Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
Many people are squeamish about eating animal organs, and if you are too, I’m not going to try to persuade you. It wasn’t an issue for thousands of years, but now it is. Okay, bye…
There is much to be said for listening to your body, and there are times when my body wants some liver. Maybe it’s telling me I’m short of iron and vitamin B12, I don’t know. But if that’s what it wants, that’s what it gets.
The first thing, as with all ingredients, is to buy the right stuff. If you’ve had a big slab of liver that was impossible to chew and almost crunchy, it was probably ox liver (beef liver). So don’t buy that.
Go for lambs’ or calves’ liver. It should be about half an inch thick – maybe a little more.
We’re going to do it with mashed potatoes, spinach and onions. You can do the mash first to get it out of the way. Fresh spinach only takes a couple of minutes. Use more than you think you will need, because when it wilts as you cook it, it loses all its bulk. If you’re using frozen, the sort that comes as small balls in a bag is quick. The solid bricks take longer.
The onions are done in the same pan as the liver.
INGREDIENTS (for two people)
Two or three slices of liver
One medium onion (sliced quite thin)
Two big handfuls (or more) of fresh spinach
THE POTATOES. Get the mashed potatoes going or do them in advance. Boiling and mashing potatoes is not rocket science and you can easily cook them, drain them, sling in a good knob of butter and mash them while you’re doing the liver.
COWBOY TIP 1
If you’re too lazy to peel the potatoes, that’s fine. Just scrub them under running water to get all the crud off and make sure when you mash them the peel is not too obvious. A lot of the nutrients are in the peel (you can tell any doubters), and if you mash them well you won’t even notice it is there.
COWBOY MASTER TIP
As a rule, don’t let anybody watch what you’re doing, or they may apply their own standards and ideas and tell you you’re doing it wrong. (Aren’t you going to peel the potatoes? Oooh, that brown stuff looks gross etc. etc.) As long as it’s tasty and doesn’t poison anyone, you have achieved the desired result.
THE SPINACH. Put a quarter of an inch of water in a large pan, throw in the spinach and turn up the heat. Normally when boiling things you would cover them with water, but this is more like steaming, and spinach takes next to no time. The big heap of leaves will quickly wilt and turn into a dark green pad. That’s it. Done.
Tip it into a colander and drain the water back into a pan (but don’t waste it – we’re going to use it for the gravy). Stir a little butter into the cooked spinach, plus salt and pepper.
THE LIVER. Sprinkle some seasoning on it. Celery salt, plain salt, pepper, a quick flash of thyme or rosemary – but don’t go mad).
Put a little oil into a frying pan, get it quite hot and fry the liver quickly but don’t burn it. Add the onions but keep them together, so if they are done before the liver you can push them to one side or take them out. For the liver, a couple of minutes a side is a rough guide. If someone likes it well done with no pinkness inside, do it longer but turn the heat down.
When the liver is ready, transfer it to a plate and keep it warm while you quickly make the gravy.
The pan you cooked the liver in will have plenty of brown debris in it. This is good – it has flavor. To make sure it all comes off the pan, splosh in a small amount of red wine. The acid in this deglazes (gets the stuff off) the pan. Leave the onions in.
Add some of the water you cooked the spinach in (again, this has flavor and that’s why you don’t waste it).
Add half a beef stock cube and make sure it dissolves.
Taste the gravy and add whatever you think (Worcestershire sauce can help lots of things along, for instance).
You can thicken the gravy by mixing up a tablespoon of flour and warm water, then stir that in.
Q. Why not just sprinkle the flour into the gravy?
A. Because it will form lumps.
COWBOY QUESTION 2
Q. Why do we thicken gravy?
A. Because many people think it should have a sort of silky consistency. (Personally, I don’t, but the customer is king.)
Serve as neatly as you can and ask your guests how much gravy they want. Absurdly, some don’t want much at all. The spinach in that pad it has formed can be sliced just like the liver. It is full of vitamins and minerals. Along with the liver you can feel it doing you good even as you eat it. And obviously a glass or two of decent red wine helps too.