Humans have eaten offal (the internal organs of slaughtered meat animals) throughout recorded history, but doing so fell out of fashion in this country following World War II, except among cooks and diners retaining traditional foodways. My Minnesota German mother and her siblings relished headcheese, blood sausage, and other foods that left my San Francisco-born sister and me faint. But we loved beef or calf liver and onions, chicken hearts and livers, and tongue sandwiches. In this, we were a minority. Only the most recent immigrants managed to keep the sale of tripe, pork intestines, kidneys, and chicken feet in somewhat lively commercial circulation, largely in their own communities’ meat markets.
And then, in 1999, the London chef Fergus Henderson published Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, and the next thing you knew, every northern European and North American chef under forty, along with plenty of home cooks, rediscovered offal. And a good thing it was, because these formerly discarded odds-and-ends from the meat trade are inexpensive and very tasty.
At the same time, there’s no question that many of them are acquired tastes for those who didn’t start eating them young. Because organ meats are particularly strong in flavor, the easiest way to develop a taste for them is to take down their flavor a bit by first soaking them in lightly salted water; I’m thinking here most particularly of kidneys and liver.
Definitely the go-to offal meat for first timers is beef or calf’s liver. Fifty years ago, it made a weekly appearance on a majority of American dinner tables, accompanied by fried onions and/or bacon. Children either loved it or hated it, and most adults tucked into it with zest. Liver is very high in iron (and cholesterol), and it’s not something you want to eat daily, but it’s a terrific meat to try—low in cost (because low in demand), and because Mississippi Market’s beef liver comes from Thousand Hills’s pasture-raised cattle, it’s a powerhouse of nutrients and flavor, with less saturated fat than that from feedlot beef liver.
Calf’s liver is milder in flavor and slightly tenderer in texture, but beef liver is a better value. If this will be your first venture into cooking beef liver, here’s how to prepare it. If you’re feeling hesistant but committed, fry up some bacon along with the liver; the two complement each other beautifully.
Beef Liver for Those New to It
Soak the liver first, using 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 quart of water, for 1 hour. Pat the liver dry before searing it in a cast-iron skillet or a broiler. Beef liver and fried onions go together like salt and pepper, so be sure to include onions when you cook the liver.
Most people like to eat liver pink in the middle; the times given below are for medium-pink.
1–2 slices of bacon (optional)*
¼–½ onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
Beef liver (4 oz. per serving)
* If you’re not using bacon, fry the onion and liver in mild olive oil.
1. In a cast-iron skillet, fry the bacon first on MEDIUM till it’s almost crisp; remove bacon slices to a side plate and cover to keep them warm. (You may want to chop the bacon up after it’s cooked.)
2. Fry the onion slices in the bacon fat until they soften and start to brown. Scrape them to the side of the skillet and add the liver.
3. Raise the heat to MEDIUM-HIGH, add salted and peppered, dried-off liver, and fry it on one side for about 2 minutes. When it’s nicely browned, turn it over and cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat.
4. Put the bacon back in the pan and swab the slices or chopped pieces over the onions and liver. Remove the liver, onions, and bacon from the pan.
5. If you’re broiling: Broil the bacon first about 3” below the heat source, remove from broiler pan, then put onions, swabbed with olive oil, in broiler pan and cook until bubbly and slightly golden on each side. Salt and pepper the liver, then broil it for 1 minute per side; combine all ingredients off the broiler.
6. Serve with a simple side of greens (cooked spinach, chard, kale, &c., garlic, and red pepper flakes, finished with sherry vinegar or lemon juice).