|Advice by Wasabi Prime, image from NBC Universal, from the series Hannibal|
So, obviously I'm a fan of the NBC series Hannibal, which I have to say is one of the. most. gorgeous. television. series. EVAR. A great lead-in after yet another exciting but emotionally exhausting season of Game of Thrones. Oy-to-the-vey, Westeros. It's also one of the hardest to watch, next to The Walking Dead, in terms of gruesome/gore factor. Hannibal isn't gratuitously bloody or violent, if anything, it's probably one of the most understated, poetic horror series you'll ever see, but when they show some murder scene pastoral straight out of a Hieronymous Bosch acid trip, you're not going to be wanting to eat anything for a bit.
|Learning to love (or at least appreciate) liver - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
That being said, I was inspired by this series and its title character when I had two pounds of cow liver staring at me. Well, if a cow's liver had eyes. We get our meat as part of a group share purchased directly from Nelson Ranch, a family-owned farm that's been in operation since the 1800s. It's a delicious way to eat local and we tend to get about half a pig and a quarter of a cow, which keeps us happily meatified for a year. It can also be kind of a Russian Roulette of parts and somehow we got the liver. It wasn't a big deal, our meat-share friends were happy to take it, but I saw it as an opportunity to work with something I don't typically use. And cow's liver can be a bit of a challenge; it's not like calf liver, from something much younger, having a more mild flavor, and it's not like duck or chicken livers, which can fit in the palm of your hand. This cow's liver weighed in at just a little over two pounds and I frankly had no idea what the hell to do with it, so I decided to prepare it two ways. And I did it picky eater kid-style -- hide it in something else!! Liver and veggie pasties, aka, British meat pies, and Asian style potstickers.
|Liver and veggie meat pies, as inspired by Ye Olde England - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
First off, you have to clean/trim the liver, if it isn't already cleaned. Ours was nicely cleaned, any extra bits of outer membrane or other odd parts were removed, so bonus on that. Secondly, you have to soak and/or marinate the thing. If you don't love the iron-mineral flavor of liver, this is a good way to make that notable flavor more mild. Milk is a common soaking liquid -- it cuts the gamey flavor and the sugars and acids tenderize the liver. I did a rough chop of about half the liver and soaked that in milk for a day or two. The other half I made an Asian-style marinade because I wanted to compare how a milk soak versus a ton of seasoning would affect the flavor of the liver. And by affect, I mean pretty much mask it.
|Liver and veggie savory pies - Hannibal would approve, I think - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
The meat pies are pretty self-explanatory -- meat/veggies/gravy stuffed in a pastry dough and baked. Make or buy pie crust dough. Run the milk-soaked liver through a meat grinder or a few pulses in the food processor to give it a rough chop into ground beef-sized bits. Get tons of aromatic ingredients, like garlic, onion and rosemary, and add whatever veggies you like. While this was a British-inspired pasty, I added dried apricots. The sweet/sour of the fruit helped brighten the flavor of the meat/veggie mixture. And the gravy I made was also on the sweet side, a Marsala-based pan gravy with lots of porcini powder. You don't necessarily need porcini powder, but it's my go-to for giving earthy, depth of flavor to a sauce. Can just add more Worcestershire sauce if you don't have it. But the bottom line is, how were they? The liver taste will never be fully cooked out, but its rich, savory meaty flavor goes nicely with the rosemary and Marsala gravy. It's definitely more of a fall/winter dish, going nicely with a hearty red wine. Maybe even a Chianti.
|Liver potstickers - an Asian take on the British meat pasty - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Second liver-stuffed dish was something I was more excited about -- potstickers. For this, I ran the liver through the meat grinder (food processor, on a rough pulse, would also work), and let this marinate in a mix of traditional Asian seasonings like garlic, ginger, black bean paste, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, the works. Yes, it's designed to totally obscure the liver flavor, but again, I never said I'm a wild fan of the stuff. I am a wild fan of potstickers, though. And this is one way to make something more appealing out of something you're not normally excited about. Yes, I'm essentially a five year old child.
