Thursday Night Smackdown: Liver is just as offal as I thought

Yeah, I know, some people pronounce it “OH-ffal.”  I don’t.  It’s punnier that way.

I mean, really, why would you eat this?

So: chicken livers. I hate ’em. Foie is damn good but chicken livers? The smell of frying chicken livers makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

Sucks for me then that I’ve married into a family of ex-Brooklynite Jews who love them some chicken livers, so I thought that for “food you don’t like” month I’d give it a whirl.  But I don’t think I could dive right into plain old chicken livers, literally  or figuratively, so I decided to dip a toe into the livery water with Lidia Bastianich’s fettuccine alla Romana, or fettuccine in a tomato sauce with liver, mushrooms, prosciutto, and wine; organ meats are one of the hallmarks of Roman cuisine.  And surely, prosciutto can make offal better? Please?

I couldn’t find dried mushrooms so I used sea monkeys instead.

There was an additional reason for using a Lidia recipe: yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my mom’s death, so it’s been a bit of a weepy week and I thought I’d so something to help me mark the occasion.  Here are some ways my mom and Lidia Bastianich are similar:

  1. Named Lidia
  2. Italian
  3. Somewhat beakish nose
  4. Stupid good cook
  5. Rejecter of guff
  6. Seems like she would hit you with a broom if she got really mad at you

Of course, there are some differences as well:

  1. Full head of hair (my mom, not Lidia)
  2. I think that’s it.

So mom, this one’s for you.  Too bad it was gross.

We always did have an up-and-down relationship.

Wait, you want me to TOUCH the liver, too?

Moving on: dicing up livers?  Fuck that. They’re LIVERS.

No, actually Brian had to cut up the liver because he has a shaky hand problem and can’t take the pictures (which, by the way, are totally unadulterated tonight, and 4 of 5 pictures from now, we’re all going to be really sorry about that).  And that is 100% the reason.

It started well.

While the dried mushrooms were rehydrating, I started building the sauce, which stacks layers and layers of (mostly good) flavor like these onions and garlic in olive oil.

Not that these onions were an unmitigated good, because they tried to kill me.  Okay, that might be a little hyperbolic.  They tried to blind me.  I don’t keep my knives in as good shape as I should, I admit that, but they’re not bad.  My chef’s knife is a good one to begin with and Brian occasionally remembers to sharpen it, so onion dicing can sometimes be rough but is never impossible.  The knife at my in-laws, where this meal was cooked? OH MY GOD.

It tore through the onion, releasing volatile compounds that I didn’t even think existed until this onion was chopped and burning through my retinas in 0.3 seconds.  I couldn’t find a towel or napkin to press to my eyes, so I used my shirt.  Which meant I was standing in the kitchen with my shirt pulled up around my neck, bra hanging out, but I didn’t care because THE PAIN OH GOD THE PAIN.

And then it got better.

Once the onions started to soften, in went some pancetta.  This was supposed to be “especially fatty prosciutto,” but prosciutto options after 6pm in the suburbs can be limited and the only stuff I could find was pre-packaged and remarkably lean, so I made the executive decision to use pancetta.

Maybe I shouldn’t judge this dish because I didn’t follow the directions to a tee, maybe I would have loved it if it had included prosciutto.

But I doubt it.

And then it got MUCH MUCH worse.

The livers went in next.  I actually had high(ish) hopes at this point, because the liver frying with the onion and pancetta did not immediately induce nausea.

And stayed that way

Last were the dried mushrooms.  I don’t totally understand why I had to strain the shrooms out of the stock they’d been rehydrating in, add them, and then add the stock, but Lidia told me to so I did.  Because you know, the whole broom thing.


Some white wine and the fortified mushroomy stock went in next.  And then

[Okay, I need to interrupt myself here: this picture looks like dog vomit.  I know it.  I’m sorry.  I could Photoshop it into acceptability, but I feel like that would be cheating.  I just want to openly acknowledge that this is a terrible, disgusting, awful photo.]

And then I let it come to a boil and cook down a little while the flavors melded. It smelled kinda good, and only mildly livery.

