A caveat: if blood freaks you out, this isn’t for you. And if you’re not a fan of offal, this might not be the best introduction, as the flavour of pig liver is rather, erm, robust and, perhaps, probably better suited to winter or to this cold and wet Saturday.
And it is very good.
And which apostrophe should I use? If the liver is from one pig, it’s Pig’s, but if it’s bits from several, as it might easily be, then it’s Pigs’. Since I have no way of knowing, I chose to assume that the latter is more likely.
This is a dish that used to be an old favourite (having been on disability benefits since 1986, poverty has been a frequent companion), but, for some reason that completely eludes me, I haven’t made it for, oh, I don’t know, must be about 15 years. Time to put that right.
This is a recipe that is absolutely perfect for this time – aside from the fact that this version contains expensive Judion de la Granja Spanish butter beans, though ordinary and cheap butter beans would be fine, it’s incredibly inexpensive and filling.
The liver retails at £2.29 per kg at Waitrose, which is where I got mine, and even cheaper at £1.75 per kg at Tesco. Pig liver, unlike lambs’ or calves’, improves with long cooking, becoming soft and crumbly – big on flavour, too. Butter beans go for about £2/kg, compared to the extravagance of Judion de la Granja beans at around £8/kg. I keep asking myself if I’d buy them again, given the cost, and I have to admit that I probably would. Are they better than ordinary butter beans? Yes, in almost every respect. Would the dish be a failure, with ordinary butter beans? Absolutely not. Nor would it be worse, just different. And, of course, cooking ordinary butter beans in the same way as the Judion de la Granja beans, would also infuse them with more flavour than usual.
There can be a fair bit of waste on pig liver – depending on how well it’s prepped prior to sale – most supermarket “butchers” have the knife skills of a blind blacksmith – though given the price that hardly matters, but be prepared to remove some plumbing and assorted fatty/wobbly bits, and make sure your knife is sharp. Liver might be soft but it will turn a blunt blade.
NB: No need to be too obsessive – unlike with frying, when they go leathery, the veins will cook to tenderness anyway – removal of the larger ones is mainly for cosmetic purposes.
The weight of liver, below, is after I’d drained off the blood (I’ll swear supermarkets add blood, or water,** to liver), washed and trimmed it, and I’m probably looking at a 10% to 20% loss (the lower end being more likely from a conventional butcher).
**It’s legal, in the UK, to add up to 10% of water, by weight, to meat, without having to declare it on the label. If you know of a butcher who displays liver on a tray (rather than pre-packed), you can see that it’s not overly bloody at all.
I’ve no idea if this is a traditional British dish – it feels as if it should be, given our long tradition of domestic pig-keeping, as there’s not a great deal else you can do with pig liver, except maybe fry it and sole your boots with the result. Oh, and I hope it’s not too much of a shock, but there are no spices at all in this, just a little dried sage.
Before you start, tip the liver into a colander to drain the blood, then into a bowl of cold water. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes, swirl it round with your hand, then tip it back into the colander to drain for half an hour. And even after that, be warned, prepping this stuff will be a blood-bath, so if you’re naturally messy in the kitchen, this is a good time to raise your game! A good time not to wear white, too…
Note: Never prep liver on a wooden board – use polyethylene.
750g Pig liver (prepped weight), cut into bite-sized pieces. Wash the liver and leave it to drain before you start. You might want to wash it again before it goes into the pot – this is messy stuff.
4 medium Echalion shallots
2 small cooking onions – or all shallots or all onions
4 medium carrots, halved lengthways and sliced
A similar quantity of diced celeriac (if no celeriac, use swede)
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 Kallo organic veg stock cubes
2 tablespoons Knorr Touch of Taste Beef
3 tablespoons ToT Chicken
1 tablespoon Sharwood’s rich soy sauce
1 scant teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon fine black pepper
650g cooked Judion de la Granja beans,
3 cans Napolina brand Butter beans, drained and rinsed**
Plain flour as needed
Maldon Sea Salt and Schwartz fine black pepper, to taste
50g clarified butter
**NB: Omit the beans if you wish, I included them for their added protein and fibre. And because their texture goes well with the liver.
