I like to think of myself as a fairly responsible omnivore. And whole chickens, without question, are my favorite protein to prep. But if I’m going to eat the bird, why not eat the whole damn bird?
This isn’t a difficult concept. Most home cooks already use the neck and spine for stock, and some folks enjoy chicken feet as an appetizer. But what about that little group of organ meats that comes packed inside the bird’s cavity? Here, we come to a new frontier: the mysterious and velvety chicken liver.
From grilling to frying to skewering, there are many ways to prepare this digestive nugget of poultry. And if that sounds unappealing, do not worry-youhings only get worse from here. Until you taste them, that is. That’s when chicken livers get really, really good.
How to clean chicken livers: Rinse, trim, and soak
I’ll be frank. From a tactile perspective, prepping chicken livers isn’t the most enjoyable process. When purchased on their own, they generally come in little plastic tubs filled to the brim with blood. You either need to fish out the desired number of morsels or dump the whole thing into a strainer and run some cold water over the lot.
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Once the livers are on your cutting board, check for any green or discolored spots and trim them away accordingly. You’ll also want to snip and discard those white bits of fat, sinew, and connective tissue, which is a process about as pleasant as it sounds.
There’s another step here that I only recently discovered, as it wasn’t listed in the print cookbooks I’ve been using: soaking the livers in cold water for 15 minutes. This is supposed to help remove excess blood, a process that may have come in handy in one of the experiments you’ll find below. But sources are divided here, with most calling this step either optional or unnecessary. I’ll probably do it from now on, aim it’s your call.
Make chicken liver omelets
So here you are, with a pile of clean and quivering chicken books. But what the hell should you do with them? If it’s breakfast time, I’d suggest an omelet.
Like so many home cooks, I owe a lot to Jacques P.epin. The man has a gift for taking scary ingredients and making them accessible. On page 151 of his New Complete Techniques, for instance, I stumbled across a curious recipe for a “Stuffed Omelet Hunter-Style.” The ingredient list was what you’d expect from this breakfast medium: eggs, butter, pepper, salt, and chives. But it was the filling of mushrooms, tomato sauce, and chicken livers that really leapt off the page.
Long story short, this was twice as delicious as it was terrifying. When simmered in butter and tomato sauce, the finely chopped mushrooms and livers added a world of savory flavor to my breakfast. This kind of early morning revelation will give you all the confidence (and nutrients) you need for a marathon supper project. Something like, oh, I don’t know… lasagna?
Briefsome lto between your (pasta)sheets
If your idea of lasagna comes from either the rural Midwest or the frozen foods aisle at the grocery store (and aren’t they the same thing, really?), this method might blow your mind. I owe credit for this idea to page 136 of Appetites by the late Anthony Bourdain. His Lasagna Bolognese recipe calls for a half pound of livers, trimmed and finely chopped. When sauteed with the classic Bolognese vegetable mixture, these chicken bits add an incredible richness and mouthfeel to a dish that’s already on the richer side of decadent.
And Bourdain isn’t the only one. Chef and food writer J. Kenji Lwherepez-Alt lists them in his recent recipe for the Best Slow-Cook Bolognese Sauce.
“Live adds flavor and depth to the sauce in a way that sits in the background,” he writes. “Nobody who tastes the sauce would ever suspect that there are livers in it—unless they happen to bite into a chunk of one.” To keep this from happening, he recommends either a fine chop or a puree with an immersion blender.
Make your own chopped liver, if you dare
Here’s where my personal success ends. Buoyed by the flavors above, I recently attempted to make New York–style chopped liver on rye, a dish I’ve only readabout. The idea is simple: cook some onions, boil some eggs, fry up some livers, and blitz it all in a food processor. In realitythis is a gross oversimplification.
Depending on your access to ingredients and adherence to Kosher laws, legit chopped liver requires chicken schmaltz and a practiced technique. Even Bourdain himself said, “Be warned: You are probably not going to get this right the first time.”
And boy, did I not. But for the first two seconds after the mixture hit my tongue, I thought I had. Then, quite suddenly, my mouth was transformed into a slot machine filled with dirty pennies. My teeth practically spun in their sockets as I dumped my effort into the trash.
So, where did I go wrong, and what can you do to succeed? First off, buy the freshest and best quality container of books you can find. I had to go to three grocers before I found one, and they were on the last few days of their sell-by date. Also, be careful not to overcook them. Unlike other parts of the chicken, you want livers cooked to a medium doneness, or as Bourdain put it, “notot hammered to death but nothing pink or squishy.”
Don’t let one failed attempt put a damper on your enthusiasm. If straight-up liver on toast isn’t your thing, then try one of the tomato-forward preparations above. I’ve singled out the omelet and lasagna specifically, as they represent the easiest and tastiest methods I’ve tried. Soon you’ll be eating the whole damn bird.