Focus on Nutrients: Beef Liver Ideas and Alternatives

I'm big on beef liver. For one, it makes a lot of evolutionary sense in terms of using as much from a kill as possible. Second, if you learn to like it I think you may find yourself surprised at how regular doses (it is nature's multi-vitamin) uplift your spirits. Nothing like topping up on all essential vitamins and minerals in a big way. On that score, I've blogged this before but those of you new to all this, take note:

I'm so big on the nutritional value of liver that I've decided to put together a "Liver Page" on the blog...something I can update from time to time to serve as a one-stop reference. Consider how many health news articles you see about "the tremendous nutrition in x"—usually some vegetable or fruit—when the reality is that liver pretty much knocks everything else out of the water, particularly all vegetables and all fruits. Soon, you'll be able to pop a link in the comments in order to cure mass ignorance.

The nutritional powerhouse of beef liver is such that it gives me some pause, now, when I see a lot of emphasis on "anti-nutrients." For instance, if the only way you can manage the texture of liver is to dredge it in flour, I'd rather you dredge it in flour and eat your liver. Bottom line, instead of obsessing over anti-nutrients, how about focus on nutrients?

Heretofore, the only thing I've come up with besides the standard liver & onions recipe both I and my wife grew up eating, is beef liver pâté (courtesy of Critical MAS). (And actually, artisanal pâté of all sorts is a great way to get your liver, as is foie gras.) The problem with those products is that they're expensive by comparison ($1-2 per pound for raw liver) and they don't really make a meal. So, for the last month or so, I've been cooking up a couple of pounds of beef liver per week, in liver & onions fashion. That would get us a fresh meal, maybe a leftover meal sometimes, and my wife's favorite breakfast has become a few thin slices of cold liver (2 ounces total) wrapped in a warmed up corn tortilla.

The other day I set out to find other ways to do liver and came upon this recipe from allrecipes.com they call Smothered Beef Liver. I decided on this one because of the tomato sauce...figuring that, above all, might induce liver haters to give it a try. Tomato sauce is very good at smoothing flavors out, such that virtually everything tastes like veal parmesan. :) ...Anyway, this recipe is simple, quick, and way less messy than liver & onions. I'll have a different one to try probably next week.

I modified the recipe in a few ways. First, I chopped up 2 slices of bacon, fried it and set the bits aside (added back in with the onions later). Then I added 3 pats of butter to the bacon drippings and just enough olive oil to sauté the onions. On that score, I went beyond just softening them, to slightly browning them. I used gluten free flour for the dredge, and also beef stock instead of water to thin the tomato sauce. Finally, I sprinkled on some dried parsley at the end. Click images for hi-res.

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Smothered Beef Liver
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I really liked it quite a lot, ate a big helping. So did Beatrice. In fact, she just got back from picking up her parents from the airport and the three of them had leftovers, and everyone liked it. I tried it cold and really liked it. It's a winner for a new idea, new alternative.

Does it have that classic liver flavor? Uh, I found it barely detectable, though I happen to like that flavor. Because it's simmered in the sauce for 10 minutes, it really comes out very tender, without any of the texture issues many complain about.

I think it would go very well with some mashed potatoes. So, give it a try if you dare.

Comments

  1. Ah, the beef liver recipe you were telling me about. I’ve made liver converts out of my husband and youngest son, and this looks marvelous – we will have to give it a try. I have a GREAT braised beef liver recipe, but I’ve decided to hold it back for the cookbook I’m (very slowly) writing. Incentives, you know. ;) Besides, every time I post a liver recipe, I get a huge collective “Ewwww!!” from my readers.

    • Shoot it to me when you’re ready and I’ll include a recipe review along with a book review.

      “Hey, if her liver recipe is this good, imagine the rest of them. :)

    • EatLessMoveMoore says:

      Jan –

      Your readers are on to something.

  2. I’ve tried liver every which way possible and just can’t stomach it so I take Uni-Liver pills.

    A great investment for about $8 bucks a month (6 pills a day).

  3. I make chicken liver spiced with a nihari curry powder mix,rice wine vinegar, a bit of lime juice, and coconut aminos in ghee and onions twice a week, and damn it’s good.

