Liver: Learning to Love (and Cook) This Superfood

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Written by Shannon, Contributing Writer

Organ meats are one of those traditional foods that are harder to get behind than butter, for example. In fact, organ meats were one of the last things recommended by the Weston A Price foundation that we decided were important, not because they aren’t more nutrient-dense than most foods but because we were squeamish.

The thing is, eating organ meats just makes sense and I believe it to be better stewardship of our foods. Most of us still don’t butcher our own animals (me included), but eating the whole animal is a way that we can be better stewards of the animals we are given for nourishment.

Plus, organ meats are perhaps the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Today lets look at a super food we’ve all heard of – liver.

Health Benefits

Just 4 oz of liver contains well over 100% of the RDA of vitamin B12, vitamin A, copper, folate, and B2. It also contains a highly absorbable form of iron, very necessary for women of child bearing age. (source) For me, personally, I have noticed a distinct affinity for a meal of liver in the weeks after childbirth when my body is the most depleted.

The high B-vitamin and mineral content of liver makes it a top food choice not only for winter, but all year round. It is a nice real food alternative to supplements.

Is Liver Full of Toxins?

This is a common concern, but when we look at what the organ actually does in the body, we can bust this common myth. The Weston A Price Foundation puts it clearly:

One of the roles of the liver is to neutralize toxins (such as drugs, chemical agents and poisons); but the liver does not store toxins. Poisonous compounds that the body cannot neutralize and eliminate are likely to lodge in the fatty tissues and the nervous system. The liver is not a storage organ for toxins but it is a storage organ for many important nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, and minerals such as copper and iron). These nutrients provide the body with some of the tools it needs to get rid of toxins. (source)

Five Tips For Cooking Tasty Liver

1. Soak It In Acidic Water

I read this in several places, including Nourishing Traditions. One of the toughest (pun intended) things to get past about liver is the texture, which is much more dense than meat. The acidity seems to break down the liver and make it more palatable.

To Do: Simply place your cut up liver in a bowl, barely cover with water and add the juice of a lemon or a tablespoon or two of vinegar. Soak for a few hours before cooking, drain and pat dry.

2. Do Not Overcook It.

In fact err on the side of just undercooked. Even though the lemon juice makes the liver a bit more tender, overcooking can really ruin it. I cooked mine until it just had a hint of pinkness left, and then removed it from the heat.

To Do: Cut the liver in thin strips and fry only a few minutes on each side. It should be a touch pink inside when you remove it from the heat. The residual heat of the pan will finish the job for you.

3. Use A Lot of Cooking Fat.

Fat carries flavors, which is why it makes things taste so good. It is also good for you, in case you’re worried about that. I recommend an animal fat like bacon drippings, lard, tallow, an unflavored coconut oil.

To Do: Use somewhere between 1/3 to 1/2 cup of fat per pound of liver + flavorings.

4. Cook It With Lots of Flavorful Ingredients.

Liver has a distinct and strong flavor that is tough for some to get over. Cooking it with pungent foods really tones down the “liverness” of the dish.

To Do: I believe onions and garlic are almost a necessity when cooking liver. Also try bacon, chilies, and aromatic herbs like thyme or sage.

5. When All Else Fails, Pass the Ketchup.

I grew up eating liver with ketchup, so I had some at the ready. The strong sweet-sour flavor really tames the liver flavor.

To Do: Try to avoid high fructose corn syrup by buying organic. Or make your own. Add enzymes with a lacto-fermented ketchup. Sugar-free barbecue sauce is another great option.

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Recipes

So if you’re ready to jump into the world of offal and you want to start with liver here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy it:

Do you eat liver or other organ meats?

Top image by sassyradish

About Shannon

Shannon is a mama to two hungry little boys and wife to her favorite recipe tester. While her background is in chemistry, she has studied sustainable living since the birth of her first child. She spends much of her time growing, seeking out, and preparing nourishing local foods. Between the laundry, dishes, and snuggles she writes about it all at Nourishing Days.

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Comments

  1. Rebecca in Abu Dhabi says:

    Organ meats available here in the UAE: sheep testicles (yes, that’s right!) brains, sheep heart, sheep kidney, chicken livers, but rarely beef liver. We get almost all meat imported, from NZ, Australia, Brazil, Pakistan, India and “local”-whatever that means– we live in a desert! Makes for an interesting array of choices. I buy almost exclusively NZ beef and lamb, because really the only the Kiwis have is grass-what else would they feed them?? Nothing is certified organic, but I am hoping they don’t spray the grass!