|Dr. Lecter Cookin' Up Someone Good - food photos by Wasabi, series photos from NBC Universal|
You don't have to make your own potsticker skins -- I realize mine look pretty thick because they were handmade and I suck at rolling them out thin. I wasn't sure how heavy the filling would be, so I made my own dough. But the store-bought skins would be fine, just don't overfill. The flavor of this filling is pretty strong, so smaller bites are probably better. But how did they taste? Pretty good, I have to say. The liver taste is more easily muted by the stronger Asian flavors. I think it's the combination of the crispy pan-fried bottoms and the tender filling that makes these more fun to eat. I'm admittedly more biased towards potstickers, but that's a good rule for eating stuff you're not excited about -- make it into something you will be excited over. I'm not saying hide all your food under heavy marinades, but bear in mind that ingredients are malleable. You can get creative over how something is prepared, and both of these options are way more interesting than the classic liver and onions. While not as complex as what gourmand Hannibal Lecter would prepare, I think even he could appreciate thinking outside the box when cooking with a rather rude-tasting ingredient.
|Follow Dr. Lecter's advice. Or else. - Image from NBC Universal|
Liver Pasties (makes 6-8 hand pies, depending on how large you make them)
1/2 lb of liver, cleaned and roughly chopped
1-2 cups of whole milk, enough to soak the liver
1 batch of pie crust dough (store bought or handmade)
3 slices of thick cut bacon, chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
1 onion, diced
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms finely chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon bread crumbs (to thicken)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 1/4 c Marsala wine
1/4 c whole milk
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 heaping tsp porcini powder (optional; just add more Worcestershire if you don't have this)
1 beaten egg to paint a wash over the pasties before baking, so they brown
To prepare the filling, allow the liver to soak in the milk overnight. Drain off and discard milk, use a meat grinder or food processor to chop down the liver into small, ground beef-sized chunks.
Heat a large pot on the stove to medium. Add about a teaspoon of oil and add the chopped bacon to render off the fat and crisp. Remove the bacon and set aside, add the ground liver to brown in the bacon fat. Add the onions, herbs, apricots, and mushrooms. Add pinches of salt and pepper as you go, taste as everything cooks and combines to check the flavor; the liver flavor varies and may need more or less seasoning. Add the bread crumbs to thicken, and the reserved crisped bacon. Remove filling from pot and set aside.
Without cleaning the pot, and while it's still hot, deglaze with the Marsala and Worcestershire sauce. Add the porcini powder, allow gravy to simmer for a few minutes, and add the meat/vegetable filling back in to combine. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature before filling the pie dough.
To construct the pasties, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the chilled pie dough into rounds, about 5 inches in diameter for a hand pie. Spoon the room temperature filling into the center, maybe a third to a half-cup's worth. Seal each round into a half-moon shape, crimping the edges together to seal. Paint each sealed pie with a beaten egg before going into the oven, so that it has a golden brown sheen once baked. The handpies should take about 12-15 minutes to bake -- the filling is already cooked, so you're just baking off the pastry.
1 package of potsticker skins
1/2 lb liver, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 bundle of scallions, chopped
3 slices of thick cut bacon, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fermented black bean paste
1 tbsp Sriracha or sambal
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
To prepare filling, take the liver and everything (except the potsticker skins), and mix together in a bowl; marinate for at least overnight. Put it through a meat grinder or pulse in a food processor until it's a chunky, ground paste.
Fill each potsticker skin with about a teaspoon's worth of filling, sealing/crimping with water. Set aside sealed potstickers on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. When all the potstickers are filled, get a large nonstick skillet that has a cover. Keep cooking oil and water handy, for the crisping and steaming of the potstickers. Heat the skillet to medium high and add a light drizzle of oil. Nestle the potstickers into the pan in a single layer. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, then add about a half cup of water to the pan and cover immediately. Allow the water to steam-cook the potstickers for another 2 minutes, or until the water has evaporated. The finished dumplings should easily slip out of the pan onto a plate, with a crispy bottom and a steam-cooked interior. Make all the potstickers in batches like this. Can eat the potstickers as-is or dipping in a mixture of sesame oil and soy sauce.