I can distinctly remember the first time I had liver. It was Bison liver, and I made a taco out of it after grilling a strip up and sticking it between a tortilla. I was 19, and even though I grilled it to a tough, overdone pulp (not the mention covering it with some gringo-ey Ortega salsa) I instantly loved the grassy-sweet notes and the intense meatiness of the flavor.
Since then I’ve enjoyed liver in many ways, but almost never in the traditional Liver ‘n Onions approach. As a college student and now as a thrifty postgrad who cooks for himself, I love that liver comes at an affordable price, and admire the challenge of transforming the often passed over organ into something even my close-minded, blow their money on boneless skiness chicken breast eating parents would enjoy.
For the longest time I stuck with red meat liver (mostly beef) but now I almost eat chicken liver exclusively. I find that it almost never costs me over $1.49 per pound, and for the protein and the nutritional profile you really can’t beat it. But mostly, I’m sold on the taste.
Smooth, with an almost creamy interior, it was a new revelation for a longtime “enhanced” chicken breast eater like me, who lived too long with the conception that poultry lacks its own flavor. It definitely doesn’t, and I find the complex savory notes and sweet finish of chicken livers enjoyable on their own, or just eaten with crackers, fresh cracked black pepper, and a little yogurt.
Seriouseats.com features a Cook and Tell segment each week, and by some bizarre coincidence this week’s ingredient of choice is liver. Bizarre because I just so happened to have a 20-ounce tub of Perdue chicken livers sitting in my fridge and approaching the “use by” date. Going to me prefered method of boiling the livers, I tucked most away for snacking but reserved several pieces for my favorite way to utilize any ingredient — in sandwich form. But not just any sandwich form, mind you. Combining just about every play on chicken I could think of, my mind not only led me to conceive a chicken salad sandwich, but a chicken and waffle salad sandwich. And because everything is better with cheese and because I just happen to own a panini maker, it didn’t take long for me to tap into my inner dorm cooking skills and give into the spirit of “why not?” The below is designed for one, but it can easilly be doubled or quadroupled should your entire family jump on board the liver bandwagon. And yes, those are frozen waffles. What can I say? It’s a semi-hommade Chicken Liver Salad and Waffle Sandwich.
Pistachio-Fig Chicken Salad and Waffle Sandwich
2 ounces boiled chicken livers
2 Tablespoons diced cucumber
2 Tablespoons diced red onion
1/4 cup hulled pistachios, chopped
1 dried fig, diced
1/4 cup lowfat yogurt
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon horseradish mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
flaky sea salt, to taste
2 frozen waffles
1 slice of American cheese
1 hanful of spinach
Step one is pretty simple. Boil the chicken livers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you need to boil the proverbial “piss” out of them, but you’ll want to bring a pot of water to a boil and then simmer your livers for a good 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender.
Once cooled, go ahead and chop a modest portion of the livers up and add to a bowl with the next four ingredients.
In a separate bowl, combine the yogurt through garlic powder and mix well with a whisk. Don’t be a sodium-phobe and taste as you go, adding flaky sea salt as you see fit. When it tastes nice and “eat off my shoe” good, go ahead and add the liver mixture to the dressing, mixing just enough that you’ve still got some nice chunks of liver sticking out.
Prepare a panini press, then toast your waffles on it while it’s heating, about 3-4 minutes with the lid down. Following successful defrostization, lay your slice of cheese on one of the waffles (or two), and pile your chicken liver salad mixture on top, leaving enough room on the edges so as to not jettison the mixture out once grilling begins. Flip your other waffle on top of the mixture, close and secure the lid, and wipe the drool on your face for how amazing this is going to taste.
Once your cheese is nice and melty (and if you’re using a slice of Kraft American like me, it won’t take long) and your waffles have a little crust on them, take the sandwich off the press, cut in half, and admire your handiwork.
Then, in the words of the Sandlot’s Hamilton Porter, “stuff it.”
I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I loved every bite of it. The reinvented mixture of pistachios and figs (subbing for pecans and apples, neither of which I had on hand) gives a wonderful spicey-earthy-sweetness to the mixture, while the lightness of the yogurt and spices cut the heavier notes of the liver. There’s both a cooling effect from the salad and warming effect from the grilled cheese, which oozes a salty flavor into the nooks and crannies of the usually mundane frozen buttermilk waffles. There’s an interesting dichotomy going on here, and it speaks to me as a cook. Thriftiness, no doubt, and a desire to take what’s on hand in the pantry and make it work, but also a converging of culinary traditions and methods. From the play on the soul food concept of chicken and waffles to the concept of grilling the sandwich, it’s as if I’m taking the livers themselves and unbinding them from the stereotypes of traditional Jewish cooking and highlighting their egalitarian utility.
If you’re a creative cook I say fool around with this concept. Have the time and resources to fire up some real-deal waffles? Do it. Have something in your fridgebeyond the scope of a boring slice of processed cheese? My God man, give that thing some love! Insist on deep-frying your livers and applying a dill-pickle potato chip crust? Holy shinazy I should have thought of that! Just have fun with it, and just be open to using one ingredient you may not have otherwise thought of.