Q: Sometimes you get liver and it tastes bad and sometimes you get liver and it tastes really good. So how do you get the ugly taste out of it (when it's bad)? Do you rinse it in water, salt water, milk, anything? Anyway, If you have an answer to this I would be very grateful.
—Peggy Beazley, Chicago
A: Soaking the liver in milk for 35 to 40 minutes before cooking could help mellow the flavor, according to Otto Demke, owner of the iconic Gepperth's Market, 1964 N. Halsted St. But—and this is a big but—there's nothing you can do to revive a bad piece of liver. Throw it out, substitute another, or ask for your money back, he said.
Demke said there could be a number of reasons why the liver tastes "bad." You may have been given a strong-tasting beef liver rather than the milder calf's liver. Or the liver might be older. One test for age would be to sniff the liver — an off or ammonia-like odor is a warning sign. Also, feel the liver if you can. Demke said a liver should be "slightly moist but not slimy." Sometimes, he added, the packaging can make the liver feel slimy. Rinse it in cold water and check again.
"The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion" offers similar advice: "Look for liver that has a bright color and moist (not slick) surface. It should have a fresh, clean smell. Refrigerate loosely wrapped for no more than a day." Remember, too, the "Companion" notes, that liver toughens quickly when overcooked.
Despite all this, I hope you'll continue to cook and eat liver. It's a good-for-you food.
Perhaps the easiest way for people to "get into" this organ meat is through chicken livers. Often ridiculously inexpensive, chicken livers pack a lot of flavor into a small, bite-size morsel. One pound of livers, sauteed with onions and peppers and served over pasta, makes a hearty meal. Chicken livers broiled in bacon always draw hungry crowds at cocktail parties. And chopped liver with egg makes a great deli sandwich.
One of my favorite forms of chicken liver is a pate, which can be a snap to make in a food processor or blender. My favorite recipe is "Chicken Liver Pate Supreme" from the 1965, pre-Marion Cunningham edition of "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook."
Chicken Liver Pate Supreme
From the 1965 edition of "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook." Serve this spread with drinks or with a salad at a summer luncheon, the book advises.
Put in a pan 2 tablespoons butter, 2 onions, chopped fine. Cook slowly until the onion is soft. Add 1/2 pound chicken livers. Cook 10 minutes. Put in a bowl. Mash with a fork or in a blender. Add to the pan juices 2 tablespoons dry sherry. Stir and scrape to get up all the good brown bits and add to the liver. Cool. Cream 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter. Stir into the liver. Season with salt, and more sherry if needed. Pack into a small bowl or crock and serve with Melba toast or crackers.
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