  4. Apologize if covered before, but does the source of the beef liver matter “a lot”? Grass vs grain fed that is.

    • Evan

      My guess is there are slight differences, but those differences are far outweighs by the nutrition. When I place orders with grassfed suppliers, I will be getting plenty of liver. But that won’t stop me from getting it at a quality meat counter down the street that uses certified organic suppliers. $1.60 per pound.

      • Grass fed liver is better. But grain fed is still a nutritional powerhouse. The MOST expensive liver I’ve found is 5 dollars a pound in Los Angeles. I pan fry it in butter and bacon fat with salt and pepper, and some garlic and onions, and maybe some molasses. It tastes AWESOME.

  5. A small variation of the standard liver & onions recipe is liver, onions & backed apples (with a little cinnamon and maybe some raisins or diced dried figs).

    • Victor, I can see how that would be good. I like to eat my L&O with a bit of the onion on each bite of liver. I do my onions just beyond brown such that just a few are black and slightly bitter. The baked apple would have a similar texture with a bit of sweetness to balance that bitter.

  6. When the liver is fully cooked and processed like in US Wellness liverwurst (which also includes heart and kidney) does it retain most of its nutrition? This is the only way I get organ meats.

    Also may I ask, how do you get a little photo to appear with your name like some of you have?

  7. i wonder if you could grind liver up and put it in with some other meats and make a good sausage out of it?anyone ever tried that?

    • Only for centuries.

    • It’s called liverwurst, and it’s tasty, especially if it’s been smoked.

    • gallier2 says:

      There’s also the traditional German dish called Leberknödel which are, contrary to its name, not dumplings but kind of meat balls, in which you add liver to the meat.
      http://www.google.fr/search?q=leberkn%C3%B6del&hl=en&safe=off&prmd=imvnse&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=noLkT4nBMMfR-gaisPWfCg&ved=0CF4QsAQ&biw=1149&bih=840
      But be careful, the traditional recipe demands also to add bread to the meat to make it more fluffy. When done correctly, the meat balls are really tender and the liver flavor is different than the when eaten as such. I also did a similar mix with the stuffing I did last year for the Christmas goose, has then a similar taste.

      • Gallier2

        When I was on exchange with the French navy, we had fried liver pretty much once per week. Dijon mustard was the garnish of choice. We also had boudin noire with mashed potatoes now and then, which I loved (that was actually the first dinner I had on the ship the evening they picked my up from the airport). They also did tripe now and then, which I don’t care for–nor the Mexican version my wife loves’ menudo with hominy. Another fairly frequent dish was kidney. I was so-so with that. It was done in a sauce and was tasty, but the texture a bit rubbery.

        That and all the other things and the French when eating that way probably eat among the most nutritionally dense diet of anyone.

      • gallier2 says:

        Yes, when I was at the military, we got regularly kidney, in a heavy brown gravy. It was at the “ordinaire” for the rank soldiers and I was among the few that liked it. I avoided the strange noodles they served with it though, even if I wasn’t low-carb at that time (o my god, it’s 23 years ago) . Later I could eat at the NCO-officers mess and it was like in a good restaurant and they didn’t serve such “lowly” food there. I did gain nearly 10kg during my military service.

      • 23 years ago? Ha, that was just a few years before I was there through ’90 and ’91.

        On the ships, the officers and enlisted eat exactly the same food every meal. The only thing we got a bit better is we had a fully stocked bar in the carre and sometimes for the mid-day meal we’d have nicer bottles of wine. Of course, the service was quite remarkable. Sit down service rather than cafeteria style.

        I remember those noodles with the kidney. I usually ate those with just the brown sauce.

        I actually lost about 5 kilo during that time and maintained a weight of roughly what I had in college, this in spite of eating massive amounts of cheese. When I returned to America in 1992 I gained 10-15 pounds within a few months.

      • gallier2 says:

        I did my military service from 1988 to 1989 in Rastatt/Germany as voluntary instructor in informatics. For that reason alone did we have some priviledges, like being promoted to corporals without the associated classes and we were treated like NCO’s. We had better rooms, we could eat at the mess outside of the barracks in downtown Rastatt and we avoided most duties, like guard rounds and cleaning works.
        As for my weight, besides the excellent food at the mess, we went out a lot in town and drank a lot of Weizenbier (usually between 1 and 2 litre) and topinambour-Schnapps (Jerusalem artichoke). I had already gained several kilos before going to the military. In the year and half between the death of my mother and the death of my father, he was extremely bored and due to his cancer he could not do much of the things he enjoyed before the operations. So my father did a lot of cooking and baking in that time and I was the main recipient for his new hobby. I remember that in 1984 (I was 19) I weighted 74 kg and in 1990 when I started to work I was at 120 kg for a height of 1m77 (sorry you will have to do the conversation in imperial measures yourself).

