Sunday, May 5, 2013

How to Cook Liver and Make it Taste Not-Bad

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.

Enjoy!

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

77 comments:

  1. Chopped liver. Cook liver, food process w/ hard boiled eggs, onions & animal fat. Bob's your uncle.

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  2. Thanks Chris, How much & how often do you eat liver?

    Cheers, Chris

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    1. Hi Chris,

      I think once a week is a good starting point, but I think each person needs to adjust according to how their body reacts. I feel best if I eat one or two servings of liver per week and replace most of my muscle meat with heart. It's been hard for me to keep that up in my current situation because of limited freezer space but I'm working on fixing that.

      Chris

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    2. Hi, Chris

      I used to marinate liver in orange juice or submerge in raw milk to kill its taste. Somehow, over time I have come to enjoy its unique taste and don´t do these tricks anymore.

      Now that you mention heart... I actually prepare heart and liver in one plate. About 1.5 lbs. beef heart for 0.5 lbs. beef liver. I sautee onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes and garlic in coconut oil. I then add the beef heart (chunks) and cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour on low heat. Then I add the beef liver (chunks also) and cook for another 45 minutes. This way, the heart will soften enough to pair well with the liver.

      I eat this on 3 or 4 days of the week, usually for breakfast with a couple of scrambled eggs and a glass of raw milk.

      I consider liver and heart one of my compulsory dishes of the week, along with spinach and butter... my multi-vitamins ;)

      JJ

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  3. If the liver has been frozen for a week or two and is well-raised/grassfed what are your thoughts on raw consumption?

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    1. Two weeks or more is ideal. I've eaten plenty of raw liver that way, but I don't think it's for everyone!

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    2. Raw liver (grind), raw white onions, yolks, tomatoes, thina (sesame paste), garlic (freshly crushed), salt and other spices to taste and olive oil, is my favorite raw meat salad.

      Enjoy

      Nice article Chris, many thanks.

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  4. Many foods could be ruined by wrong cooking, not only a liver - turkey and chicken breasts are good examples(my mom, who is from the country without a tradition to make turkeys for holidays, gave up on a turkey after her first try). However, not many people complain about having troubles eating turkey.

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    1. I think with liver some people struggle with it because it's such a uniquely nutrient-dense food, so they wish they could fit it in somehow but can't stand the taste.

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  5. Thanks so much for this recipe. I just bought liver over the weekend and was wondering how to prepare it. This is my first time cooking it and my family's first time eating it. Hopefully it goes over well. I've been reading how nutritious liver is and would like to incorporate more into our diet. Perfect timing!

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    1. You're welcome. I'm glad the timing worked out and wish you the best!

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  6. "Aliquot the liver" FTW! Wonder how many will know what that means?

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    Replies
    1. Haha! I think most people will pick it up from the rest of the paragraph.

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  7. How would you rank the liver choices found in typical supermarkets: Beef (conventional), Calf (conventional)
    Chicken (conventional), Chicken (organic)?

    I still feel burnt out over tossing everything in my fridge and freezer after hurricane Sandy so I've been picking up fresh liver on regular grocery trips since then. I really like liver so I don't purposefully seek out a mild one (though calf liver seems the easiest to hide it the family's meatballs ;)

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    1. I'd go with the organic, but it would be good to try to locate a local farm or farmer's market where you can get grass-fed liver.

      Chris

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  8. I didn't grow up with liver and have had difficulty appreciating the taste. In order to get the nutritional benefit, I puree the raw, cubed, lemon-marinated liver in my food processor and then freeze it in portions via an ice cube tray. I thaw a few of the cubes at a time, storing them in the refrigerator. I usually eat a cube day. I take a spoonful or two of it right down the gullet with a swig of water!

    This is a far quicker and relatively painless way that I have found to incorporate liver into my diet--it far surpasses the Paleo-Chili with liver I had made (which I ended up not eating because I disliked it so much...though the dog did enjoy it).

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  9. After cooking it oh-so-gently as Chris describes,
    I recommend flavoring it the Taiwanese way:
    Lots of raw chopped garlic and tamari.

    Liver taste? what liver taste? Are we eating liver?

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  10. I follow the recipe on the PerfectHealthDiet and soak the thawed grass fed liver in raw milk for a few hours, saute in ghee with onions. Puree along with cilantro, parsley, a hard boiled egg and a tbs of raw honey..Delicious pate that most people love with minimal liver taste.

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    1. Sounds interesting, I'll give this a try. Thanks!

