In this easy 30-minute recipe, thin slices of beef liver are seasoned, quickly sauteed in olive oil, then topped with caramelized onions.
If you're willing to give internal organs a try, as long as you don't overcook the livers, you're in for a treat!
As someone who comes of dual descent, European and Israeli, I was never one to shun organ meats. I actually love them. Each of them (liver, tongue, heart, cheeks, etc.) has its own unique flavor and texture.
While beef liver may not be the best choice for those just starting out eating offal, due to its strong flavor, it's one of my favorite internal organs to eat. As long as you either soak it in milk before cooking or use a young calf's liver, its flavor can be quite mild. And the sweet, caramelized onions definitely help!
You'll only need a few simple ingredients to make this recipe. The exact measurements are included in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of what you'll need:
Onion: Sliced thinly and the slices separated into rings. I prefer to use a yellow onion, but a white onion works too.
Olive oil: Used for frying both the onions and the liver. You can also use butter if you'd like, and although I never tried it, bacon grease sounds good too!
Beef liver: When I say this, I actually mean calf's liver. The liver of the mature cow has a dense, gummy texture and a strong metallic flavor. A calf's liver is relatively tender and mild.
If all you can find is a mature liver, it's not a bad idea to soak it in milk while you prepare and cook the onions. This will help reduce the metallic taste.
Seasonings: I use Kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika.
Making this dish is easier than you think. The detailed instructions are listed in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of the steps:
You start with the onion - slice it, separate the slices into rings, then cook the rings in olive oil until caramelized. This takes longer than cooking the liver. You should expect to cook the onions for about 7-8 minutes.
Once the onions are cooked, you set them aside (I sometimes place them in a warm oven to keep them warm) and turn your attention to the liver.
To prepare the liver, you blot it dry with paper towels, then sprinkle it with seasonings. Carefully wipe the skillet clean with paper towels (it will be hot), add a bit more oil, and cook the livers.
Cook them briefly - about 3 minutes per side over medium heat. You don't want them overcooked. I like them slightly pink in the middle (though the USDA would disagree). When they're done, place them on plates, top with the onions, and serve.
I briefly touched on the two most important tips I can give you about making this recipe, but I'll elaborate on them a bit more:
1. If at all possible, use young calves' livers and not the mature animal's liver. It will make the experience significantly better. The young livers are more tender, and they taste better. If you can only get a cow's liver, soak it in milk while you prepare and cook the onions, then blot it, season it, and cook.
2. I cannot over-emphasize how important it is to avoid overcooking liver (and this is true for chicken livers as well). If you like your meat well done, then you shouldn't be making this recipe.
When cooked to medium-rare (still slightly pink in the middle), liver is wonderfully tender and sweet. Yes, it actually has a sweet taste. But when overcooked, it becomes tough and grainy.
I should, however, point out that according to the USDA, we should cook beef internal organs to 160°F, which is well-done.
Frequently asked questions
It tends to have a slightly metallic aftertaste, though this is less pronounced when you eat a young calf's liver. It has a rich taste, and when minimally cooked, it's tender and sweet.
The onions are there to balance out the strong flavor of the liver.
Many recipes use barely-cooked onions, preserving their sharpness. But since I use young livers and cook them minimally, they are tender and sweet. So I like to cook the onions until they too are caramelized and sweet.
Soak it in milk if using a mature liver to remove the metallic taste, and avoid overcooking it to prevent it from becoming tough and grainy.
I like to serve this rich-tasting dish with a simple vegetable side that doesn't require too much work and ideally can be cooked in the microwave or not cooked at all. Here are a few ideas:
Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, in an airtight container, for up to three days. But I have to tell you, once you reheat them, they're well-done and very dry.
I prefer to eat them cold (much like liver mousse), but if the idea is not appealing, it's probably best to only make as much as you can eat immediately.
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Beef Liver and Onions
- 1 lb calves' liver (not mature beef liver*), thinly sliced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced, slices separated into rings
- 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
- Arrange the liver slices on a cutting board or on a couple of large plates. Blot them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle them with salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large (12-inch) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until golden-brown, about 7 minutes. If the pan gets too hot, lower the heat to medium.
- Remove the onions from the skillet with a slotted spoon. Place them on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Carefully wipe the skillet clean with paper towels (it will be hot). Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and lower the heat to medium. Add the liver slices, in two batches if needed.
- Cook the livers briefly, about 3 minutes per side. Don't overcook them or they'll become tough and grainy**. If there are a few thicker or misshapen slices or chunks, you can briefly cook them on the edges too. But first, remove the already-cooked thin slices to a plate.
- Arrange the cooked livers on a serving plate, top them with the sautéed onions, and serve.