      • Just got back from Paris and had Boudin Noire over roasted apples. Everyone at the table agreed it was the best dish of the night. That says a lot considering we had foie three ways and steak tartare.

      • Applesauce works in a pinch.

  8. People that whine about liver are pussies. Fuck the onions as well.
    All you need is straight up liver, lightly salted and cooked in coconut oil. The shit tastes sweet and it’s pure fucking awesomeness.

    Way too much PUFA in bacon.

    • “Way too much PUFA in bacon”

      Yea, I’m sure we’ll be keeling over any day from those two strips I added to the pound & a half of liver.

    • steve, the coconut oil sounds like a brilliant idea! Liver can use some sweetness.
      I think I’m going to try both together, do it in coconut oil and add bacon….and my gran’s onions, figs and pine nuts -best of all worlds.

  9. Chuck Currie says:

    I’m curious about the liverwurst/bratwurst nutrition also – I loved the “wurst” sandwiches when I was a kid, but everything I see in the market is full of added crap.

    Any recipes for home made wurst?

  10. Chuck Currie says:

    I meant Braunschweiger, not bratwurst (although I love the brats too).

    • US Wellness meats has liverwurst, braunschweiger, and head cheese. Liked the taste of all, but not so much some of the crunch bits in the head cheese.

  11. I dredge mine in Potato Flour and sear it in bacon grease, 2 minutes per side. Pretty tasty this way and no gluten whack if that is a concern.

    My wife liked it so much she called it Liver McNuggets

  12. Add liver pieces to a salad if you can’t handle the taste alone. I like it straight up, but I do this every now and then if I want a break from liver’s distinct taste. Still completely “clean” and it helps mask the taste.

  13. Anna K. says:

    Here is another interesting liver recept:
    http://topercookbook.blogspot.com/2007/02/liver-cake.html
    It’s liver cake and you can skip the flour, it will work without it, or use just a table spoon of flour.
    and also add fried shredded carrots to fired onions, you can fry them together, obviously.
    It comes out really tasty! especially if you fry it in butter.

  14. Anna K. says:

    Liver has always been prised in Russia for its nutritional value.

  15. I love lightly cooked liver, particularly chicken, as it is much milder than beef or lamb liver. But has anyone tried heart? It is also a powerhouse of nutrition, very cheap, and you can mince it up (in a blender/food processor) and add it to regular mince meat to make burgers. bolognese. whatever. It is very difficult to detect because unlike liver, the texture is similar to regular muscle meat. It is a muscle after all.

  16. Pauline says:

    Looks delish! Gonna try this.

  17. It’s a shame that parents/schools fry liver until it’s dry & rubbery. Despite having suffered liver cooked that way, I still love liver (& kidneys & heart & other offal). Vegetables may be out to kill us, but where onions are concerned, what a way to go!

  18. My favorite liver prep at the moment is a stir-fry with ginger, garlic, onions and kale. I chop the kale stems up and brown them, even burn them a little, with the onions and ginger, then I add the kale leaves and garlic and cook until the kale is tender. I remove that and then cook the liver that’s been chopped up in bite-size pieces. Toss everything together to combine. Soy sauce, chilies and lime are all good here– but something about the ginger/kale/liver combination really works.

    • Or- basically the same thing except use bacon instead of ginger and collards instead of kale.

  19. Alexandra says:

    My new favourite breakfast:

    Hack a few thick strips off a frozen piece of liver. Fry a thick slice of bacon. Crank up the heat and flash fry the liver in the bacon fat. The outside caramelises, the inside stays rareish. Put into a warmed corn tortilla, maybe add some kimchi. Wow, so good!

  20. Ryan Banfield says:

    Bison liver seems to taste much less strong than cow liver, but either way I’ve learned to trick myself by mixing it with ground beef. I basically just grind it up in the food processor, mix it with my ground beef and meatloaf ingredients and bake. Pretty delicious.