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  11. I have never seen or used aliquot as a verb. I have always seen it as an adjective or noun. In fact its form is not that of any Latin verb from my days of teaching Latin. Webster online has this, "Definition of ALIQUOT

    1
    : contained an exact number of times in something else —used of a divisor or part <5 is an aliquot part of 15>
    2
    : fractional
    — aliquot noun
    Origin of ALIQUOT

    Medieval Latin aliquotus, from Latin aliquot some, several, from alius other + quot how many — more at else, quote
    First Known Use: 1570
    Other Mathematics and Statistics Terms

    abscissa, denominator, divisor, equilateral, exponent, hypotenuse, logarithm, oblique, radii, rhomb"

    I think you want something like 'apportion' or 'divide.'

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    1. It's science slang:

      http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/aliquot#Verb

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    2. Totally. And aliquoting liver? Best usage ever.

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  12. Luckily, I grew up liking liver. Now I cook it in a little coconut oil or butter, gently, and add a bit of balsamic vinegar. Yum. If I make too much, I reheat it in a glass dish placed in a bamboo steamer.

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  13. Interesting timing. Just had liver for lunch, left over from last night's dinner, and still delicious. Here's how I cook liver. Defrost on a broiler pan or something else with vents that allow the liquids to drain away, then when almost defrosted place in Pyrex container, just cover with half and half (my preference) or milk, marinate for half hour or so (gets rid of bitterness), then carefully drain off liquid (into your dog or cat's bowl), somehow without letting the liver slide out along with it. While traditional to dredge the slices in seasoned flour, this time I just sprinkled with Celtic salt, fresh ground pepper, garlic powder, and Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (that doesn't taste at all creole to me), or Worcestershire is good too, but season as you like.

    While marinating, fry some bacon, set aside, then caramelize (unsalted or seasoned) onions (thin sliced, separated into rings) in some of the bacon drippings and a little butter and/or coconut oil. Remove onions, add some more of the fats, then slide the liver into the pan (learning how to handle liver without it falling apart is the trickiest part of becoming good at this) and fry quickly till nicely browned on one side, turn and almost immediately remove from pan. Cook just long enough to brown (serve with the first side up). The secret to liver not having the texture of leather is to cook it no more than medium rare. If you'd like some gravy, add enough fat to the pan so there's around 2 tbls., whisk in 2 tbls. flour, cornstarch, arrowroot, etc., slowly whisk in 1 cup half and half or milk, whisk out the lumps and heat till it starts to thicken. Season with a dash of Chachere's or Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt, pepper, etc. If you don't have access to the quality of liver Chris recommends, mainstream groceries likely have some frozen. Kroger's is a nice dark red, though God know what they ate. Even better, find a Middle Eastern grocery store selling Halal meats, which are usually raised locally, on smaller farms, due to dietary requirements. Neither the best option, but better than going without.

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    1. Every place in my area that advertises Halal meats (four places that I know of) lets flies crawl all over their meat. Is that part of their rules? Kinda grosses me out.

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    2. Guess I'm lucky. The one near me has a butcher shop, run like any other. Interesting, though, that the people eating this meat don't get sick (or presumably they wouldn't keep buying it). Perhaps the higher levels of fermented foods in their diets protects them from this kind of bacteria, though likely all killed when the meat is cooked. But gross as this may appear, ever eaten food outside? Almost impossible to keep the flies off, especially already cooked food, yet we do it every summer, and most people seem to survive.

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  14. I really think it's important to dredge in flour before frying.....delicious with ketchup!

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    Replies
    1. I always thought that too, up until this last batch, which turned out just fine without it. And lots of people, including me, are avoiding wheat.

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  15. Marinate overnight in Greek lemon yogurt. Even liver "haters" can manage it. Many find it delicious.

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  16. Devona SherwoodMay 6, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    I just recently made a liver pate with lots of herbs, bacon and bacon grease and it was really good! Bacon grease and bacon can make even liver taste good!

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  17. I freeze thin-sliced grass-fed beef liver in single-serving pieces.

    Gently warm butter in a small pan, add a slice of frozen liver, turn when it starts to soften, season with salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic and onion powders. Turn and cook until done and serve. Pour the delicious seasoned butter on rice or the liver. Think about licking the pan.

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  18. Dear Chris

    I recently infected myself with human-adapted hookworm (necator americanus). Theres alot of research showing that intestinal parasites may help with autoimmune diseases.

    I live in South Africa and access to grass-fed liver is rare. Grain-fed meat is the mainstay.

    Do you know if the de-worming medication that are fed to cattle and chicken concentrates in the liver? And if it does, will cooking destroy the medication?