    This week I bought sheep hearts and had them chopped up fine (the grocery store butcher refused to grind it in their grinder) and mixed it with ground beef. The burgers tasted great. but kids were a bit grossed out with the heart chunks. Mixing organs meats into ground beef or lamb is probably the way we will go. I might have to in a meat grinder in order to do that though.

  2. I, too, have been squeamish about liver – so, that whole toxicity thing is a myth? well, this might be the tipping point for me to thaw that grass-fed liver in the freezer…

  3. My husband loves liver. It’s not my favorite thing, but I do eat it, because I tend toward anemia. I cook it in butter, with lots of yummy onions, after soaking it in milk, rinsing in HOT water, and dredging in flour. When I was a kid and my mom would fix it, I would only eat the onions… Anyway, I usually make lots of “yucky” noises while its cooking, but I eat it up when its cooked.

  4. o.k. again, I’m a few day’s behind, but this article couldn’t have been more timely. We have a bunch of beef liver in the freezer. I know its a super food and all but this is the one “health” food I just have not been able to embrace but my husband loves. So, I will have to give some of these ideas a try. I don’t mind the flavor of the liver, its the texture that gets me. Starts out like meat, then turns to paste in your mouth, ugh. Thanks for the nudge to keep trying it.

  5. Thanks for the inspiration. Have any recipes for beef offal? I have 15 pounds in the freezer because we bought a quarter of local grassfed beef in the fall and have eaten everything except the heart and liver! I’ve found some recipes on http://marksdailyapple.com (beef jerky made from the heart was actually quite good) but I’m having a hard time using the liver! I don’t want to give up and feed it to the dog!

    • @Anne, I don’t personally have any recipes for offal, but I know that there is a recipe in Nourishing Traditions for Offal Burritos. It cracks me up every time I see it, because the first thing she says in the description is “They’re not awful… they’re good!”. LOL!

  6. I almost tried to cook chicken livers for my toddler once, but Whole Foods was sold out of them and I didn’t try again. I actually don’t mind the taste of liver because I had it occasionally as a child, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to seek it out and cook it as an adult. I think I’m afraid it will turn out gross, even though I know it’s highly nutritious.

  7. Brittany says:

    I buy beef liver at my local farmer’s market. Usually I slightly thaw it, blend it up and put it into my old babyfood freezer trays. When I’m cooking a ground beef meal, I throw in a couple of liver cubes. Occasionally I can taste it (because I put it in!), but no one in my family is any wiser. I also save the livers from the whole chickens I buy every other week, and make those into pate when I get enough, which my family loves.

  8. I personally grew up eating beef liver and enjoying it when prepared correctly. However, upon taking my first biology course in high school, I learned livers are “filters”. Now I cannot eat them because all I can think of as I chew is… Filters! Filters! You’re eating the Filters!!!
    Bravo to all who eat everything and anything!
    Heather

  9. i have like 4 lbs of organic liver in my freezer, now I am anxious to try these recipes thanks!

  10. Great article! As I child, liver and onions was one of my favorite meals. Braunschweiger (liver pate) was one of my favorite snacks. Why oh why did I ever stop listening to my body?? :) Thanks for the reminder to get more of it into my diet.

  11. I’m really enthusiastic about organ meats. I’ve had liver- chicken and beef, and chicken hearts (a childhood favorite). I’m eager to try beef heart, tongue, kidneys, and oxtail.

    I like liver best with sauerkraut. It really accentuates the sweetness of the liver and onions. I got that idea from Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice.

  12. I do not mind the texture of liver myself so have not tried the ‘marinade’ but my family has enjoyed this method for 30 years.
    Have ready a plate with wheat germ @1/3 C. (this could be omitted if you do not use wheat) for coating, season with garlic salt. I use a cast iron skillet with lid for this.
    Cook bacon, set aside, cook thick slices of onion in the bacon fat over med/hi heat, set aside reserving the fat.
    Raise the heat, dredge the liver slices @1/2 ” thick in the wheat germ quick sear about a half a minute per side, lower heat add about a half teaspoon of worcestershire sauce ( fish sauce would be and alternative here)add back the onions and cover for about a minute till the onions are reheated and serve with the reserved bacon.
    Folks who are visiting say the cannot believe they are liking liver… I like the idea of adding sage to this, say crisp fry some sage leaves and crumble on top with the bacon. Thanks for the posts Shannon!