Note re the Touch of Taste – the amounts are just a guide, I never measure this stuff so, towards the end, and before adjusting the seasoning, taste it and add more if necessary, in about the same proportions. I really wouldn’t use pork stock cubes as they’re not, to my mind, a success, and the liver doesn’t taste like pork anyway.
Prep the veg first – you’ll regret it if you don’t (see blood-bath comment, above).
Ok then, as usual, gently sweat off the onions/shallots in the melted butter until soft but not coloured. It doesn’t matter if a few bits are browned, but not too much or it’ll affect the flavour. If you don’t have clarified butter add a splash of olive oil to ordinary butter to stop it burning.
When they’re soft add everything down to and including ½ teaspoon fine black pepper, add enough boiling water to cover, stir, bring back to boiling point, put on the lid and reduce to a simmer. Apart from the occasional stir to make sure nothing is sticking, leave it alone until the carrots are soft, at which point add the beans, turn up the heat a little and leave to heat through. Add more boiling water if needed, to cover the beans.
After about half an hour, remove from the heat and leave to cool until safe to taste. Allowing it to cool naturally will give you a different flavour profile than blowing on a too-hot spoonful. I know you see TV chefs doing just that – blowing – but that’s down to time constraints that you’re not subject to. Trust me, it’s worth waiting.
In fact, increasingly, I hold off on adjusting the seasoning until reheating the next day as I often find it needs tweaking then, too.
Whichever way you do it, stash the cold casserole in the fridge overnight – the ingredients will repay you for the chance to snuggle up and get to know each other.
The next day, as well as adjusting the seasoning, is when I thicken it. Strain off as much of the liquid as possible into a clean and whisk in 3 tablespoons of plain flour (I use bread flour as it mixes is without leaving lumps), then bring up to boiling point, continuing to whisk, paying particular attention to the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t stick and burn, then simmer for 15 minutes to cook out the flour, before returning it to the pot. Give it a good stir, then bring the whole thing up to simmering temperature, stirring frequently, then let it simmer for 20 minutes to ensure that all the solids – chunks of liver and fat beans in particular, are heated through, before serving.
I haven’t, by the way, entirely abandoned vegetarian food. Next week I’ll be making a variant of my roasted cauliflower soup, probably with roasted parsnips and definitely with beans, for added protein.
I’m flirting with the idea of deep-fried beans – probably butter beans – as an ingredient. Butter beans lightly fried in, well, butter are very tasty just simply seasoned with sea salt and white pepper,** so I see no reason why they wouldn’t work as a side dish, or even – just warm – as part of a salad. They’d be pointless in a stew, though, as the flavour and crunch gained by frying would be lost.
**Don’t believe pepper snobs who tell you pre-ground pepper is inferior to freshly ground – the average person couldn’t tell the difference – or that white pepper has nothing to offer but one-dimensional heat. Buy a quality product, like Schwartz ground white pepper, and taste it alongside Asda’s own brand version. All you’ll get from the latter is heat and dust, while the Schwartz pepper is as complex as the black version. Not inferior at all, just different.
A note about my induction hob: As you’ve no doubt noticed, the weather has been a tad warm of late, and a major, if unsuspected, advantage of the induction hob, now used for almost everything I used to use the cooker’s hob for, is that unlike the cooker, it doesn’t heat up the kitchen as well.
However, a minor downside is that when thickening a dish with flour, it must be done last, as here, as it does tend to stick to the bottom of the pot rather more than it did on the cooker’s hob. Doesn’t matter to me as I always do it that way, but worth bearing in mind.
Three Spoonie spoons, as it’s not particularly arduous, and can be made easier with pre-prepped onions and carrots.