  21. Richard, you say in your post that the high nutrition of liver trumps any ‘anti-nutrients’ in most things you can add to it, like flour, but how about any negative effects of the Source of the liver?
    Is it critically important to use liver from organically grown animals, in your opinion?
    I’m not asking if it’s ‘much better’ (organic always is for meats), but actually if it’s critical, as in, Don’t eat it if it’s from CAFO? The toxins from the crap they’re fed and the antibiotics and the growth hormones etc., all accumulate in the liver, is that true?

    • PS > I commented above on the recipe, with variations – it looks delicious! :-)

    • Marie

      I don’t know, but I tend to doubt it. The whole purpose of the liver is to detoxify, so making the claim or assumption that undefined, unspecified toxins accumulate there seems dubios to me. Even if that were the case, there are plenty of general environmental toxins in the air, soil, water and the surface of plants that grassfed cattle and all animals would be exposed to–as are we.

      I’d certainly figure grassfed liver is best, I just don’t know how best or whether it’s worth fretting about.

      • I don’t know that I can comment in depth about the nutritional issues, but I can say that the grassfed beef liver I get is far superior in texture to the conventionally produced liver in the grocery store. Grocery store liver is like leeches, the grassfed liver is a proper meat.

  22. Does anyone soak the liver in milk first? Does it really tone down the strength of the liver?

    • I’ve done the Wise Traditions marinade in fresh squeezed lemon, but I prefer it just rinsed in water.

    • How about veal liver? It has a milder flavor.

    • I personally love the taste of liver, but my wife hates it so we tried the milk soaking trick. I didn’t notice much of a difference personally but my wife did and liked the flavor a lot more. I’m not sure if it would have any nutritional side effects or anything though. I’d suggest trying it, particularly if you’re really not fond of liver and seeing if it helps for you.

    • I soak mine in milk. I strongly dislike liver (never had it until I was in my teens). Without soaking in milk, I can barely choke it down.

      However, soak it in milk and then cook it in a curry and it’s actually quite tasty!

  23. I just had buffalo liver for the first time this week — found out the local grass-fed buffalo vendor who sells at the farmer’s market had it for $3 a pound. It was really good, and already frozen in nice thin slices, unlike the beef liver sold by the local dairy farm. I soaked them in red wine for several hours and pan-fried them in ghee with onions. I can’t say the taste was very different from beef liver, but buffalo meat tastes like beef to me anyway. It’s definitely going to be my go-to liver from now on, though.

    • Oh, and I added a hefty splash of balsamic vinegar as it was all cooking, too!

  24. I cut the liver which I cook in a frying pan into bite size pieces, mix it with cut up potatoes or rice, than sprinkle the whole thing with teriyaki sauce.

  25. When I first read the headline I thought you had found some other similar foods. Could it be possible to make a chart from a really big database? I wonder what is second best after liver and so on :)

    • It would be interesting to compile such a list. I suspect what you’ll find is that offal from ruminants, pigs, fowl will come in the highest, and that things like oysters, clams, mussels, and fish eggs will be very high as well. According to Dr Whals in her Ted talk, kale is the most nutritious plant.

  26. I recently tried monkfish liver from a local fisherman. It was delicious just stir-fried, and would make great fish tacos.

    • Marc, one of my readers sometime back, mailed me a few tins of various kinds of fish livers they have in Sacandanavia. They were delicious.

  27. Cook it mid rare at high heat (to sear the exterior without destroying that just done quality) and pour a hot balsamic reduction over the top with tons of butter. Pour the whole thing over garlic sautéed bok choy.

    Liver has a beautiful flavour that is very delicate, 30 seconds to much cook time and you’ve made the savoury quality turn like old milk.

    Love the blog

    • That’s a great idea, Grant. I’ve recently been a big fan of using balsamic in reductions, sometimes by itself (w butter, and sometimes with red wine). The strong, sweet, but light vinegar flavor ought to sit well.

      • I tend to reduce the balsamic until it will barely flow and then bring it back with grape seed oil. It will put the last touch of doneness (i know its not a word) on a piece of liver if you are fast enough.

    • How thick do you slice the liver to do this? I’ve tried it a few times… but have not managed to get it right. When I over cook the liver (often) I turn it into pate. Which works a bit and helps to hide the texture/taste a little.

  28. I tried drying liver to make jerky, with a view to turning that into pemmican. To save you the effort, time and disappointment, let me tell you – “No”.

