by Chris Masterjohn, PhD
I was very blessed today, despite being geographically quite far from most of my own family for the first time, to spend Pascha with the extended family of a friend, a very friendly, welcoming, and generous family indeed, to whom I am extremely grateful. As I was leaving, one of those present asked me for some parting nutritional advice, which led to a request for me to write a blog post about how to cook liver. I figure many of you may appreciate such a post, and I'm quite happy to oblige.
Liver is an absolute nutritional powerhouse, nature's multivitamin. Many people have bad experiences with liver because they don't like the taste, but these negative experiences can be minimized by starting with high-quality, fresh liver, and then storing, preparing, and cooking it right.
First off, start with grass-fed liver. It's likely to be much more nutritious than liver from grain-fed animals, and the animals are treated better and raised in a more ecologically sustainable manner. It seems to me, moreover, that grain-fed animals have a mild form of fatty liver disease, on the basis that their livers appear yellowish instead of a deep, dark red as seen with grass-fed animals.
Second, find a liver that is sold frozen. Liver spoils very quickly, and a liver that is refrigerated in a supermarket is probably already going bad. Personally, I purchase grass-fed frozen buffalo liver from North Star Bison. I prefer buffalo liver to other livers because of its taste and texture.
Third, aliquot the liver into portions you will use at one time to minimize the time it spends in your refrigerator. The best way to do this in my experience is to thaw it out for a few hours or however long it takes to be able to barely cut through it. It should only be partially thawed, and nowhere near completely thawed. Cut it into pieces that are just the right size that you will eat them in one serving. Put all the pieces back into the freezer in separate bags.
Fourth, thaw out one portion the night you are going to eat it. In the morning, marinade it in something acidic, such as lemon or lime juice. After it has marinaded for a few hours, slice it very thin and cook it in a pan with a little oil, flipping or stirring it frequently, for only one minute.
Fifth, put whatever kind of nuances on this approach you want to make it more appealing. Add whatever spices you want or additional ingredients (such as sauteed garlic and onions, if that's your thing).
For the chemistry buffs out there, I'm not sure exactly why these things work, but I think part of it is that liver is high in glutathione and other thiols, which are easily oxidized during extended storage and heating. I suspect oxidation of thiols contributes to the off-taste often experienced when eating liver. Acidic environments protect thiols from oxidation by keeping them protonated. Minimizing unfrozen storage and heat during cooking also protect thiols from oxidation.
Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.