A month and more has passed since last I posted, making June 2012 the first month since I started this blog to come and go without a single word from me. There’s no obvious excuse: yes, I’ve been busy, but I’ve been busy before, and I’m sure many others out there in the ‘sphere have been busier and still managed to blog regularly. I think the problem has been, as much as a lack of time, a lack of inspiration – I do try to keep my posts seasonal, and the past month has been so depressingly unseasonal it’s been hard to come up with anything appropriate, either to write about, or for dinner for that matter.
Nevertheless, I must try – and do – better. And will promise to at least make an effort not to go on too tediously about the bloody weather. Apologies in advance for my inevitable failure on that particular score. Bloody weather, blah, blah…
My last post featured the barbeque, and I’m somewhat torn between picking up where I left off in a - dare I say characteristically British? - spirit of bugger the weather, and not wishing to do anything that’s only going to further rub in the absence of suitable barbequing conditions - given that chances are that as you read this it’ll be all grey, gloomy and distinctly soggy outside, as indeed it is as I write. This dilemma though is neatly resolved by a scan through my recently accumulated food pics which reveals that the few times this year I’ve had the means, motive and opportunity to throw together something explicitly summery, either on the barbeque or not, it has inevitably featured asparagus. And as we are at best, in the dying if not already dead days of this year’s asparagus season (I’m talking British asparagus here, obviously – it seems to be Peruvian asparagus season all year round – how? – but that doesn’t count) then any write ups of those meals will have to wait till next spring. In the mean time, I guess I’ll stick to things that are sort of a bit summery, but also quite hearty and warming.
Like a warm chicken liver salad, for instance.
Now I love chicken livers. Properly, seriously, love them. To the extent that it is an enduring mystery to me how come they’ve not featured more heavily on this blog – or indeed (hardly, having been mentioned only in passing) at all. Maybe it’s because whenever we do have them I’m always in too much of a hurry to eat them to take any decent pictures – which might or might not explain the quality of the pictures accompanying this particular post (or my blog in general, come to mention it…).
Anyway, finally, let’s talk about chicken livers: not only are they utterly delicious, they are cheap, versatile, and both quick and very simple to prepare. What’s not to like? When considering poultry livers considered to be delicacies, most people’s minds will turn automatically to foie gras, but without even considering the ethics of its production, for me the fabulous richness that is the basis of foie gras’ appeal, is also its limiting factor, both in terms of its moreishness (perhaps just as well considering its exorbitant price) and perhaps more significantly its versatility. And for those reasons alone – again without factoring in ethics, or cost – if forced to choose, I’d take chicken livers over foie gras, without any real sense of a dilemma. You wouldn’t actually have to force me. Add ethics to the equation, not to mention relative costs, and you’d have pretty much the dictionary definition of a ‘no brainer’ (although if I were ever to be offered any of the foie gras Dan Barber talks about rather marvellously here it might just change my mind…).
Also, and sorry to mention it again, but they’re just the thing for this dubiously summery and thoroughly unpredictable weather we’ve been having, being the perfect basis of a main course salad, either hot or cold, or a light and quick stew. Or of course you could use them to make a pate (which given the soft, buttery texture they start off with could really hardly be easier, being, at its simplest just a question of mashing them with a fork) which would be ideal for taking on a picnic – if anyone’s been on one of those this year…
Pretty much whatever I’m going to end up doing with them, I start off by preparing them in the same way, which I have to admit is another appealing thing about them. This is the method I devised (if that’s not too grand a word) to recreate at home the meze dish served at the Real Greek years ago (and I daresay to this day, but since it became a chain, no doubt not to the same delicious effect). This is simply to dust the livers in flour seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika (use the sweet, or smoked/hot entirely depending on personal taste, or mood – I generally favour sweet so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of the livers, but sometimes feel in the mood for a little more spice) and fry quickly till the outsides have gained a lightly crunchy crust and the insides are still just pink. The only trick to any of this is trimming the livers of any stringy bits of sinew, and, above all, to make sure you’ve properly drained them of any of the blood and general gloop they come packed with. You want them dusted in flour before frying, not coated in a gluey paste. The whole process takes about ten minutes including no more than a couple of minutes a side frying time, and will have prepared enough livers for a couple of main meals for the two of us, so normally when I take the livers out of the pan I’ll set half aside to cool before being put in the fridge for tomorrow, half to be used for tonight.
And normally the first night’s dish is a salad. The simplest thing to do of course is just throw the livers together with a few leaves – chicory has a particular affinity, something to do with the contrast of the bitterness and crunch of the leaves with the sweet softness of the livers, I guess – but I usually include a couple of other things that just go so well with the livers it seems a criminal waste not to: pretty much always shredded bacon, because I always have bacon on hand (and why wouldn’t you?); very often avocado, depending on whether we have one that’s anything remotely like ripe; occasionally some black pudding or morcilla.
Usually I’ll mix the warm livers (and bacon) with cold leaves, dress with a sweetish sherry vinegar vinaigrette, and serve with sautéed potatoes on the side, but if the evening’s a particularly bleak disappointment – or you’re doing this at another time of year when chilly evenings are more seasonal – then you can obviously make the whole thing a hot salad by sautéing your leaves too – another thing chicory has a particular affinity for, although gem hearts are good too, just split lengthways and cooked in a lightly olive oiled pan with the cut surfaces down till they start to caramelise. If it’s a hot salad, I’ll generally just toss it all together, potatoes and all.
The following night I’ll generally turn the remaining livers into a stew: I’ll write that up in more detail in my next post.