    I don't want to lose my worms by eating conventional liver that contains these substances unless they are rendered harmless by cooking.

    I also don't want to remove liver from my diet!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Sorry but I have no idea. I wish you the best!

      Chris

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  19. Liver from younger animals such as lamb contain fewer toxins

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  20. I grew up eating goat liver. I understand that, goats, because of their efficiency at clearing all kind of bush and brush are left to graze and are not generally CAFO. Any thoughts / advice on goat liver consumption?

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    Replies
    1. I think the same rules apply. Probably a goat is not CAFO, but better to check the source than to assume.

      Chris

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  21. Even if liver is from a grass-fed source, don't animals use their livers to filter toxins? How would that affect us humans eating it? Or is that not an issue?

    Thanks,
    Gabe

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    Replies
    1. Hi Gabe,

      No, animals do not use their liver to filter toxins; they use the liver to detoxify toxins and excrete them. That means liver is probably great for detoxifying, because it is rich in all the nutrients needed for detoxification.

      Chris

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  22. I tried liver, it wasn't the taste that threw me, it was that smell! It smelled so bad that I regretted the few bites I managed to get myself through! And I did buy the dark red grassfed stuff and a bunch of good ingredients went into the recipe like bacon bits and cooking wine. WTF. I'm wondering if I did something wrong because I had tasted liver before and it wasn't too bad. I dont remember it being stinky the first time either.

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    1. Was it frozen? If so, perhaps it wasn't frozen soon after slaughter. Liver starts to smell bad after spoilage at refrigeration temperature, which doesn't seem to me to take long.

      Chris

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  23. My grandmother rubbed liver with ground sage and broiled gently, serving with onions sauteed in butter. The flavor was much better than your average liver and onion dish found in the southern US.

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  24. Hi Chris and you all!
    I use to buy frozen beef liver (the cattle is mostly grass fed here in Norway) and the color IS a nice dark red. When preparing a meal I slice it up in 5 mm slices and cook it in animal fat (rendered tallow and butter). I've found it is very important NOT to use 'to much heat' and not to 'cook it for too long': and if I do overcook it, not only does it NOT taste very well, it is also somewhat hard to swallow. If done in such a 'light cooking' way, its taste is good and somewhat sweet. I like adding some salt (I do recommend sea salt/rock salt WITHOUT additives based on my experience that my body 'just feels better' afterwards) and pepper, adjusted to ones taste. This way I think the taste is 'good to great' . It also seems to me that it's an issue of 'learning to eat' liver, a process of learning to appreciate it. That said, I do remember back when I was a child that I hated my moms liver...:)

    Janerik

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  25. I am one of those who have never liked liver because of the taste. I've tried beef, lamb and chicken livers and could not tolerate the smell, let alone the taste. Goat liver, however, is different. I can eat goat liver without any problems. By the way, if you've never tried goat, I strongly recommend it. I like it even more than lamb and it's less expensive and completely pastured. Goat works best in a crockpot with root vegetables. Goat curry and goat chops are outstanding.

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  26. Maude's recipe is excellent--exactly the way my Mom cooked liver. She always bought calves liver because there was no strong, bitter taste. It is harder to find now; most of the liver in supermarkets seems to be beef liver--not tasty at all. I tried it once--ugh! Mom always had the works: liver, onions and bacon and all fried in bacon grease. It was cholesterol heaven!

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  27. I make smoothies with full-fat coconut milk, frozen bananas, raw partially defrosted grass-fed beef liver, and a few other things. It's super yummy!

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    1. Making smoothies has been the only way I have been able to mask the taste of liver. I swear it is more easily hidden in a smoothie when it is raw rather than frozen. I make savory smoothies with parsley, garlic, salt, lime, green bell pepper, jalapeno, raw goat kefir, coconut oil, flax seeds, cumin seeds, and raw grass fed beef liver and heart. It is quite sustaining without being heavy.

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  28. I love liver... Just want to mention this rarely known fact that surprised me also:
    Toxicity from eating liver - While liver is often eaten, the vitamin A content of the liver of certain animals—including the polar bear, seal, walrus, moose, and husky—is highly hazardous.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypervitaminosis_A
    or "one bite of his [polar bear] liver could be enough to send you to the hospital"
    http://science.howstuffworks.com/zoology/mammals/eat-polar-bear-liver.htm

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  29. Never tried liver before actually, but going to try this!

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  30. The flavor of coconut oil doesn't always agree with me, but this is one place where I really like to use coconut oil. Liver sauteed in coconut oil is super tasty -- with or without onions, which should be cooked first to be thoroughly done.

