Liver and Onions Country Style

When I moved to Aurora, Colorado, in the early 1980s my first job was at Wag’s Restaurant in the Aurora Mall. Like Woolworth’s, Wag’s had a soda fountain. We had table service, or patrons could sit on stools along the front counter. The restaurant was cheerful, and everybody enjoyed the familiar ice cream-parlor atmosphere.

Our fountain specialty was called the Brown Cow (aka root beer float). The walls behind the fountain were decorated with huge, richly detailed posters of soda. We could concoct any soda or sundae imaginable. The most popular was three-scoops of ice cream drizzled with chocolate and strawberry sauces and a burst of whipped cream, served with a shiny red cherry on top. It was definitely big enough for two.

Every Tuesday was Liver and Onions Night, while the five-and-under club got to eat for free. (At least back then, Tuesdays were the slowest night of the week in the restaurant business.)

Well, maybe because I’m a cynical New Yorker, when the manager scheduled me for liver night my first thought was that I was going to have a lonely shift. My second though was I definitely wouldn’t be busy enough for a waitress who relies on tips. Little did I know!

But when Liver and Onions Night rolled around, fathers with their kids showed up in droves. Most of them told me their wives would not cook liver because they couldn’t abide the touch or smell. I realize now that Tuesdays must have been good nights off for those ladies. And I made out well too because the men were great tippers. I was lucky that evening and every Tuesday thereafter!

At Wag’s, our chef went out of his way to make his liver and onions a dish positively fit for a king. Tender, succulent, and smothered in rich, flavorful gravy, they were served with a mountain of mashed potatoes. I hated liver as a kid. I hated onions too, but life had changed me in many ways, including my taste buds, and I had learned to love both.

So here we are, some 40 years later, and there’s new interest in liver and onions from a pandemic society eager to use up whatever their freezers have to offer.

And here I am, ready to answer the question of the week: “What do I do with liver?” Well, start with this quick, savory version below:

Liver and Onions Country Style


¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, sliced
1–1½ lbs. calf or beef liver, cut into ½-inch thick slices
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ scant teaspoon ground sage
1 good grind fresh nutmeg (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Snipped parsley


  1. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet (10 to 12 inches).
  2. Add onions and cook, covered, until tender and browned here and there (about 15 minutes). Remove onions and set aside, but leave the brown bits in the bottom of the pan.
  3. Slide the liver into the pan. Cook over medium heat until brown, about 3–4 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, sage, and nutmeg.
  4. Remove liver from pan and set aside. Next, add the lemon juice to the pan, stirring to loosen the remaining browned bits from the bottom for a lovely gravy to pour over the liver.
  5. Spread the liver on a heated plate. Top with the onions and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately with mounds of hot, buttered mashed potatoes.

Images from iStock/DronG.

Phyllis Quinn

Phyllis Quinn is a chef, food writer, and founder of Udderly Cultured, a class that teaches how to make homemade fresh mozzarella, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other cultured products. Private lessons are available. For a reservation, call Phyllis at 970-221-5556 or email her at Rediscover nearly lost cooking methods and get one-of-a-kind recipes in her books The Slow Cook Gourmet and Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation.

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