Each week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better -- and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.
Today: Give chicken livers a chance -- and whip them into a silky, spiced mousse that will convert even the biggest skeptics.
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Last time we talked about offal we went straight to the heart (bing!), but this time we’re gonna go a little deeper -- to the liver. Liver gets a really bad rap: It strikes fear in the hearts of many who think of the liver as the body’s garbage can, or those who were served soggy fried liver and onions as children. As far as offal goes, though, liver is by far my favorite -- especially chicken liver. Because chicken liver is so mild in flavor (compared to beef or lamb liver), it’s a great way to test the waters and see if you’re a fan. Why should you, you ask? Because what your mom said is true: Liver is good for you.
While it’s true that the liver’s main job is to filter toxins out of an animal's body, it isn’t true that those toxins end up in your body when you eat chicken livers. The liver doesn’t hold on to the toxins that filter through it; rather, fatty tissue is usually the place where toxins that can’t exit the body end up. What the liver does hold is lots of protein, iron, minerals, folic acid, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamins like B12, A, D, E, and K. One caveat before you dive in, though: You should avoid chicken liver if you have high cholesterol, kidney disease, or are pregnant (the vitamin A levels are too high for pregnant women to safely consume).
You can use your chicken livers to add flavor to things like ragu or stuffing, or make them the main event by simply frying them up or making pate or chopped liver with them. My favorite way to eat chicken liver is in this silky mousse -- it’s got cinnamon and port wine and star anise and everything cozy, plus the cream cheese makes the texture a dream, even if you overcook your livers slightly (it happens to the best of us).
2 tablespoons rendered chicken fat (if you can't find this, sub in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter) 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 yellow onions 2 sprigs thyme 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 piece star anise 1/2 California bay leaf 1 teaspoon black peppercorns 1 pound chicken livers 1/8 teaspoon pink curing salt (This is different than Himalayan pink salt. Curing salt keeps the livers from taking on a gray color after they are cooked. This is optional; if you can't find it, don't stress.) 1/3 cup ruby port 1 cup cream cheese, cut into cubes 1 tablespoon sugar 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar Kosher salt to taste Extra rendered chicken fat or olive oil to seal the jar Crusty bread, for serving
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog, Yummy-Books.com, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.