Like many other Brits of my generation and earlier I grew up having liver, bacon and onions as a regular meal at home. It was baked in the oven for about an hour and I remember absolutely loving it.
That would have been sheep’s liver with the strong, iron-y taste that liver so often conjures up in the collective national memory. Delicate calves liver which would be my choice now is a world away from that. Everything about it so much more lighter. From the cooking time of a few minutes only, to the lighter flavour which makes it easier to balance with other ingredients as they are not so overwhelmed.
Having said all that, this calves liver recipe is really just a pimped-up version of that old dish. The liver, bacon and onions are still all there just cooked rather differently and finished with a marsala and creme fraiche sauce that brings it all together. It is rich yet light; intensely flavoursome but not too much. Traditional but modern.
I serve this with rice and a green salad. Apple vinegar works really well in the dressing for the salad leaves as that balances gorgeously with the flavours of the main dish. Or try a cider vinegar.
Calves liver with red onion, pancetta & girolles (serves 2)
knob of butter
1tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
70g diced pancetta
0.5 tsp fennel seeds
1.5 tsp red wine vinegar
80g girolles or chanterelles mushrooms
drizzle of honey
squeeze of lemon
4 slices of calves liver, no more than 1cm thick and ideally less
1tbsp creme fraiche
1. Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan until hot and then add the onions to the pan. Cook gently until softened and just starting to colour. Then add the garlic, pancetta and fennel seeds. Sprinkle over some salt and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes or so until the pancetta is nicely browned.
2. Stir in the red wine vinegar and then add the girolles. If any are very large just tear them in half. Stir round and let the mushrooms cook down a little. Then add the drizzle of honey and squeeze of lemon. However small these amounts seem they are worth doing for the balance they will give the dish. Put a lid over the pan and leave on a gentle heat for 7 minutes.
3. Scoop all of that out of the pan into a serving dish and keep warm in a low oven. Return the frying pan to the heat. If the pan looks dry add a little more butter or oil. When the pan is hot again lay down the liver slices into it. Give them a minute and a half, turn them over, give them another minute. Now add the liver to the dish of onion and pancetta etc, scooping some of that good stuff over the liver. Cover it up.
4. Return the frying pan to the stove again and pour in the marsala. Season and let it bubble for a minute on a fairly high heat. Then stir in the creme fraiche. Give it another 30 seconds and when you are happy with the sauce’s consistency pour over the liver and serve straight away.