  13. I try to fix bison liver and gravy every week or two for myself and my little boy for breakfast. He loves it. I just coat the liver in coconut flour mixed with spices (salt, pepper, onion powder, thyme, and a little garlic powder) and fry in coconut oil. When the liver is done I set this aside and use the same pan to make a dairy free cream style gravy (using So Delicious Coconut Milk), add coconut milk, add additonal spices, and arrowroot to thicken. Always yummy and good for us. This is another item to rotate for different breakfasts:) I’ve never had beef liver; but I’ve read that bison liver is milder…to me it is definately milder in flavor than chicken liver.

  14. This is the BEST liver recipe I have ever found and I have many different recipes. It works well for beef and chicken liver. I even have success with substituting coconut oil for the butter for those who cannot have dairy but of course it is better with butter, what isn’t really?

    http://www.cauldronsandcrockpots.com/2009/09/if-youre-gonna-eat-liver/

  15. I don’t know about this post. I personally cannot stand the taste of liver. It taste dirty and awful and smells as bad as it tastes while cooking. I remember mom used to try to sneak it into stews but I always knew. They may be full on nutrition but the organs are the working, cleaning parts of our body and somehow it just seems very very wrong to eat them. Very wrong. :)

    • @Penny, I thought that once as well and so I had to do a lot of research before I “bought into it”. One thing that I kept coming across in studying historical food preparations, not necessarily “health foods”, was the wisdom of those who ate intuitively based on what is available locally.

      Many Native American and other traditional cultures ate the whole animal out of common sense and to avoid waste but they also ate it for things like fertility or specific ailments. For instance, if a specific organ ailed you then you should eat that organ from an animal. Heart is a good example. One of the “new-fangled” recommendations for heart problems is Co-Enzyme Q-10. The greatest food source of this available comes from animal hearts.

      I don’t think that’s a coincidence and we don’t eat it because we like it :).

  16. We recently ordered 1/4 of a grass-fed cow and I requested the liver. The butcher was able to grind up the liver for me and pack it up for me in 1/2lb pkgs. When I cook up ground beef for pasta sauce or taco salad, I always throw in a pack of ground up liver. The family has NO clue!

  17. where do you buy bell & evans chicken livers?

  18. We don’t… yet. After reading this article I’m going to give it a try. My poor 2 year old son has been really sick this winter and has gone through 4 rounds of antibiotics. His immune system is shot. He has been well for almost two weeks (the longest run for him in about a year) and he is now eating meat like NO end lately. I finally found a butcher market that sells grass fed organic meats by the pound! I am going tomorrow morning and will ask about liver. Thanks :)

  19. My little kids just LOVE liver! I personally never liked beef liver from the store until I tried organic liver from the health food store. Such a different in taste. Liver from healthy animals sure tastes better. Plus, liver is super frugal. From one grassfed farm near my house, liver is free with any purchase. From a bison farm that we like to go to, the liver is $1/lb. $1- can feed our whole family an amazing meal. We cook up the liver with onions in butter- yum. And I learned quickly not to overcook the liver or it is gross. We have also enjoyed chicken livers from the regular store that were under $2 for a lb. Not organic or anything, but very yummy too!

  20. We cook liver on Saturday nights. I soak it in buttermilk.

  21. Dear Shannon,

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for posting on this topic! This is too funny because this week’s podcast (my family does a weekly podcast – called Sweet Peas Podcast – on locavore eating, nutrition, and living sustainably… to name a few topics) is on offal meats. We’re so on the same page. I’d love for you to check it out!

    Thanks for all the good info. You rock!

    A fan… Lisa Marie

  22. You bet! Liver is one of my toddler’s favourite foods, whether it’s from chicken (my preference), beef or lamb.
    Onions are always in the pan, and sometimes bacon, and sliced jalepenos go nicely too. Or The Slow Cook has a chicken liver recipe with apples served on watercress: http://www.theslowcook.com/2011/04/22/who-knew-kids-love-chicken-liver/
    If you use it, milk is an alternative to vinegar for soaking, or, if you’re going with the spicy preparation, you can use the juice from canned hot peppers (thanks to Cheeseslave for that idea!).
    Mark’s Daily Apple has a recipe for “organ meat gravy” where he purees offal and reduces it with a bottle of red wine until there’s nothing left but rich, carnivorous goodness.
    Now ferments, THAT’S where we fall down :)

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