Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Entire Animal: Step 3

The liver has long been recognized as an important organ.  Even in Hesiod's Theogony (8th century BCE) we can read about hapless Prometheus:
Prometheus he [Zeus] bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set on him a long-winged eagle, which used to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver grew as much again every way as the long-winged bird devoured in the whole day. (521)
One interesting bit of trivia here is that the liver is one of the few organs which can actually regenerate a bit, so maybe the ancient Greeks knew a bit more than we think.
The picture above is of an artifact known as the Liver of Piacenza. It was found in Italy in the 19th century, and is covered with the names of Etruscan deities - it was likely used by priests that practiced haruspicy (hah-ruhs-puh-see), or divination by means of liver examination (other entrails were also examined).

So, let's get into the wonderful world of larger livers

The Large Liver
- 1 Liver from a calf, ox, pig, or lamb
Liver has long been the thing of revolting dinners, jokes, and is still disallowed in my mother's home*.  Clear your mind of these stereotypes and get yourself a liver.  First and foremost, the liver of a larger animal is a gorgeous organ.  It is glossy, has a bit of a squeak to it, is wonderfully smooth in texture, and if it is from a happy animal, a kind of burnished red colour.  Liver has been consigned to the tables of dour Englishmen, even by supposed offal-lovers! This is quite unfortunate, especially because liver can really put the wind back in your sails after a taxing day.

Most folks are really grossed out when they realize that the liver, like the kidneys, are filtration organs, hence your eating the organ exposes you to lots of foul impurities.  It is for this reason that I cannot stress enough the importance of obtaining your livers from a reputable source.  The supermarket just won't cut it here, and I promise you that the benefits reaped from a happy animal will be substantial, especially in terms of taste.

Finally, the possibility hypervitaminosis A (overdose).  I wouldn't really worry about this factor, as you have a greater chance of giving yourself hypervitaminosis A with the crappy multivitamin supplements than by eating liver**.  In fact, a lot of folks are probably a bit deficient in this Vitamin, as the form in carrots and other plants is not as easily converted by the body as the forms in liver and egg yolks (yet another reason not to engage in low-fat/cholesterol diets).  

Liver Principles:
- Get your liver from a good source, look for shiny, reddish-brown livers.  A good liver has a squeak not unlike shoes on a gym floor.  Liver is a great, inexpensive way to add some meat to your diet. 
- If the impurity factor, or taste factor bothers you, try this:  soak your livers in lemon juice (or some other acid) for a few hours, giving them a rinse before preparation.  You can also try milk/buttermilk.  I like lemon juice, because it tenderizes the liver, and leaves a nice chirpy flavor after cooking.  
- Liver lends itself best to quick cooking.  Slice into medallions or longer pieces and sear in a hot pan with some butter or olive oil.  Grilling is also an excellent preparation, though slicing a bit thicker, as well as careful monitoring is in order.  Liver can go from velvety and tender to mealy and unpleasant somewhat quickly on the grill.  The less you cook your liver, the better it tastes.
- Mushrooms and Onions seem to have a kind of natural affinity with liver.   Being that both of them prefer hiding hearkens back to the haruspex being amazed at the unveiling of the liver and the revelations it would bring.   Don't be afraid of adding a delicious sauce like Hollandaise, Mayonnaise, or a beurre blanc/noisette as the richness pairs well.  Liver has enough strength to cut through bold flavours.  
- Liver, if prepared correctly, will not stink up your house.  When you overcook liver and volatilize all the impurities, it certainly can.  Another reason to lightly sear your liver (and soak it).

*Whenever mom was out of town, my father would gleefully bring home a slab of liver to cook with onions. 
** If you happen to be in a situation where you have killed a polar bear, husky, or other arctic mammal - the liver would be one thing to avoid as they tend to have very high Vitamin A content and can cause problems.  Otherwise, if you eat a varied diet, hypervitaminosis A probably won't be something you need to worry about in the least.  You might also take a break on your multivitamin (if you do take one) when eating liver.

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