Calf Liver

So, I’ve been wanting to try making calf liver for quite a while now. I’ve thought for most of my life that I didn’t like liver, but the more I hear and read about it, the more I suspect that I just don’t like the way Eastern European Jews cook liver (which, considering what I know of the cuisine of my heritage in general, isn’t such a big shock). Nevertheless, my sources say, liver is still a strong flavor and must be approached cautiously. In light of that caution (and having read Julie and Julia), I decided that calf liver would be a nice start, seeing as the younger the animal, the less strong the flavor.

So, today Gem comes home with a bag full of grocery meats and apparently she remembered me saying I wanted to try my hand at calf liver because when she saw it in Shop Rite, she immediately thought of me and grabbed a couple of packages. Since it’s dated for today, I figured that I’d better get crackin’, so I immediately pulled out Mastering the Art of French Cooking and got to work. Lo and behold, I haven’t got the vast majority of ingredients on hand, and I’m feeling too lazy (and cheap) to walk out to Wegman’s to get them, so it’s time to start improvising! So, here (with notes) is Julia Child’s Foie de Veau à la Moutarde (mustard veal liver):

  • 6 slices of calf’s liver cut 1/2 inch thick, outside filament removed
    • I had three. Well, actually, I had four, but one had so much silverskin inside that I just tossed it. Easiest way to remove the silverskin (“filament”) is just to peel it off with your fingernails and fingers
  • salt and pepper
    • For sprinkling, so precise measurements aren’t necessary
  • 1/2 cup sifted flour on a large plate
    • In this particular case, I have no idea why one should bother sifting.
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • a heavy skillet
    • I used my 12″ cast iron skillet.

Season the liver with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, and sauté for 1 minute on each side in very hot butter and oil. The slices should be very lightly browned and slightly stiffened, but not cooked through. Remove to a dish.

  • 3 tbsp prepared mustard of the strong, Dijon type
    • The substitutions begin! It turns out that, for all the mustard I have, my Dijon supplies are nearly gone. I mixed mustard powder with a pinch of garlic powder, a pinch of curry powder, a pinch of salt, a half teaspoon of sugar, and enough cider vinegar to form a paste. I let it sit for a few minutes before microwaving, to achieve a medium-high level of spice
  • 1 tbsp. finely minced shallots or green onions
    • I have neither, so I used very finely chopped onion
  • 3 tbsp. minced parsley
    • No parsley, but I’m prepping to do some Thai cooking, so I had some coriander on hand
  • 1/2 clove mashed garlic
  • pinch of pepper
  • 3 cups fine, white, fresh bread crumbs spread on a large plate
    • So much for me avoiding any East-European Jewish liver recipes! I don’t have any bread crumbs, but I did have some מצה meal on hand, and I’ve found that it makes a fine substitute so long as it’s cooked long or hot enough to remove the מצה taste.
  • a greased broiling pan
    • I didn’t grease. It doesn’t seem to have made a difference.

Beat the mustard in a small bowl with the shallots or onions and seasonings. Drop by drop, beat in the liver sautéing fat to make a mayonaiselike cream. Paint the liver slices with the mixture. One by one, lay the slices in the bread crumbs and heap bread crumbs on top, gently shake off exess, and pat the adhering crumbs in place with the flat of a knife. (Julia gave very detailed instructions because she was writing for the average 50s/60s housewife, who knew very little about fancy cooking. I suspect most people would have been okay with “dredge.”). Arrange the liver on the broiling pan.

(*) If not to be broiled immediately, cover with waxed paper and refrigerate.

  Shortly before serving, heat broiler to very hot.
  • 6 tbsp melted butter
  • a hot platter

Baste the liver with half the melted butter. Place so its surface is about 2 inches from the broiler heat to brown for a minute or two. (I did 1:30) Turn, baste with the remaining butter, and brown the other side quickly. Arrange on a hot platter and serve.

I’d like to add to all that that, unless you have an actual butcher who’ll do it for you, you have to remove the silverskin yourself. And, while relatively easy, it can be a bit tedious, and is always disgusting. None of this was particularly difficult, but there’s lots of little steps, which annoys me and makes for a lot more dirty dishes than such a simple recipe ought to produce.

What about the actual food? Well, Foie de Veau à la Moutarde comes immediately after Foie de Veau Sauté (sautéed calf’s liver), which is meant to be served with various vegetable side dishes and sauces; I think I like the idea of that one better, particularly the one with Sauce Crème à la Moutarde (mustard cream sauce). This came out tasting like a high-iron breaded chicken cutlet, and I’ve had just about enough of breaded chicken cutlets in my life, to the point where I really don’t like them any more without massive amounts of sauce. There’s also that “high-iron” thing: you really can just about taste it, and it’s not pleasant. I think that I legitimately don’t like liver, and calf liver (which is to say, liver that hasn’t had time to acquire a livery taste) is the best compromise I can come up with. Yes, I did substitute a lot of things, but they’re all substitutions that I can account for, and the actual cooking process didn’t change at all, so I believe I can honestly say that I have some idea of what properly-prepared calf liver tastes like: mediocre. And the worst part of it is definitely what I can taste of the liver.

All in all, I’d have to say that I’m willing to eat calf liver (properly done), but won’t go out of my way to do so. It’s definitely not worth the effort (the effort of cooking was fairly low, but there’s a lot to clean up now). It also has definitely not paved the way to greater liver horizons for me, but rather closed them indefinitely. Oh, if I’m at a fancy restaurant where a companion orders a liver dish, I’ll take a taste, as I always do with just about everything, but I don’t see me ordering it myself. Sorry, liver fans, it’s just not for me.


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