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  31. I grew up treating liver like chicken: soak in buttermilk (flavored or not). Would it be acidic enough to do what you explain?

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    1. Off the top of my head I'm not sure how the pH of buttermilk compares to lemon or lime juice, but if it is cultured buttermilk, it should be acidic and therefore protective to one degree or another.

      Chris

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  32. One of our favorites is to thaw, soak in wine or lime juice for several hours, salt to your preference, then slow cook (covered) in oven at 275-300 for about 2 hours. Puree with ground thyme, beef bouillon to taste, onion powder & garlic powder. Makes a great pate to put on flat bread.

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  33. Could you use milk kefir to soak the liver? I am making my own kefir--with raw milk.

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    Replies
    1. That should work -- anything lactofermented should be acidic and anything acidic should have a protective effect.

      Chris

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  34. Hi, do you remove the liver skins and membranes. I bought veal liver before but the skin and ducts are making it hard to chew

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    1. Yes, I slice it thin and throw out anything that gets in the way of my slicing. Anything that would get in the way of my chewing gets in the way of my slicing.

      Chris

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  35. I eat liver raw. Give me a better feeling than the cooked. Mind over matter. If you dont mind the taste does not matter.

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  36. I was served liver as a child and because my mom knew I hated it, would make a nice dessert if I finished it. I was anemic and she knew to feed me well to address it. Now in my mind liver = love. I can't wait to try all of these great suggestions as my health is horrible right now! Thank you for a great blog post and topic Chris, thanks to everyone who has posted here and thanks to Weston A. Price Foundation

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  37. A wonderful dish, often used as an appetizer, called ramaki uses chicken liver and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. Start by slicing the liver in slightly larger than bite-sized pieces to allow for shrinkage, then wrap the liver pieces in bacon 1/2 or 1/3 of a bacon strip with a water chestnut slice added, then pierce with a toothpick to hold each one together and broil them. Grilling them works too and doesn't create as much smoke in the kitchen when broiling bacon. Yum. I use chicken liver because I learned that it contains more iron then beef liver and I prefer the taste. Thanks for a great reminder.

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  38. Grew up in 40's and 50's when liver served once a week was mandated and ate only because it 'is good for you'. Since then until recently rarely ate it because of 'iron' taste.
    In last 10 years have been retailing our own grass fattened beef and had to give liver away at start. Discovered from customers to cook like a rare steak, leaving pink in center and began to enjoy the taste, cooking onions etc separately with total cook time for liver 1/2 inch sliced less than 3 mins.
    By accident discovered seared and raw in center is delicious due to a thick piece not cooked through. Having read that many tribes in history and some still do wean their children onto raw liver, I literally shut my eyes and took a bite expecting the worst but the taste and tenderness was delicious.
    I now prefer my liver seared and browned in butter, no more than 20-30seconds each side, no more than 1 min in total and other customers have tried and are repeat customers to the extent that I am constantly oversold.
    Many of these health conscious women customers stated they could not eat liver because of taste but now really enjoy it. Of course, some including my better half still over cook or will not try but all grand children love it 'half raw' now.

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  39. I was never a big fan of liver. In my youth it was rarely on the menu, and the last time I ate it was half a year ago, when at my girlfriends. It was a pig liver, and it didn't really taste bad. Maybe its just that I'm not used to it, and I'l come to love it once I give it a proper chance. :)

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  40. He has a Phd, but can’t spell marinated...

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    1. I don't see how this has anything to do with my PhD (which you capitalized incorrectly), but Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.Com, and the Free Online Dictionary all list "marinade" as a verb and an equivalent to "marinate."

      Chris

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  41. I have to say that my favorite type of liver dish has to be foie gras! I had some at a local restaurant that was paired with french toast, it was absolutely incredible! Now, I know that this probably isn't the best thing to hype up on a health and cholesterol site, but it was pretty darn good. Anyways, thanks for the advice in this post.

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  42. Hi Chris,

    I love your blog and read everything you write. I take your advice to heart. I have a question for you. First a little background. My father has a tauopathy neurodegenerative disease(progressive supranuclear palsy) and I have been treating it using iron chelation. He eats a paleo type diet, and 3 times daily I make a drink using coconut oil, cranberry extract dark cherry extract blackcurrant extract blueberry fruits and turmeric. His Ferritin stores went down by 47% in just 4 months,(447 to 236) and its greatly improved his quality of life. I supply raw milk from a farm, and egg yolks.

