Tender liver, sweet onions

Tastes Like Home

Hi Everyone, There are certain dishes that just make your day. For many, sitting down to a sumptuous Sunday breakfast of liver and onions sets the tone for the leisurely day ahead. In our home, we didn’t do the liver and onions thing; instead, it was thickly sliced eggplant (baigan) and thinly sliced potatoes cooked with lots of onions and tomatoes with a hint of garlic. Personally, I would have preferred the liver and onions.

The truth is I am not a huge liver lover and when I do eat liver, I prefer chicken livers. Nevertheless, I enjoy buttery pâté, dirty rice, bacon-wrapped liver and a favourite – bounjal liver and gizzard. A Bajan liver-cutter laced with pepper sauce is a satisfying sandwich. You have to buy it from your favourite vendor though, because not everyone can fry the liver in such a way that it is cooked through, still retaining its tenderness. But I digress.

Tastes like homeLiver and onions though often made for breakfast and eaten with bread, really makes for a delicious meal at lunch or dinner with plain rice, rice and peas or boiled ground provisions. I made some the other day and shared it with a friend who also does double duty as one of my main taste testers. After we had finished eating, she expressed frustration at her own attempts at cooking liver and onions. She said that when she tried to cook it the liver was always overcooked and once she added it to the pan, it would spring a lot of water and the liver would just turn to mush. I heard my sister express the same frustration – liver turning to mush – whenever she makes bounjal liver and gizzard. So I thought I’d share with you today, my tips on making tender liver with sweet onions.

The Liver
To start, you want to ensure that once you have cleaned the liver and rinsed it, to drain it so that there is no water. Let it sit in the colander with a plate to catch any liquid. I take it a step further by patting the liver dry with kitchen paper. Removing excess moisture ensures that the liver will not ‘spring’ water when it hits the pan nor will it sputter, causing you to duck or run for shelter.

The Onions
Leave the liver wrapped in kitchen towels as you set about preparing the onions. Onions shrink when cooked. Given that the onions are to be a major component of this dish, plan to cut up at least 3 – 4 large onions for a pound of liver. Slice the onions thick and not thin, if they are wafer thin they will melt – this is good if you’re making Moroccan-style Lemon Chicken, but you’re not so cut thick slices.
Chop up whatever seasonings you want to add – garlic, pepper, thyme…

The Cooking

Liver & Onions (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Liver & Onions (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Use a large flat frying pan, I find this to be better for cooking this dish than say a karahi. A deep pan will cause steam to develop from the sides and add moisture that you do not need. Using a flat pan will also assist with the ingredients not being overcrowded, and to be spread out in an even layer.

Don’t be shy with the oil here. You have a lot of onions to cook and liver to add later. You can use a combination of butter and oil, butter alone or oil alone. Butter is for flavour and using it in combination with the oil means that it will not burn easily and can heat to a higher temperature.

Heat the oil or (melt) butter or oil alone on medium heat, and then add the onions. Season the onions with salt and pepper to taste and let them cook until softened and starting to brown/caramelize. This stage takes time; about 15 minutes or more and you may have to reduce the heat so that the onions don’t get crispy-brown before they are softened. The slow cooking allows the onions to release their sweetness. This is an important step so don’t hurry it along by turning up the heat.

Once the onions are softened and lightly caramelized, add the other seasonings and cook for 1 – 2 minutes, then push the onions to the sides of the pan, making a large circle in the middle of the pan. Turn the heat to medium high and add the livers one at a time spreading them out in the circle in an even layer. Let them cook for about 8 minutes on one side and then turn them individually and cook for 4 – 5 minutes or until your poke it with a sharp knife and the inside is no longer pink. Season the liver with salt and pepper to taste and mix together with the onions. Adding salt to the livers before this stage would cause it to release liquid and result in stewing and the breaking down of the liver. If you want your liver and onions to have a little sauce, add ½ cup hot water or stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes then serve.

Soft, sweet onions cooking (Photo by Cynthia Nelson
Soft, sweet onions cooking (Photo by Cynthia Nelson

On a final note, I explained to my sister that when you are cooking the liver and gizzards together you cannot add both of the ingredients to the pan at the same time. The gizzards take longer to cook than the liver. Cook the gizzards and then about 12 – 14 minutes before they are finished cooking, add the liver, mixing it with the gizzard and let them finish cooking together.

Cynthia
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