    It dries solid as a button and does not taste as good as fresh liver. I didn’t get as far as the pemmican.

  29. That looks really good, and totally easy. Do you think it would go as well with chicken livers (generally even milder tasting than beef liver)?

    Also, if you want something different to go with liver, try making liver & bacon jalapeno poppers. Core out some jalapenos, fit a small piece of beef liver inside, wrap with bacon and throw in a grill basket on the BBQ. I have a recipe up on my blog (cowboy rumaki), but it’s pretty damn self explanitory.

  30. An early morning buzz: raw liver blended with tomato sauce, curry, coconut oil,and peppermint. Tastes like refreshing V8. Will find a hard buzz from all the nutrients as well.

  31. I love liver, and the price is right. I have it once a week and could definitely have it more, but I am a little worried about the high vitamin A content. If I am getting lots of sunshine and supplementing with liquid vitamin D3, would this be an issue at all if I had it, say, three times a week?

    • I don’t know Evan, but I think it’s the amount that counts. Right now, we’re having it about once per week, consuming the leftovers at a couple ounces most but not all days.

      A and D work together, so if you supp D you can probably handle more A, according to Guyenet and Masterjohn, anyway.

  32. i put some grass-fed beef liver through the food processor with green onions, garlic, dijon mustard, siracha, and a little salt. Fried it up like hamburger meat, and served it with kale. Loved it.

  33. Mark Iveson says:

    Beef liver (as well as lambs) is very popular here in the UK. I’m originally from the north of the country where not only liver but other organ meats, kidney, heart, tongue, tripe are just as common. Nothing like a big fresh calfs liver, pan seared with onions and served with bacon. Yum!!! Lot’s of venison for the shooting around where I now live. A great alternative to calfs if you can find it.

  34. golooraam says:

    what a great post!
    my appetizer before my brisket today is a half pound of organic chicken liver fried with a chunk of pancetta and drippings and a shallot :)

  35. Schaller and Weber makes an awesome calves liver pate. The package (which I just finished) says 430% of the RDA of Vit. A in one 2 oz serving. Their website says 70%. I eat this stuff with a spoon.

    http://www.schallerweber.com/product/calves-liver-pate-kalbsleberwurst/

    • EF:

      What people should take note of is the cup of cornichon. When I was in France, I learned early the the best sandwich was fresh baguette, spread with sweet butter, then either jambon or pate, and then those pickles.

  36. Dick, i like your dabbling here; the fem in you coming out, even if it is the meany liver. Makes me want to try it the manly way: pan fried with a tad o’ onion salt and peppered.

  37. Now we’re talkin’! Or frozen pellets that just get swallowed like a pill. When in season, at one of the absolute best sushi bars (small Japanese family owned for 25 years — only strict traditional) in the city where I happen to live, chef gets in devine Monkfish liver. I wouldn’t eat it anywhere else as I don’t think a Mexican sushi chef would know what to do with it. It’s steamed. Monkfish are very ugly, but their liver is beautiful.

  38. Did you ever get around to putting together that “Liver Page” you mentioned? The one-stop reference page?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Posts RSS ← Focus on Nutrients: Beef Liver Ideas and Alternatives [...]

  2. [...] that liver is, the one food which truly deserves for itself the title of  a superfood. First up, an introduction to eating liver, with some recipes and photos for you to get a look at what you’re getting yourself into, [...]

  3. [...] for ounce. Toward that end, I've also put up two other completely different liver preparations, Smothered Beef Liver and Barbecued Beef Liver. I particularly like the former and I think offers the best chance at [...]

  4. My dinner the other night: Beef liver | phoenix aerie says:

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  5. Mein Abendessen: Rinderleber : Phoenix Aerie says:

    [...] gegessen zu haben. Aber da ich meinen kulinarischen Horizont erweitern will und Leber als sehr gesund und nährstoffreich gilt (Bio-Leber vermutlich mehr noch als Nicht-Bio-Leber; es handelt sich schließlich um ein [...]

  6. My dinner the other night: Beef liver : Phoenix Aerie says:

    [...] eaten a whole beef liver before. But as I want to broaden my culinary horizon and liver is said to be extremely healthy and dense in nutrients (organic liver most likely more so than non-organic one; it’s an excretion organ, after all), [...]