    I want to include grass fed liver in his diet because of all the extremely valuable nutrients, but am very afraid he will absorb too much iron. I research a lot of medical literature on this, and there is overwhelming evidence iron dysregulation/mismanagement is the nexus to neurodegenerative conditions.

    Since he probably has high circulating levels of quercetin which act as a shuttle for labile iron and binds it to transferrin, is the iron absorbed from the liver in a chelated form already or can it directly form Fe2+ or Fe3 upon absorption and via fenton reacton cause hydroxyl radical formation? If it needs to be binded safely, would the already circulating phenols bind the iron the moment of absorption? I'm not entirely sure I worded this correctly, I should have just asked if liver is safe to eat for people with these tauopathies lol. I would like to email you and discuss some of these things if its not too much trouble. Thanks for your time Chris.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Break,

      I don't know anything about this particular disease, but I don't think liver should be avoided by people with iron overload. I think it is better to replace other iron-rich foods with some liver. Liver is rich in many other nutrients, including B6 and copper, which both protect against iron overload by supporting its utilization to synthesize heme proteins and by keep it in a less dangerous oxidative state. Apart from what you are doing, phlebotomy is also a very useful way to deal with iron overload. If your goal is to reduce dietary iron you can reduce the total dietary iron and still afford to include some iron-rich foods here and there.

      Chris

      Chris

      Delete
  43. Thanks for this awesome post! I was raw vegan for 3 years and vegetarian for 10 years before that, and have been Paleo for 8 months now and am feeling awesome. I've been trying to incorporate more organ meats but the taste was not appealing to my palate at first! I've been getting them from the farm where we get our cow shares--so they're free, so I figured what do I have to lose? After making liver a couple times (always soaking it in water overnight first) I found a basic slow cooker recipe (liver, bacon, tomatoes, onions, S&P) in The Paleo Slow Cooker--and now I LOVE liver. It is seriously amazing, this recipe is soooooo good. Just put it all in the slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours. It's the perfect texture and the little bit of sweetness from the bacon and tomatoes is awesome!

    I'll have to try your other tips when I get brave and try to cook it other ways sometime! Thanks!

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  44. A really helpful insight. I am into liver too. I will be cooking some lamb liver with bacon for breakfast tomorrow....can't wait. I will post the recipe on my blogger site called For the Love of Lipids.

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  45. Here is the link. It was scrumptious:
    http://fortheloveoflipids.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/breakfast-of-lamb-livers-with-bacon-and.html

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  46. I lightly steam (or poach) either pastured chicken or turkey livers from the farmers' market with garlic, herbs, butter, and salt, but I'm thinking now that I should be throwing some vinegar into the mix. I purée a number of livers at a time and freeze half, keeping the other half in the fridge. It usually lasts me about four days, kept at the very back/coldest part of the fridge. Hope it's not spoiling without me knowing it...

    Chris, do you think that inclusion of salt and garlic helps prevent (or stave off) spoilage? Salt has antimicrobial properties (whether due to its ability to cause osmotic shock or - for some bacteria - limiting oxygen availability, as does garlic (presence of diallyl thiosulfinate/allicin). Although, you were talking about oxidation... so maybe lemon or lime juice would be even better than vinegar (/acetic acid) -- antioxidants and [citric] acid to keep the thiols protonated?

    Pardon the disorganised thoughts. :-) Definitely appreciate the preparation and storage tips!

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  47. My parents love liver and I just can't do it. I can eat some venison liver the flavor is almost sweet but the aftertaste gets me everytime. I've prepared chicken liver and I can't leave it in my mouth too long it's good before the aftertaste though. I can eat liverwurst with a STRONG mustard. I want to like it. I'll eat almost anything, even my parents like it and that aftertaste is just too much. I'm hoping to acquire a taste but it seems like I may just not like liver for the rest of my life. I'm going to eat it though.

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  48. Wow, I accidentally stumbled onto this blog earlier today by doing a search for liver recipes and I'm very impressed! Fascinating stuff. You've convinced me to try to get my family to eat some liver on a regular basis. I am curious though, I happen to adore foie gras, but I've never been a huge fan of plain old liver (I'm trying to change, don't judge me). Is there any nutritional difference between the two insofar as what you've discussed in your blog? Thanks!

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  49. Is there any value to eating liverwurst in comparison to eating liver? I LOVE liverwurst, but suspect it's like eating bologna compared to a hamburger.

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  50. The lemon juice marinade made my liver decidedly less tasty. Next time will skip the soak.

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  51. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.A fantastic presentation. Very open and informative.You have beautifully presented your thought in this blog post. healthy cooking

    ReplyDelete

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