausages using liver and other organ meats, and they are equally amazing. To make paté or sausage, remember that the same tips apply about selecting wholesome liver from healthy animals. After that, a big part of the fun is finding the particular recipes that excite your taste buds.
Raw liver may also be used medicinally. In fact, one of the best ways to get healthy when recuperating from a serious chronic illness or autoimmune problem, or when detoxifying, is to add raw liver to any blender drink. The most common method is to introduce it into a yogurt smoothie drink. When using liver of excellent quality, it’s virtually impossible to detect even several ounces of liver in each blender drink. The health benefits are stunning.
Several recent trends have been turning the tide on liver, not least of which is the Wise Traditions food movement. Cave men knew about organ meats and relished them. We’re not asking anyone to eat gobs of raw wooly mammoth liver (good luck finding that at Whole Foods anyway), but we do encourage people to discover the modern versions and eat them in similar ratios and amounts. Most people who find a comfortable version of the Wise Traditions diet discover that it is a great way to lose excess blubber and regain good health, immunity and fertility.
Of late, Thousand Hills has noticed that some very interesting progress is being made in overcoming liver aversion. Thousand Hills is now selling a significant quantity of liverwurst sausage in health food stores, co-ops and high-end grocery stores across the country.
Liver is one of the world’s most important “superfoods.” We need to eat this powerful food. We would be hard-pressed to find anything healthier to put into our bodies. Again, we want it to be from drug-free, free-range, nontoxic animals. Because it’s also super-concentrated, we don’t need it every day—just one good meal a week is perfect. Home-cooked is best; I don’t trust the average restaurant.
Children need to eat liver even more than adults. Get them started on liver very young. In fact, liver from pastured, nontoxic animals should be one of baby’s first weaning foods, along with pastured egg yolks (see the Children’s Health section of the Weston A. Price Foundation website). When I’ve fried liver for young guests, I’ve actually had children reach across the stove to start gobbling it hot out of the skillet and dripping with grease! Their body’s nutrient deficiencies are sometimes so profound that they will consume a pound or more, without any other side dishes. I quite often crave it, too, and have been known to eat it like that as well.
Meta-studies by health institutes tell us that the U.S. is well on the road to becoming a sick, diabetic, fat and cancer-ridden nation. Many people are looking for answers and solutions. One of the best places to search is in the premodern world. We know from archeology that people were once taller than most populations of “modern” history; they also had larger brains and presumably were more intelligent. The nutrients in liver and other organ meats play a major role in building strong brains and strong bodies.
We know that excess grain-eating—especially when the grains are nutrient-poor GMO grains—and domesticated agriculture have damaged our health in many ways. Dr. Weston A. Price, a truth-seeking holistic dentist from the 1930s, traveled the globe seeking all the basic guidelines of real nutrition. One of his most amazing finds was how ancient and indigenous cultures savored organ meats, including liver, brain, bone marrow and thymus glands. Moreover, traditional societies saved these nutrient-dense special foods for those in most need—growing children, pregnant and nursing women and the elderly. One can read about these findings in his magnum opus, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, in which you will find many more reasons for cooking and eating organ meats. For more information about the physiological need for organ meats and discussions of which ones to eat, there are many other excellent books and several great websites, such as eatwild.com, mercola.com and particularly westonaprice.org.
Eating wholesome liver on a regular basis has healing effects on every cell in the body, but it’s particularly good for restoring, rebuilding and healing our own liver. Over a third of all Americans are taking statin drugs, a seriously liver-toxic drug. Most Americans have a liver so damaged and devitalized that they cannot destroy allergy particles, cannot detoxify environmental poisons, carcinogens or oxidative particles, and cannot digest their food properly. We’ve all been sold a nasty bill of goods about liver. It’s time to take our American cuisine back. Perhaps we can bring about a change, one liver-lover at a time!
FRIED LIVER AND ONIONS
1. Cut the liver into very thin strips—1/3 to 1/2-inch thick and only a few inches long. Be sure to de-vein it if there are some large ones (this step is for neophyte eaters only). Note: If you are trying to make converts, cutting the liver into fine strips is the most important part of my story.
2. An optional step, especially if you don’t know the actual source of your liver (not a good thing, but sometimes necessary), is to presoak your liver in fresh milk for about twenty minutes. This is said to help detoxify it and make it taste better. Easy and simple.
3. Roll the wet strips in unbleached flour until covered. Be sure to add some salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to the flour. As an optional step, you can first roll the strips in beaten raw egg and then flour; this will create an extra-crispy, crunchy KFC crust. (I don’t do this myself, but it is delicious.) The secret of chefs everywhere is that everything tastes great when breaded and then fried in lard!
4. In a skillet, caramelize (cook until translucent) some onions with a bit of bacon grease or lard. Set onions aside.
5. Fry the floured liver strips quickly in a cast-iron skillet with about 1/3 to 1/2-inch of very hot lard or bacon grease. If the grease doesn’t sizzle furiously when you add the strips, it isn’t hot enough! For liver-haters, cook until almost well-done; for the rest of us, rare or medium-rare is ideal. As a further option, I like to add fresh crushed garlic (or minced garlic from a jar) to the lard before I fry the liver. This is good for your own liver and digestion; plus it adds an amazing flavor.
6. Spoon the fried onions over the top of the right-out-of-the-skillet liver and serve hot. Consider serving with a dollop of fresh horseradish (yum!). A good side dish to liver is a helping of sweet potatoes or yams drenched in butter.
PORK LIVER PATÉ WITH FOUR MEDICINAL ROOTS
1 1/2 lb pork liver
2 medium onions, sliced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
3 inches ginger, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh horseradish
1 teaspoon fresh turmeric root
5 small beets
1 cup lard
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 cup butter
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1. Set aside the butter and lime juice for the last step.
2. Heat lard and add all the root vegetables.
3. Add the onions and garlic, allow to caramelize. (If the ingredients start to stick or burn, add a little water to deglaze; this will produce a sweet, rich flavor.)
4. Add the liver and sauté until cooked.
5. Add the spices and cook a couple of minutes longer.
6. Set the cooked mixture aside and allow to cool to approximately room temperature.
7. In a food processor, blend the cooked mixture with the butter and lime juice.
8. Place into a mold and chill.
9. Variations: Add cumin, fenugreek and sumac, or go in a different direction and add oregano, basil and tarragon.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2020🖨️ Print post