Save the Chicken Livers

Monday, August 29, 2011

I was talking to a friend a few months ago about how sometimes I end up with a whole bunch of unrelated things that need to be used up, or I find myself unable to make it to the grocery store for too long of a stretch and don’t have anything obvious to fix for dinner. I end up with Weird Food Night.

My friend said, “Beets and popcorn! That’s what we called that when I was growing up.”

She said she’s not exactly sure how it started, she thinks it was some night when that was really all they had so that’s what they ate for dinner, beets and popcorn, but eventually it turned into this special thing that she and her mom would have, when it was just the two of them and they would eat some crazy thing for dinner, whatever they felt like. It was a special treat. Beets and popcorn night.

It feels like a really long time since I’ve had a good shopping trip and made a good dinner. It’s been hot, I’ve been busy, nothing has seemed appealing when I’ve been picking up groceries. It’s generally been fine, I have things to eat, but I’ve been working my way through them and it’s getting increasingly challenging to make an actual meal.

Today it occurred to me that I could make a passable pad thai — I have rice noodles and lime juice (freezer) and chicken (freezer) and carrots and eggs. I definitely have fish sauce — in fact I may have enough fish sauce to last me the rest of my life. (I brought back a box of Asian food items from a friend’s, she was cleaning out her kitchen in advance of a remodel and had a bunch of stuff she just wanted out of there, and there were at least two full bottles of fish sauce, and I had just bought a bottle. I think it takes me about five years to go through one bottle.)

While I was pulling things out of the freezer in preparation for the pad thai, I noticed that I had two packages of chicken giblets and another separate stash of chicken livers so I pulled those out too.

After doing whatever it was I was doing between thinking of making pad thai and actually getting around to cooking, I decided that upon further consideration, I wasn’t up for making pad thai after all.

It was beets and popcorn time. Or chicken livers and watermelon time, as the case may be.

Chicken livers really aren’t part of my standard repertoire, but most of the time when I buy a whole chicken at King’s, the giblets are included. (Whole Foods is pretty hit or miss these days; it used to include them, but it seems like lately they’re missing more often than they’re there.) If I’m making fried chicken, I cook them up with the rest of the chicken parts, but if I’m making anything else, I put them in the freezer for future use.

I feel like chicken giblets are one of those things like bread crumbs. You can save bread crumbs all you want, but unless you eventually make something with them, it’s not doing you any good.

Saving chicken livers is not useful unless I do something with them.

But what do you do with chicken livers if you’re not Southern frying them? I think I tried making pâté once but as I recall it didn’t turn out all that well. I needed another option, one that I could make with things I actually had on hand (which was, as noted, not much).

Half of the cookbooks I have are vegetarian so those are no help. The Pleasures of Cooking for One suggests putting chopped cooked chicken liver in an omelette. Not a bad idea, I did have eggs, but I wasn’t in an omelette mood, and honestly I think my omelette mood and my chicken liver mood are mutually exclusive, I don’t think that’s ever really going to work for me.

Joy of Cooking had a recipe for Calf or Chicken Liver Lyonnaise that looked easy and that I had all the ingredients for (except the mushrooms, which are noted as optional, and parsley, which is always optional).

Chicken Liver Lyonnaise it was.

It was delicious.

Julia Child was right. Save the chicken livers.

Calf or Chicken Liver Lyonnaise
from Joy of Cooking (Bobbs-Merrill, 1964 edition)

2 servings

Have sliced to a 1/3-inch even thickness:
1/2 lb calf liver or 12 chicken livers cut in half

Season with
salt and pepper

Coat on both sides with
patting well between your hands to make the flour adhere and to remove the excess.

Sauté until golden brown in
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sliced onions
(1/4 cup sliced mushrooms)

and set aside nearby. Now melt over high heat in a heavy skillet:
1 tablespoon butter

Heat it until it starts making slight crackling noises. Put the floured liver into the skillet, allowing 1 minute to each side. Remove the liver and discard the butter it was cooked in, which may be bitter. Put the liver on a hot plate, cover with the onion butter and:
chopped parsley

Serve at once. We hate to add this, because we feel liver should be rare — but if you don’t like it this way, cook it over medium heat 2 minutes to the side for medium doneness.

4 Responses to “Save the Chicken Livers”

  1. Gail D Says:

    Amazing–just last night (Monday) I decided that I really needed to use up the chicken livers that had been in my freezer for some time. I ended up making this, before I read your post today. Not from a recipe–I like onion with chicken liver and fortunately had a Vidalia on hand, so I sauteed that first because my pan was so small. It was excellent!

  2. lessisenough Says:

    It’s the Collective Unconscious … chicken liver edition.

    I bet it was even better with a Vidalia onion.

  3. Robin Says:

    This looks just like the liver and onions I was raised on. Little did Mama know she was making Liver Lyonnaise. Well, except for the part about cooking it rare or even medium. All meat in our house was well done. And it was good.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    I think everything tastes better if you give it a French name.

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