Sunday, June 8, 2008

BEST OF: A liver lover's comeuppance

When I was younger, one food that was touted as magic was … gulp … liver. It was packed with protein, iron, vitamin A, riboflavin and niacin. We were supposed to eat it once a week, assuming you could stand the sight, smell, feel and look of it.

In recent years, liver has lost its nutritional luster, so to speak, because of high levels of saturated fats and cholesterol.

It’s really satisfying to see it out of favor. Revenge is sweet, even if liver isn’t.

In my March 2, 1983, column in The Cambrian and the newspaper then known as the San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune, I explained my aversion to liver. “I had an acute case of childhood anemia in the days when Geritol was only for the Social Security set. So, I ate liver. And eggs. And spinach. But mostly liver. Once a day.

"And early in the treatment, I had to eat it … raw.”

My poor mother, who felt as I do about liver, fixed it for me. “Then she had to sit there and watch me eat it — not only for moral support and friendliness, but to make sure I didn’t slip it under the table to the cat.

“Mom manufactured numerous disguises, none of which worked. Grind liver up fine and bury it in a meatloaf, and you’ve got a liver meatloaf. Put it into a turkey stuffing, and you’ll ruin a perfectly nice bird. And chopped calves liver is nothing like the classical chicken-liver spread.

“Because it will still be beef liver.

“However, I survived. And that should have been that.”

Then I married a man who, for years, adored calves liver, with or without onions. Before husband Richard’s heart surgery, he actually was eager to order it in public, when we were at a restaurant.

“Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is?” I wrote. “Being in public with someone who enjoys beef liver? I’d almost rather he'd put a lampshade on his head at parties, or sang ‘Melancholy Baby.’

So, rather than suffering the indignities of public disclosure and paying restaurant prices for the honor, I found myself cooking beef liver at home.

This, naturally, meant I had to cook another entire meal for the rest of the family, who, not being willing eat it themselves OR share their dining table with a plate of liver, ate their meals in another room.

Over the years, I developed some culinary tricks. I used tongs when cooking liver. I chomped on aromatic gum. I squinted a lot, so I could almost convince myself that I wasn’t really seeing what I was afraid I was seeing.

And I came up with a combination of flavors that made liver almost taste good. For those who like liver to begin with, I understand the mixture is ambrosial.

“I’ll take their word for it,” I wrote.
And, for other liver haters, the combination is magical with boneless chicken breasts, pounded out a bit to make them an even thickness.

The recipe included crisp bacon (also verboten now, sob, wail) and sauteed mushrooms, onions and garlic.

I salted, peppered and sprinkled the liver with nutmeg, paprika and thyme, then seared it on one side until it started to brown. Almost immediately after I flipped it, I poured over it a blend of teriyaki sauce and cream sherry, which simmered away until the liver was done to taste (not mine, Charlie!). I then reduced the sauce and stirred in some sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg.

As I wrote at the end of the recipe, “Serve quickly. The only thing worse than hot cooked beef liver is cold cooked beef liver.”

Or raw liver.

But the column had a sequel.

We were in the bakery-and-catering business then, and a few weeks after the column was published, we prepared and served an oh-so-chic housewarming-party meal near the country-club golf course in San Luis Obispo.

The men clustered around husband Richard at the bar, and the women gathered around me at the appetizer station.

We chatted away, and soon they realized I was a Trib columnist. The women buzzed with excitement (and the results of a few margaritas), asking questions and advice.

Suddenly, one woman popped up out of the huddle, pointed her finger at Richard and said, loudly and accusingly, “And you’re the damn liver lover!”

Not any more, ma’am. And for that, I thank his cardiologist, nutritionist, the dawn of common sense and improving taste buds.

No comments: