Thanks to a heightened interest in eating for health, and mainstream acceptance of making use of the whole animal, organ meats have made a bit of a comeback lately. Yet, while this resurgence in popularity is certainly creating more interest for the average home cook, few people know ways to integrate them into their diet in enticing and enjoyable ways.
Of course, there’s always the fail-safe plan of making pate, because few can resist the savory taste and luxurious texture of a savory mousse with lots of cream and butter. “Hiding” bits of variety meats in burgers, meatloaf, or ragu is forever an option, and great for those pickier eaters. But what we’re concentrating on are ways to incorporate organ meats as a focal point of your plate. These ideas are miles away from the humdrum (and likely overcooked and mealy) liver-and-onions we may have been subjected to in the past, and will reduce the stigma of unpalatability that has been ascribed to organ meats over the years.
I always look to ethnic cuisine when I need inspiration for organs. Countries around the world still make regular use of the nutrient-dense odd bits, and thus, tend to create interesting and delicious dishes with them. Additionally, the robust and assertive flavors often used in ethnic cuisines create a perfect foil for the minerality of things like liver, which can be an acquired taste.
This recipe is inspired by a popular Turkish meze (Mediterranean small bite) dish, which actually seems to have roots in Albania. I’ve used customary spices from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions to create my own spin on the traditional appetizer, which can be enjoyed as part of a spread of other small bites, or as an entrée.
I’m a huge condiment and garnish fan, so I’m always happiest with an array of different additions to provide textural and taste bud excitement to my food. Whether you are a condiment fan or not, the onions that accompany this spiced organ dish are something I would definitely not exclude. Their crunch and fragrant acidity harmonize beautifully with the bold flavors and soft texture of the meat. Additionally, a creamy tzatziki, herbed yogurt sauce, or lemony, tahini-based dressing, would be a delicious complement to the spices and richness.
And don’t forget the pita!
Though I’ve written this recipe using chicken liver, this would be a great place to experiment with an assortment of different variety meats. Beef liver has higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals, but lamb liver would likely be most traditional, if you can get your hands on it. A combination of livers and heart would work incredibly well, and I might even recommend preparing this with cubes of tender steak, lamb, or poultry, combined with the organs, to encourage less-adventurous diners to dip their toes into the world of organ meats, without having to fully dive in.
Turkish-Style Livers with Crisp Sumac Onions
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer, 2-3 as main course
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Butter, olive oil, or other cooking fat of choice
1 lb. chicken livers, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces (alternately, use half-liver, half-heart, or another combination as mentioned above)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground sumac
½ cup chopped parsley
½ lemon, juiced
Additional lemon wedges, to serve
- Prepare onion relish: Toss thinly sliced red onion with a large pinch of salt, massaging slightly with your hands. Set aside for 10 minutes. Rinse with cool water, drain and squeeze dry, then toss with sumac, lemon juice, parsley, and extra salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until ready to use.
- Melt a little butter (about 1-2 tablespoons) in a large shallow pan. Cook onions and garlic with the spices, salt, and pepper, until tender, about 5-10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Prepare livers: Trim livers and cut into bite-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little more butter to the pan, then add livers in a single layer. Cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes, until a crust forms, then flip each piece over one by one. Sear the other side for 1-2 minutes. Return onions to pan and toss everything to combine. Add 2-3 tablespoons water to dislodge the browned bits in the pan and create a bit of a sauce for the livers. Cook a further couple minutes, until livers are pink on the inside, about 6 minutes total.
- Serve livers with sumac onions and lemon wedges
Image from Briana Goodall.