Liver has pride of place in the human body in ancient texts as a producer of blood and a source of life. The Etruscan bronze liver above with its inscriptions guides the reader of entrails through a large, meaty organ considered the basis of life. The ancient Greek term is hēpatoskōpia, which means to examine the liver. Hebrew offers the word kabed for liver, with an emphasis on the smooth, dark-red organ as the house of emotions. In the Book of Ezekiel, a great collection of curses and blessings, reading a liver reveals future paths.
For the king of Babylon has stood at the fork of the road, where two roads branch off, to perform divination: he has shaken arrows, consulted teraphim, and inspected the liver. (21.26)
To eat an enemy’s liver is to take their life completely into yours, as Hecuba dreams in the Iliad of eating Achilles’ liver after he’s killed her son, Hector
I could rip / His liver bleeding from his guts and eat it whole. / That would be at least some vengeance / For my son. (24.225-228)
My own reading of liver pursues the taste of inner organs, much like Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
I’m all about the inner organs.
Always a good day when a new book arrives, and this time especially with Chris Cosentino’s Offal Good. A follower of the sacred cooking of inner organs, Cosentino approaches offal in an organized, imaginative fashion with chapters on cow, pig, sheep, fowl and recipes such as “Lamb’s Tongue, Fava Beans, Radish and Zinfandel Vinaigrette.” I’ve decided to test-drive his recipes with my first choice, “Lamb’s Liver, Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti,” minus the Fava beans ( I don’t have them in the house and I want to get cracking). How can I resist such a Hannibal reference? Time for organs.
Went shopping at Phoenicia, one of my favorite markets with it’s wide range of cow, lamb and chicken inner views. With an eye toward trying a number of recipes in Offal Good, I bought beef tongue; chicken gizzards, hearts, and livers; lamb hearts, livers and tongues. Time to brine.
I put tongues and hearts in water, salt, sugar, bay leaves and using a technique from Cosentino’s book–toasted cloves, juniper berries and peppers. Fantastic aromas in the house.
Following his “Confit Giblets, Poached Duck Egg and Dandelion” recipe, I toss the gizzards with salt, pepper, garlic, parsley and thyme. Now, I turn to the lamb livers.
Cosentino calls for olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, parsley, thyme and bay leaves; leaving all to set out at room temperature.
Time to bring the heat. I pour in olive oil, heat my copper pan on high, then reduce to a medium flame and add the livers with their accoutrements and a couple tablespoons of butter. I caramelize one side, the flip and cook for another two minutes; then I remove the livers.
I pour in about a 1/4 cup of a Chianti Classico, reducing the growing sauce by a half. I add two ladles of a beef stock (Cosentino calls for a chicken stock, but beef is what I had made that day). I put the livers back in and let them bathe for a couple of minutes.
Time to plate. I boiled red potatoes, blanched green beans, then sautéed all with onions in olive oil as a complement to the lamb livers. Delicious. The livers have the taste of lamb, of blood but not too powerful, while the sauce and herbs round out the savory quality.
What to listen to as we eat? Why not Pink Floyd’s “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave Grooving With A Pict” from Ummagumma? Bon Appétit!
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