Another one of the conventions that apply to TV cooking shows (see my previous post) is clearly that things need to look nice, and that everyone should sound like they taste nice as well. On this German show a few days ago, one person fried slices of liver.
There was a pedagogical episode where he pared off the skin and the (as Marcella Hazan calls them) “large gristly tubes.” This is an absolutely necessary, and rather fiddly, administration. One of the common horrors of liver consumption is one’s bite-for-bite confrontation with tough bits of membrane. The meticulous cleaning is the very thing that makes liver possible.
Then came a rather more dubious episode where the slices entered a frying pan and stayed there altogether too long. Afterwards they were beautifully nut-brown, and everybody assured us that they were oh-so-tender. I wonder…the cooking might well be the very thing that makes liver impossible again.
To return to Marcella, her advice is to find a “butcher who is willing to cut the slices (of calves’ liver) into 6mm (1/4 inch) slices.” (The Classic Italian Cookbook, p. 250). Liver needs to cook fast, otherwise it begins to taste bitter and gets chewy, no, shoe-y. In contrast to the traditional manner of preparing Fegato alla veneziana, Marcella advises also not to cut the slices into small bits, because they are easier to turn over when left in one piece. I deviate in various ways from her advice and from the original recipe, which uses only liver, oil, onions, pepper and salt.
– I do not like to have strands of browned onion in my fegato. It is a matter of incompatible textures. I take one or two shallots per person and dice them instead of slicing, I heat up olive oil in a large skillet to medium hot, I add pepper and rosemary before anything else and I cook the shallots slowly in the seasoned oil for a long time.
– I am not too picky about getting real, true, young calves’ liver. Usually the liver here comes from an animal best called just-beyond-calf. I do, however, take care that it is very fresh. If it has – for whichever reason – a strong cow-y smell, I just don’t use it (I once did, that’s why).
– My shortcut that combines cleaning the liver properly (no skin, no blood vessel cross-sections, please), the absence of a butcher who can cut 1/4-inch slices and the creation of authentic bite sized Venetian bits is to take a chunk of liver, to slice off 1/4-inch slices and to clean them one by one, cutting them up while I’m busy. It takes some time but it works.
(This slicing is best achieved by cutting the short way across a chunk of liver, using a Very Sharp Knife. This implies that I usually begin by taking out my fine honing stone to give the Japanese knife (the one with the black handle…) an extra go. When our family was still assembled, Flick the cat belonged to the household. Flick would not – in the manner of cats – wait with coming from wherever she slept until the slab of liver was put on the plank with an audible splat. She was already there at the faintest first knife-on-stone hiss. Liver is good – ask the cat.)
– I accept that I have to fry the liver in batches, which makes it possible for me to turn all the small pieces in time. If you’re using a 28-cm frying pan, fegato for four divides into four or five such batches. I shove the onion bits aside (or, if they have become darker than golden-brown, I take them out of my pan with a slotted spoon). Raising the heat to high, I distribute each batch evenly in the pan, taking care that the bits all lie flat and don’t overlap. Small tongs and a spatula are helpful tools here. Before the pink color of the slices is altogether gone, I turn them once. After a maximum of two minutes of cooking, the first batch of liver slices goes into a warm bowl that has been waiting close to the stove.
After all the liver is done, I return the onions to the pan and add a healthy dash of dry white wine and salt. I quickly reduce the wine and add all the liver at the last moment, taking care to heat it up, but not to cook it any longer.
This liver is juicy and sweet and the sauce is too good for words. White rice is an ideal accompaniment.