So much better when they’re not just the supporting act…
Chicken livers with peri peri peppers. Fab, right? But why not do them the justice they really deserve by highlighting them in a sensational main course.
What’s so great about these spicy chicken livers? First, chicken livers are exceptional value for money. Just like, say, good quality (and also pretty humble) tinned sardines. With both, you get masses of flavor for very little outlay. That’s gotta be a winner. But, just because they’re inexpensive – as is most offal – that doesn’t mean we should look down on them.
Perhaps that also happens because we’re squeamish about them. Is their name too bluntly anatomical? Maybe it hasn’t been toned down enough by the euphemisms we use for meat in general. You know, beef for cow, pork for pig, lamb for sheep. Same too with cuts of meat. Fillet, brisket, shank, sirloin, chuck, porterhouse. Is liver just a bit too ‘animal’ for our tastes – because we all know we have one? Maybe.
Second, they’re really good for you. Now, I’m no nutritionist, but if you’re interested in why they do deserve the tag, ‘superfood’, it’s all explained here on healthline.com.
And, of course, there’s that spice from the sauce that embraces it all. It’s superb and just adds to the entire meal. We need some serious kick here to partner those rich flavors. I’m using the peri peri peppers (a.k.a. African bird’s eye chilies) left over from making a peri-peri chicken last week. They’ll be grand.
What to know when buying chicken livers
Fresh chicken livers are ideal. But they also freeze well, so that’s also dandy. My preference would always be to go for livers from free-range chickens.
Fresh or frozen, what you do need is ones that have been properly prepared before being packaged. The most important thing is that they should have had all traces of the dark green gall bladder removed. That’s top-of-the-list important.
Fresh or defrosted from frozen, they should be virtually odorless. And they should be a deep, ox-blood, burgundy color.
How to bring out the very best in the livers – with a little milk, black pepper, sage, and thyme
The livers go into a bowl for about 30 minutes with a little – and I mean a little – milk added to them. Just enough to give them a coating rather than a bath. Strangely, you’ll barely notice the taste of the milk, black pepper, sage, and thyme in the finished dish. What those few additions will have done is heighten the intensely deep flavor of the livers. They’re saviors of flavors.
And to drink? Top of my list would be a big red wine. Maybe a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah/Shiraz. They all enhance the meal so well.
Peri Peri Chicken Livers
The chicken livers – and their herby soak of peppery milk
- 18 ounces free-range chicken livers either fresh or frozen
- 1/4 pint milk
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried sage
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 onion peeled, halved, and sliced
- 4 ½ ounces smoked, rindless streaky (side) bacon finely diced
- 3 ½ ounces butter
- 6 peri-peri peppers finely chopped, seeds and all.
- 7 ounces fresh red tomatoes I prefer the cherry variety
- 1 can peeled, chopped tomatoes 14 ounce can
- 9 ounces fresh mushrooms sliced
- 1 medium onion thinly sliced
- 2 cloves fresh garlic peeled and sliced
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice approximately the juice of one lime (its sharper tang works here better than lemon)
- 2 bay leaves
The spinach – your divine side dish
- 16 ounces fresh spinach rinsed, with the thick, whitish central stems removed
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cloves fresh garlic peeled and finely sliced
- 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt
Prepping the chicken livers
- Put the chicken livers into a bowl and add the sage, thyme, and black pepper. Pour in the milk and use your fingers to gently give the livers a coating of the milky mix. Leave aside to stand for half an hour or so while you prep the ingredients for your sauce and the spinach side-dish.
Prepping the spinach
- The spinach. Put all the spinach into a sink full of cold water. Take each leaf and tear out most of its stalk, then place the prepped leaf into a colander to drain. Repeat for all the leaves.
- Put all the prepped spinach into a bowl with cold water and about half a dozen ice cubes. This icy trick will ‘revive’ the spinach and make it firmer and crisper – more like the day it was harvested.
- Sprinkle ground sea salt over the finely sliced garlic and keep chopping. You’ll find that it’ll quickly turn into a salty garlic paste.
Prepping the sauce
- Finely dice the chilies – seeds and all. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and the mushrooms in ¼ inch (5cms) slices. Dice the bacon into small pieces sort of about 1/8 inch ‘square’. Thinly slice the garlic. Last up, halve the onions and slice them into thin slivers – kind of about the thickness of a matchstick.
Cooking the chicken livers
- The aim is to fry them in hot, buttery bacon fat so they get a little charred on the outside.
- Set a hotplate to medium-high. Put a large, heavy-based skillet on it and add half of the butter. The moment it foams, add the bacon and onions. Give the whole lot a good stir and let it fry for about 7 minutes. Give it a few stirs so the bacon starts to melt and the onions soften.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove all the bacon and onions. Get the skillet back onto the heat and add the remaining half of the butter. As it starts foaming, turn the heat to high and immediately add all the chicken livers. At first, there’s going to be a lot of sizzling. That’s good. After two minutes – heat still on high – turn the livers over in the skillet. As soon as they’re slightly charred, remove them with a slotted spoon, keeping as much of the fat as you can in the pan.
Cooking the sauce
- Turn the skillet down to medium and add the melted bacon and softened onion, plus all the sauce ingredients. You want the tomatoes to lose most of their body, so keep stirring a few times as you let the sauce cook for about 15 minutes at a gentle simmer. Turn off the heat and let the sauce sit while you cook the spinach.
Cooking the spinach
- Put a large pan onto medium heat and add the butter. As soon as it melts, add the finely chopped garlic and salt mix and let it gently fry for 2 minutes with a couple of stirs. Thoroughly drain the spinach from its icy water and pile it all into the pan. Give it good stir to pick up the butter and garlic, turn the heat to low and put a lid on the pan.
Putting it all together
- Now add all the livers to the sauce in the skillet on medium-high. As soon as the sauce starts to bubble, turn the heat to low, give the livers a gentle stir and let them simmer in the sauce for their final cooking.
- That will take about 5 minutes, by which time the spinach will be done. So, you’re ready to serve.
- The sauce probably deserves some slices of buttered baguette to round up every last trace on your plate.