Fried Calf’s Liver and Onions
Before I try to convince you that calf’s liver really does deserve to be in the Top 100 Best Meals, I need to give you some insight into how my list is going. I had a setback, of sorts.
Yesterday, I was fooling around with my Top Twenty, pulling some out, adding some in, but Number One and Number Two, as far as I was concerned, were chosen. They were sacrosanct. My Number Two was potato salad—my mom’s potato salad, to be exact, and there was no way in hell I was moving it, unless it went up. Then it struck me—many people—those other than my sister and me, for example—might not consider potato salad a complete meal. Gosh. I was . . . nonplussed, and felt as if I’d been struck by something. Not only was I listing potato salad as a complete meal, I also included macaroni salad, cole slaw, and lemon pudding. What had I done? I made an executive decision. I decided that since many would protest, I should move these “side dishes” off to the flank, where they belonged. I’d write about them all the same, but they wouldn’t be listed in any particular order with the “main meals.” I pulled them off the board I was displaying them on and filled in the gaps. Mom’s potato salad was no longer Number Two.
I was struck by writing fever, though, and began writing about potato salad, the potato salad I grew up with. I wrote for five pages. I couldn’t stop. I’d have to break the article in half to make it the same length as the others. I was struck again, as if some Greek deity was shooting little “Hey, you” arrows at me. If potato salad was so important to me, it deserved to be on the list—it deserved to be Number Two, in fact. So I made another executive decision—I’d re-name the blasted blog. I would now call it, “The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of all Time.” And, thus it shall be. Mom’s potato salad is back where it belongs, and I can breathe better and get on with my life again.
So, here we are—Fried Calf’s Liver and Onions. Yum! My only complaint is I want to write it as “calves’ liver,” but everywhere I look, it’s “calf’s”—in James Beard, as well as on the package from the store. Where is William Safire when I need him?
I actually do love the taste of calf’s liver, in spite of how it’s spelled, or in spite of how my wife and children feel about it. My wife will no longer let me force the dish on our children, now that they’ve all flown the coop, and she claims she will fly away, too, if she must eat
sprouts and calf’s liver. Well, I feel she’s missing out, but she’s sticking to
There’s actually a strong psychological reason I love not only calf’s liver, but other food products not readily eaten by the masses—raw oysters, scrapple, liver pudding, and fried chicken livers, for instance. I love them because my dad loved them. He was my step-dad, actually, and since my real dad died when I was one, he was also the only dad I ever knew. He didn’t tell me much about my childhood, but after Dad passed on, Mom would tell me stories about how he used to love taking me out to eat when I was five or six years old. He’d take me to the Marine Corps Officer’s Club, set me on a barstool, and order me a dozen raw oysters. I was nobody’s fool. I ate the devil out of those rascals, slurping them down with joy. There would soon be a group of battle-hardened Marines around us, cheering the “little kid who loves raw oysters” on and on. Mom says I’d eat as many as they’d bring me. My step-dad was famous. This eating of strange meats, these delicacies, as Dad and I referred to them, was one of the few bonds we ever had, and it lasted right up until he died. Every time I’d go home, he’d have some strange food no one else in the family would even try—a new variety of scrapple, or a liver pudding he’d found down close to the Georgia-South Carolina border. I was always game for it. Always. Our strange, two-person hobby was one I really enjoyed.
Thus, it was early on in my life I was exposed to calf’s liver. Dad knew that out of the five of us, he and I would eat whatever he brought home for Mom to cook up. Neither Dad nor I ever had a yen for pork or beef liver. We didn’t trust either one as being safe to eat. We weren’t fools, just liver-lovers.
Mom was usually the cook while I was growing up—no self-respecting Marine was the family cook. Not back then. And later on in life, as I started making my own fried liver, I had no idea whether it was similar to the way Mom made it. I did learn a tidbit from James Beard. In his American Cookery, he insists that calf’s liver should be “served on the pink side or, in the case of the steaks, quite rare.” I come close to agreeing. I learned from Beard to not overcook my calf’s liver, as I had done for years, trying to get the dish just right. I think my mom overcooked it, too. I often wonder how Dad would have loved a tender piece of my undercooked calf’s liver. I think he’d have been overjoyed. When the dish is overcooked, it’s tough as shoe leather.
So, here it is—my recipe for calf’s liver and onions. Use Vidalias if you’ve got ‘em.
4 tablespoons canola oil (I don’t use butter like Beard did, and I’m not a huge fan of
cooking everything in EVOO, like Rachael Ray, either. Canola’s good for you,
and I’ve got to get something healthy in this meal.
2-3 Vidalia onions, sliced ¼” thick. Don’t bother separating the rings. They cook better
and easier if you leave them together as long as possible.
1-4 pieces of thawed calf’s liver.
That’s it. I don’t add salt or pepper to mine. I don’t dredge them in flour, either, like Beard does. Why cover them in flour? I see no gain in taste, and the fried white-flour texture isn’t worth the trouble or the mess.
Pour the oil in a frying pan and turn the heat to high. Add the onions and cook about 4-5 minutes, turning the heat down to medium high after the first minute. Flip the onions and add the liver. It cooks fast! Cook, moving it from side to side so it won’t stick, for only one minute, or one minute and fifteen seconds—then flip it over. Once again, cook it for 60-75 seconds. Pull it out of the pan and place on paper towels. I always cut mine to be sure it isn’t too rare. I want it pink, not bleeding. Put it back in the pan for another minute if it doesn’t look appetizing to you. But no longer. Pull out the onions and let them drain a few seconds, grab a fork and knife, and dig in.
If I have some leftover vegetables, or rice, or chow-mein-like mixture, I’ll dump them in the frying pan after I cook the liver to heat them up. They pick up the onion-liver flavor, too. Oh, golly, leftovers are good this way.
Now I’m not going to tell you this is a healthy meal, although it does have all the B-12, vitamin A, riboflavin, and folate anyone needs for the day. The problem is, of course, it also has a bunch of calories, too much iron for an adult man, and more cholesterol than one is allowed on a daily basis. As I eat this wonderful delicacy—called thus by James Beard, himself—I think about my dad. I can picture him, in “Gyrene Heaven,” pointing down to me, and saying, “You should have seen that rascal when he was a kid. He’d slurp down three dozen raw oysters without batting an eye.” Thanks, Dad. Thanks for the memories.
So now . . . if you haven’t eaten any fried liver and onions in a while, try some, and I hope you enjoy the dish as much as I do, whether it’s calf’s or calves.’