If I was sent to that proverbial island and there was only one food I could take, it would be liver mousse. I can hear your collective gasp. Many people are repulsed by liver, but I call it God’s pudding. It is slightly sweet and very rich, and I could eat it endlessly. It serves as the basis for all kinds of internationally popular and unpopular foods—depending on who you ask. Foie gras for example, beloved in France, was for a time banned in Chicago. There’s also liver and onions in Britain, Leberwurst in Germany, fish liver sashimi in Japan and the traditional Jewish dish, chopped liver.
I like liver mousse not just because it tastes good, but also because it is a way to turn an often-overlooked part of the animal into something delicious. It is also one of those animal parts that you can eat right away, at camp or at home, while leaving the other cuts of meat to age.
Some people avoid liver because they think it stores toxins, but the liver doesn’t store toxins, it neutralizes them. It does store important vitamins, minerals and nutrients, though. I would also argue that the liver from a wild-game animal has probably processed far fewer toxins than a domestic animal, so it is better for you. You can, of course, purchase a liver from the store if you can’t get your hands on one from the wild. But if you do buy a domestic liver, try to buy it from a local farmer who raises his animals on pasture.
When harvesting a liver from an animal, take a good look at it first to make sure it appears healthy. It should be free of spots, and not enlarged or discolored. A healthy liver should be a deep-red color, almost purple, with no white or other discoloration. When I bring liver into the kitchen, I like to soak them in a salt and water bath for a few hours to help clean them. For larger livers, I cut them into thin ¼-inch slices diagonally so that I expose as much surface area as possible to the pan. This is because browning the liver is key to its flavor. As each piece hits the pan, the surface caramelizes and forms a crust, which adds depth to the flavor of the final product. The best way to get a perfect brown is to not touch the liver pieces in the pan until you’re ready to turn them over.
I find that the underlying sweetness in liver lends itself well to other subtly sweet foods, like shallots and onions, red wine and port or even a pear. And a dash of vinegar balances it out to prevent it from being too sweet.
So, do you like liver or are you repulsed by it?
4 tablespoons grape seed oil, plus more as needed
1. Heat the oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed sauté pan on medium-high heat. Pat the liver dry and season it with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear the slices on both sides just until browned (about 1 minute each side) then remove them from the pan and put on a plate to rest.
2. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and caramelize. Season with salt and pepper to help release the juices. Add more oil as necessary so they don’t dry out and burn.
3. Add livers back to the pan, then add wine and port. Cover partially with a lid and simmer until liquid has reduced by 2/3.
4. Let cool for a few minutes, but not completely, then puree in a blender with cream and cold butter. Season with salt and pepper and transfer it into a bowl.
5. To obtain a silky texture, pass it through a fine mesh strainer.
6. Season with balsamic vinegar and cider vinegar to taste.
7. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. Cover it well with plastic to prevent the surface from oxidizing.
Also try: duck, game birds, other antlered game (if liver is large, cut into 1/4-inch slices on a bias before searing).