Less like dog vomit, but  only marginally so.

Another little change to the recipe:  I did not crush these tomatoes by hand.

The completed sauce needed 20 or 30 minutes to tighten up a bit, so I left it to simmer while I went to watch Jeopardy! and fill up on chocolate chip cookies.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t taste the sauce to check for seasoning while it was cooking down because I was still scared of the liver.  I told myself it was because I didn’t have any bread to dip into it, my normal MO for pasta sauce-checking, but I need to be upfront about what really happened:  Liver fear.

Yet ANOTHER change to the recipe: I did not make the fettuccine by hand; I just ran out of time today.  To make myself feel better, I bought some Buitoni “fresh” pasta rather than dried pasta.  It worked a little.  When the sauce looked about ready, I quickly cooked the pasta and tossed everything together, adding a nice dose of pecorino romano cheese.


This dish made me really, really sad.  Because the sauce tasted so…Roman.  There’s just no other way to describe it; it tasted authentically Italian, like I was sitting in a little trattoria in Rome off the Campo dei Fiori, like something one of my zie would make as a primo.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I still hate liver.  The taste, the texture, everything about it: when I got a bite with a livery chunk in it, I could barely swallow.  I ate around the liver pieces for a little while because I was so into the overall flavor of the sauce, but eventually there was just no way to avoid the offal and I had to stop.  No sir, I don’t like it; I don’t like it one bit.

Dinner of champions.

Given this experience, I think there’s little hope that I’ll ever be able to eat straight-up chopped liver.  In fact, while I was in the other room at Brian’s parents’ uploading these photos, they decided to use the leftover chicken livers to make chopped liver.  And the smell? As horrific as ever.

Honey Nut Cheerios?  As tasty as ever.

Final score: Me 0, Liver 1.

0 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: Liver is just as offal as I thought

  1. That’s really funny. :) The Cheerios. So perfect.

    Liver is funny. If done right, it can be really good. Problem is, it’s only rarely right. In fact, when it IS right, I think it’s usually by accident. I can only do them in very small doses.

    I was going to make some chicken liver pate this week, but it looks like it’s getting pushed to next week. There is a place down the street that makes the best, sweetest, yummiest chicken liver pate I’ve ever had. Tastes like foie gras. I’m serious. I am on a mission to create a clone of it.

  2. You tried, you still didn’t like it. So there. Case closed.

    I might have to try this recipe: my father loves livers and keeps reminiscing about spaghetti with some sort of tomato-liver sauce. Don’t know what he’s talking about, but I’ll give this a whir.

  3. Weird: yesterday was the first anniversary of my mom’s death – glad that day is over – and I’m pretty sure my mom would not have liked this recipe either. So maybe for next year on november 6th you could make ‘your mom’s favourite food’ the TNSD-theme? Then we can all make our (dead or alive) moms happy and have good karma bestowed on us :-).

  4. PS. Just realized the cahnces of november 6th being a Thursday next year are actually quite slim (hello! good morning, brain!). O well, it also counts if it’s in the same week.

  5. No. Just . . . no, on the liver. I have, no lie, approximately 5 pounds of beef and lamb liver in my freezer right now. And I hate liver. Hate the look of it, hate the taste, the smell, the texture, the ooziness. When my MiL cooks it for her and my husband, I have to avert my eyes. I’ve tried beef, venison, and lamb liver, and I just can’t do it. I’m okay with it now.

    So what I’m saying is, I’m totally there with you on the Honey Nut Cheerios.

  6. Oh, you really took this challenge seriously. Good girl. Me, I had intended to cook something with broccoli. I had picked a broccoli tart recipe that had enough cheese that I was hoping would mask the fact that there was broccoli in it. I hate the stuff, and ever since my first pregnancy, just the smell of it makes me gag. But dinner never happened in my house last night so I missed First Thursday this month. And I had been planning it since you announced this month’s category.

    So what’s next month?

  7. I just can’t eat chopped or fried liver. The only exception I ever found was some Southern-Fried Chicken Livers that looked like popcorn shrimp, and I didn’t know what it was when I ate it.

    This is really weird because I LOVE Liver Pudding (only ONE brand of Liver Pudding right here in NC, but I LOVE it). I also love Foie Gras.

    Otoh, my father hates Liver Pudding, but loves Liver. What can you do?

  8. I am so mad I was not there to eat this dinner. Because it sounds great and I also would have been able to stand in the kitchen eating the chopped liver on crackers later that night. Also I know the knife must have sucked.

  9. traci, i just don’t know if there’s a “right way” for me. although I would be willing to try pate if there wer some guarantee that it would taste like foie.

    vancouver, among those who like liver, this dish was a hit.

    maartje, i think that’s a beautiful idea. love it.

    fuzzy, liver pudding? i don’t even want to know.

    jodi, me too. because there were a LOT of leftovers.

  10. I have gotten to the point that I can eat beef liver but the smell of chicken liver cooking? Vomiting inducing X 2 and that was all my oldest one would eat as a toddler???!!!

  11. I will be there for dinner tonight and MY GOD there had better be leftovers still left because I’m gross like that. And also I hope there are still honey nut cheerios left too because I’d like to have those as my late night snack.

  12. While there is no arguing with Lidia, since you used pancetta instead of prosciutto, maybe it would have been better to cook the pancetta first, then saute the onions and livers in the rendered fat from it. As prosciutto is quite lean, it would not do the same thing in the original recipe.
    But everything tastes better cooked in bacon/pancetta fat.

  13. You are quite the trouper making things other people like that you don’t. It’s hard. I know. I’ve been there quite a few times.

    The one thing that can be said for chicken liver is that it’s better than beef liver. Now that’s REALLY nasty.

  14. aw, too bad. The only time I have ever had liver was at Mario Batali’s restaurant in LA– we had the chicken liver bruschetta and it was pretty fucking amazing. I guess it takes an artist to spruce up something inherently revolting!

  15. fried chicken livers with country gravy–that’s where you should’ve gone. everything’s better fried, and everything fried is better with gravy.

  16. As an old Jewish cook from Paterson, NJ, here’s the only good way to cook chicken livers: clean them well of all weird white shit, put them under the broiler, do both sides so they are a little broiled, then proceed to saute with onions and mushrooms. Without the broiling step, they are no good. Trust me.

  17. i have to say, this post was friggin hilarious but i’m sad you hate liver so much! i think if this recipe didn’t make you even kind of like liver, there ain’t no hope for you to ever like them. but your mom sounds like she was a great woman and hopefully she had a laugh watching you attempt to like liver.

  18. Wow, even your milk is Italian.

    You know what? Romans fucked little boys too. No wonder they like liver. (Was that too much?)

    The only way to eat liver is fried beef or veal liver with onions, and only at a diner.

  19. My mom tried and tried to get me to like liver. I’ll give it another shot one day. Just not one day soon.

    At least you gave it a go and by all indications you did a fabulous job. It just ain’t your thang.

  20. I also hate livers. Liver-haters UNITE! (I made a typo and originally typed “Liver-haters UNTIE!” Haha.)

    Anyway, too bad we couldn’t enter something into First Thursdays this time. Didn’t have time. =( But, I was also thinking liver, but… I really don’t like it! In any form! Chicken, beef, duck, pork… even foie gras.

    Oh! The onions: hilarious! I haven’t tried *that* method for protecting my eyes from the fumes.

  21. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » November First Thursday: Yuck

  22. chessa, the livers came after the pancetta, so there was lots of good porky fat to help them along. but they refused to be helped.

    b, i’m a big proponent of fried things, and an even bigger supporter of gravy. but the idea of fried livers in gravy makes me sad for gravy.

    nina, thanks for the advice…though i think it’ll be a while before i’m ready to go for another ride on the liver train.

    man, that sounded gross.

    them apples, there is some offal i like, like sweetbreads and foie. okay, maybe just sweetbreads and foie.

    ts, it’s not an entirely effective method, so i don’t recommend it. especially when your father in law might saunter through the kitchen at any moment. risky business.

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