Surviving the Hard Times: Chicken Livers
They're cheap and nutritious. Here's how to make them tasty.
Are you experiencing sticker shock at the grocery store? We’re seeing the highest food inflation since the 1970s. Many of us have no choice but to change our diets, but that doesn’t mean we have to eat bugs or live in a pod.
Our grandparents and great-grandparents ate very differently than we did, and the time is coming when we have to look back at the old ways. That’s why we’re introducing a new series called Cooking in Hard Times.
One thing the old-timers loved that we don’t eat as much these days is liver.
I know what you’re probably thinking: Blech.
Liver is something of an acquired taste, but there are ways to make it more palatable. Chicken livers are a good place to start because they’re much milder than beef liver and they’re cheap. I can still get a tub of them for about $2, which is kind of amazing since each chicken only has one liver.
Don’t pass on liver, as it’s packed with nutrition. 100 grams of chicken liver has:
230 mg of potassium
16.9 g of protein
222% of your daily vitamin A requirements
43% of your daily vitamin B6 requirement
30% of your daily vitamin C requirement
105% of your daily riboflavin
276% of your daily vitamin B12
Chicken liver is a cheap nutritional powerhouse, and it’s delicious when cooked correctly.
Fried Chicken Livers
My personal favorite way to eat chicken livers is to fry them. You’ll need:
One tub of chicken livers
A nice, healthy fat like butter, lard, or tallow
The trick with chicken liver — or any kind of liver — is to not overcook it because overcooking strengthens that metallic “livery” taste. For chicken, you want to get it exactly to 165°F. A probe thermometer works well for poking the livers to see when they’re done.
Many cooks recommend trimming the stringy bits from chicken liver. I don’t find this necessary when frying them, but feel free to experiment.
Start by heating up your fat over medium heat in a deep pan. I use cast iron. You want the melted fat to be at least 1/4-inch tall. They’re even better deep-fried in peanut oil, but I don’t usually want to deal with that mess.
Open up your chicken livers. They shouldn’t have any sort of smell. If they smell like wet farts, toss them out and eat a bologna sandwich instead.
Fill a bowl or other deep container with flour. I usually eat about a half tub at one time, and for that, I use about two cups of flour. If I have a lot of leftover flour when I’m done, I’ll dump it into a Ziplock bag and toss it in the freezer for the next time I eat chicken livers.
To that, you want to add a good deal of Lawry’s. Seasoning is key with chicken livers. Add at least one tablespoon per cup of flour and mix it into the flour. I personally go for at least two tablespoons per cup of flour because I like a lot of flavor.
For a better crust on the livers, crack a couple of eggs into a bowl and whisk them as if you were making scrambled eggs. This step is optional if you’re short on time (or eggs).
Once you have everything set, you simply pull a liver from the tub (tongs help), dip it in egg (if using), and toss it in the flour. Once I have a good amount of livers in the seasoned flour, I put on a lid and shake it up to coat the livers. Then you put your livers in the hot oil.
If you’re deep-frying, there’s no need to flip the livers. For pan-frying, flip them once they’ve achieved a decent crust on the bottom. Once the crust is set on both sides, flip them every minute or so to cook them evenly and check with your thermometer. Once the thickest liver reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, they’re done. Set them on a plate lined with a paper towel and let them cool.
Note that the livers may still be pink inside even if they’ve reached temperature. This is normal.
I like a generous helping of a vinegar hot sauce like Texas Pete on my chicken livers. For lunch, I eat them by themselves. For sides, serve anything you’d serve with fried chicken, like mashed potatoes, turnip or collard greens, green beans, etc.
Chicken Liver Spreads
A chicken liver mousse can elevate chicken liver from the bargain bin to an haute hors d'oeuvre. Spread some on toasted bread and you have a cheap, yet fancy snack. It also makes great nutritious baby food!
Here’s an extremely simple chicken liver puree from The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care:
1 pound chicken livers
2 tablespoons lard
2 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 cup chicken stock or filtered water
1/3 teaspoon sea salt
Brown the livers in lard, add the stock and reduce slightly. Then let it cool and throw it in a food processor with the softened butter and salt. You end up with a super simple liver puree that’s great for babies or spread on a slice of toast.
One of my first chicken liver experiments was an apple-flavored chicken liver mousse from Alton Brown. Here’s what you’ll need for that:
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped tart apple
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 pound chicken livers, cleaned
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brandy
1 cup heavy cream
I never use brandy because I live in the sticks and no one drinks that stuff around here. However, I do keep a jug of burgundy around for wine-based gravies and beef bourguignon and that works fine. If you don’t want booze in your house, or you’re using this as baby food, you could use chicken stock or apple juice depending on whether you want a more savory or sweet flavor.
The recipe is simple enough: melt butter, cook the onion, apple, and thyme to soften them, and then add in the livers and cook until firm and pink. Then you add the salt, pepper, and booze, and throw it in the food processor. The tricky part is whipping the heavy cream into whipped cream, which you then fold into the chicken liver mixture.
It’s an interesting mix of savory and sweet, and the apple helps offset the liver.
This makes great party food, but here’s a tip. If you tell people it’s chicken liver mousse they’ll stick their nose up at it. But if you tell them it’s foie gras, they’ll wolf it down.
Chicken Liver Pastas
If you’re interested in more organ meat recipes, check out the Weston A. Price foundation and books by Sally Fallon Morell, especially Nourishing Traditions. One of the recipes from Nourishing Traditions incorporates 1/2 pound of chicken livers into a ground beef spaghetti sauce. But you can do that any time you make spaghetti. Just saute chicken livers in butter, dice them finely, and toss into your spaghetti sauce. The kids probably won’t even notice.
David Tanis has a fancy chicken liver pasta recipe in The New York Times that incorporates morel mushrooms (what we call dryland fish) and other mushrooms you can forage (of course, you have to be careful with foraged mushrooms and know what you’re getting).
On the other end, you could sneak chicken liver into chilis and other stews to boost their nutritional value and make them go a big longer. A little chicken liver added to chili adds a nice savory undertone without tasting “livery.”
So that should give you some ideas on how to use cheap and nutritious chicken livers and eat well, even in the hard times.