How to get your kids to eat liver

Sep 9, 2009 by

The French seem to be quite oblivious to the American understanding of liver as the stereotypical despicable food, the quintessential really good-for-you, totally gross food.
The French like liver as much as they like anything. Americans, on the other hand, if they eat liver, it’s usually not for enjoyment. It’s out of duty. There’s work and there’s play, and this is work. Our prejudice against liver is rooted, I believe, in our tendency to overcook it into a hard, dry slab.

Making liver enjoyable may seem almost cowardly or unethical, like making church interesting or accepting pain killers during childbirth.  Or you may think that if it’s tasty, it can’t be good for you.  That pleasure and benefit are mutually exclusive. It’s a conflict of interest.  But we’ve hardly given it a chance. If you don’t tell your kids it’s not supposed to be good, they may not figure it out.

On our visit to France this summer, we ate several delicious pâtés: traditional and creative French culinary inventions generally involving liver.

One of France’s finest delicacies is the famous foie gras, a pâté made from the livers of force-fed geese. It’s an objectionable practice, according to most people. I once heard a famous chef, Scott Cohen, say  that he saw the geese come running to get that feeding tube stuck down their throats, though. He said they clearly enjoyed being force fed.

An American friend I once introduced to foie gras failed to appreciate it, declaring, “It tastes like liver.”  For good reason, of course.  But that statement, for many Americans, is enough to end all debate. But most Americans just haven’t had liver prepared the way it should be.

The pâtés we had in France were so inspiringly delicious that I decided to try making my own. I knew I had a recipe at home. It was just one of those things I had always figured was a bit beyond my abilities.

As it turned out, there was really nothing to it. I passed an enjoyable hour or so in the kitchen making it one evening after dinner with my daughter, who was doing her homework at the kitchen table.  She likes to have moral support while studying, and I like a little company while I’m cooking. The time was spent so much more productively and recreationally than sitting in front of the TV that evening.

We started eating our pâté the next day.  We mostly ate it spread thick on slices of Ezekiel toast for dinner or before dinner.  It’s especially good accompanied by nibbles of little pickles, the French way, or pickled capers. My daughter took sandwiches of it in her lunch box.  We even took a little to the beach on the weekend, where it was declared delicious by the only one of our American friends who dared try it.  At home, we kept working on it, with pleasure, every day. It was still absolutely delicious on day five, when we ate the last of it.  We were very sorry to see the end of it.  It also freezes well.

“Was that hard to make?” my daughter wanted to know. “Because it’s really good.”  She said one day at school when she had it for lunch a bunch of her friends wanted to try it. She told them they wouldn’t like it, that it was liver, but they insisted. They liked it. All proof that kids not wanting to eat things probably has more to do with the food dynamic with parents than the food itself. Sounds like an example of the push-pull principle to me.

This recipe is a great one to get even young kids involved in, with opportunities for not only simple stirring and a little basic cutting and chopping, but blending in a food processor, smashing in a mortar and pestle, and best of all: setting it on fire briefly (flambé). It’s exciting and dramatic and extinguishes itself in no time. No part is actually difficult and you will all feel like serious chefs. And once a child has been that implicated in the process, eating it isn’t likely to present a hurdle, even if it is liver.

Besides being good for you, as we all know, and delicious as a pâté, as you will discover, liver is relatively cheap meat.  I recommend buying the best liver you can get, from grass-fed, free-range chickens.  If you can, use pastured-cow made butter, or even better, raw pastured-cow made butter.

Pâté au fines herbes

1.5 lb fresh chicken livers

Salt and white pepper (or black pepper)

2 T unsalted butter

1 T grapeseed oil

4 large shallots (small pink onions), chopped

3 T warm brandy (or cognac)

½ C broth (preferably homemade and gelatinous), though I have at time cheated for such a little amount with a store-bought bouillon base in a jar)

2-3 T finely ground fresh herbs (chervil, parsley, rosemary, thyme)

1 large garlic clove

½ lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, well softened

1.Rinse and dry off livers, and cut each in half. Season them with salt and pepper.

2.Melt the butter and oil in a large skilled, and when hot, add the livers along with the shallots and sauté over medium heat until browned or cooked to your satisfaction. It’s ok to leave them a bit pink inside.  Stir regularly, insuring even cooking of the livers and careful not to let the shallots burn.

3.Pour the warm brandy on the livers and immediately ignite it with a match. The flame will only last a few seconds while it burns off the brandy.

4.Put the livers and shallots in a blender or food processor.  You may want to do it in two batches, depending on the size of your blender.

5.Pour the stock in the skillet, scraping the pan well, then cook over high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 2 T. Add it to the livers.

6.Puree the mixture at high speed until it is very smooth.  Add more salt and pepper if you like. Allow to cool about 30 minutes.

7.Meanwhile, combine the herbs (I used rosemary, which was all I had on hand, and some dried thyme) and the garlic in a mortar and pound them (or use a blender) into a smooth paste.

8.Blend the two sticks of softened butter in a bowl with the herb mix until it is smooth and well blended.

9.Mix the herb butter in to the completely cooled chicken liver puree. It should be well mixed, without butter lumps.

10.Spoon the mixture into an earthenware crock or small baking pan. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.

Next time I make this pate, I may also attempt some aspic to pour over the top, as the original recipe called for. Aspic, made with good quality, gelantinous meat broth and unflavored gelatin, is basically meat-flavored jello. Unsweetened, of course.  Aspic will only enhance the pâté’s flavor, texture, elegance and nutritional value.

Adapted from Perla Meyers’ excellent collection of delicious and unusual European-style recipes arranged according to what’s in season: The Seasonal Kitchen: A Return to Fresh Foods.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon  / 9 September 2009 / All rights reserved

Related post:  “The Secret Life of Kids: Are Picky Eaters Still Picky when No Grown-up’s Around to See?”

This post was featured on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on Feb. 26, 2009.