That’s disgusting,” is the comment I get nine times out of 10 when I talk about liver. “The texture is weird,” is another, or, “The flavour is too strong.”
In my own home I spend more time than is advisable working out how to smuggle it into my family’s diet, not because I have a burning need for them to like it, but because it’s a tonic.
One serving of liver has iron, hard-to-get vitamins A and D, not to mention B6, B12 and folic acid. In my nana’s day, she served liver every week because she knew it was a great nutrition booster, and it was also economical.
My latest attempt to encourage liver eating was to cook it with chocolate, which resulted in me, once again, dining alone. Although my vegan daughter and her boyfriend came home later and downed the leftover chocolate sauce, not realising liver had been cooked in it.
“Oh well,” they said, shrugging their shoulders.
“No sense in stressing out.”
“Quite right,” I agreed, secretly delighted that they had both received a nutritional power shot.
In New Zealand, research has shown that after a long summer of slip, slop, slapping on sunscreen, many of us don’t get enough sun to stock up on vitamin D reserves. A study found that around half of New Zealand adults have insufficient vitamin D, and 4% of women and 2% of men are vitamin-D deficient.
Vitamin D deficiency can result in thin, brittle or misshapen bones, but if you have a sufficient amount it can protect against osteoporosis. There’s also growing evidence that vitamin D can prevent or improve the outcome of many diseases including breast, prostate and bowel cancer, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis.
My research into old ways to cook liver found some astonishing results, including liver sandwiches, where you put raw liver through a mincer, smear it on slices of bread and butter, sprinkle with lemon juice, grated onion and a few dabs of Bovril. As much as I love liver, I do like to eat it cooked.
But one of the big problems for people who don’t like liver is that they had it served to them overcooked. This makes it dry, and the sensation is similar to eating a lump of dough. The secret to cooking liver is to flash fry thin slices of it.
It can take practise, but liver is cheap, so keep trying. The following is a traditional Kiwi recipe for lambs’ fry and bacon, which is lambs’ liver, although calves’ liver also works well.
Liver and bacon
150g bacon, cut into small pieces
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper
Thinly slice the liver into 3mm thick pieces. In a plastic bag, put about 2 tablespoons of salt and pepper and shake the slices in it to coat.
Heat a frying pan and fry the bacon until crisp, then remove. Add the butter and gently fry the onions until clear, then remove. Turn up the heat and cook the liver quickly for about a minute on each side – it should still be red in the middle.
Throw the bacon and onion back in the pan and sprinkle the Worcestershire sauce over it. Give it a shake to cover and heat through, then remove from the heat. Serve on toast.
You can also do this with balsamic vinegar instead of the Worcester sauce, and if you have any strong fruit jellies like currant or quince paste, throw a teaspoonful of this in as well.
Some people worry that because the liver we eat is the cleansing organ in a calf or lamb, their livers will be full of antibiotics and chemicals which are fed to the animals.
In New Zealand we have a pretty clean record for additives in animals raised for eating, so I don’t worry about it. But if you want, you can source organic liver.