Look, in America, we are weird about food. My friend and book cover designer, Farah Evers, posted on my Facebook picture of the chicken livers and has been badgering me for the the recipe ever since. She said, “I love all things offal!” She plans to make my recipe, with her own unique flare, I’m sure. She’s not from America. This type of eating is something she’s used to. Here, people turn up their noses at organ meats. But when I lived with a Mexican family (as in, people from Mexico itself), they used organ meats for lots of things. There was, of course, also the menudo, which is quite tasty if you’ve ever had it. The only reason something is ‘gross’ is because we were ‘taught’ to think it was so.
But the reality of it is, there’s really nothing that is gross to eat if you think about it one way or everything is gross to eat if you think about it another. After all, when you’re eating cow, what you’re really eating is muscle and fat tissue, cartilage, connective tissue… you’re eating a once-living thing that is now dead. A dead animal. If you dwell on it long enough, that can be pretty gross. But why is any one part of the animal (other than for kosher and/or religious purposes) any more or less appetizing than the other? Some people balk at eating organ meat, brains, eyes, etc. But why? The meat is going to be cooked. Once it’s cooked, it’s fine to consume. Why is any particular PART of the animal supposedly more ‘gross’ than others? In fact, some of the best tamales I’ve ever had came from head meat and some of the best stews I’ve eaten came from organ meat.
So chicken livers, while not something I’ve gone out of my way to buy in the past, really aren’t all that strange. I’ve had neck bone and neck meat of both chicken and beef too, and you would probably really like both. Harder, tougher cuts, but treat them right, and they are tasty and super cheap. Chicken livers are super healthy, when consumed properly and in moderation too. And they are cheap. Neck bone, when cooked right, tastes like roast beef, but I was able to buy five pounds of neck bone for $3.59. A roast to make roast beef with was on sale for 2.89 PER POUND, and that’s a FANTASTIC price. I bought neck bone. I’m not stupid.
But this isn’t really even about the money issue. It’s about taste and flavor and food that you’ll enjoy and variety and NOT feeling like you’re poor while living on a food stamp budget. Yuo see, chicken livers might be cheap at the grocery store, but I ate a dish at an upscale restaurant in Houston called Peli Peli (check out the website–Chef Paul is awesome! He is so motivating and full of energy! He hand fed us prawns! It was fantastic!) Anyway, this is a picture of a dish we ordered as an appetizer at Peli Peli:
Now, Peli Peli is a South African Fusion restaurant, and the name Peli Peli has to do with a particular pepper, a spice that is used in the dishes served there. Well, I can’t get the spice, but my goal was to recreate this dish, similar to it, but with my own flare. The problem is, I am sure Chef Paul uses fancy ingredients, expensive spices, and lots of stuff (perhaps wine?) that I could not use on the Food Stamp Challenge. So I had to create this dish not just from scratch but also create it to make it taste good using limited and inexpensive ingredients.
Peli Peli’s chicken livers appetizer is on the menu with a dinner roll (oh, yum, it’s good) and a sweet and tangy sauce on the side, for $10 per portion. I was going to make a meal out of this instead of an appetizer and I was feeding a family with it, so I had to do a lot better than $10 per portion. So let’s see how Peli Peli described their chicken livers: CHICKEN LIVERS SAUTEED WITH ONIONS AND PEPPERS IN A RICH RED WINE MUSHROOM SAUCE AND CHEF PAUL’S SEASONINGS. SERVED WITH A FOCCACIA ROLL AND DIPPING SAUCE.
Okay, I was pretty sure it was a wine reduction sauce and I was pretty sure there were going to be mushrooms in it, something I also didn’t have. So already, I’m working at a disadvantage, but I can do this!
So here’s what I came up with for my upscale poor-man’s meal of sauced chicken livers. I seriously wish every one of you would at least TRY this dish once. Just once. It’s so good and so worth it, and you’ll have a whole new appreciation for chicken livers and their good price! I was able to get 2 pounds of them for $1.49!
Michy’s Magical Upscale Poor-Man’s Chicken Livers in a Reduction Sauce
- 1/2 cup grape juice (I actually smashed grapes for this)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup of milk
- 1/3 cup finely chopped onions
- 4 finely diced celery stalks
- 4 finely diced carrots
- 1 cup flour (had to finally break out the flour!)
- 1 cup chicken broth (got this from boiling and seasoning the leftover rotisserie chicken carcass myself)
- Salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- paprika, a lot of it!
- red pepper flakes to taste (I like it hot!)
- 2 pounds fresh chicken livers (carefully pull apart with your fingers and tear the livers to small chunks–don’t try to cut them, as they will pulverize)
- 1/4 cup quality oil
- 1/4 cup torn spinach
- 1/2 red bell pepper
- 1 tomato, diced into small pieces
- 1 yellow squash, finely diced
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
- Smash up your grapes or, if you’re lucky and have a juicer, juice the grapes. It’s okay to use the grape skins in this. Put the juice and the skin and the grapes into a sauce pan, start heating. Add sugar to the grape juice. When the mixture comes close to a boil, add vinegar and stir well. Add chicken broth to the sauce pan, stir to mix it, then reduce heat to a very low flame and let it simmer while you dice veggies.
- Drain your chicken livers and carefully pull them apart with your hands. They will completely pulverize if you treat them too roughly before they are cooked, as they are very tender and soft. Once drained, rinse them really well and pull out any membranes (this will make them tough when they cook if you don’t remove the membranes). It’s easy to do, you’ll see. Then pour the milk over the livers and let them soak in it. You can add some seasoning here if you want.
- Prepare a quart-sized bag with the flour, salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, pepper flakes, or any other spices you’d like (If not on the challenge right now, I’d have used some bay leaf and thyme, maybe some parsley too). Set bag aside.
- Dice and chop all your veggies and have them ready to go. Put some oil in your frying pan, enough to completely cover the bottom of the pan and then a little bit more. Go ahead and let your oil get very hot, but not to the burning/scalding point. You want small chunks of veggies for this dish.
- Add the chicken livers to the bag of flour and seal the bag. Shake the bag and mix the chicken livers up inside it to completely coat the livers with flour and seasoning. Take them out of the bag and put them into the hot oil so they can ‘fry’ a little bit. You’re not wanting deep fryer heat, but you do want them to crisp up a little on the outside. Once they start to brown a little on the bottoms, you can turn the livers over with a spatula. They will start soaking up most of the oil. This is okay.
- Now add the onion to the oil/livers pan, and stir. Then add all the other veggies to the pan except the spinach, and stir.
- Lower the heat on the pan to a medium to get a nice simmer going. Now you’re sauce pan should have been on a low simmer this whole time (about 15-20 minutes of solid simmer) and you’ll notice the amount of liquid in the sauce has reduced considerable. If it hasn’t then you want to turn the heat up and let is come to a nice rolling, bubbling simmer, and let it reduce about half its volume before you do anything with it. Here, you want to add all your spices again to the sauce. Stir really well. If you’ve done it right, the sauce will be reduced and every so slightly ‘thick’ and a little bit ‘sticky’, but not syrupy at all. It’s still very much a liquid.
- Pour the sauce over the vegetables and livers in the other pan. Be careful pouring hot liquid into a hot simmering pan. It’s likely to splatter and rattle the pan, but stir and stir as you’re adding and this won’t happen. Stir up the sauce into the veggies and livers mix being sure to coat everything.
- Right at the very end, you can add some fresh cilantro (corriander) or some fresh parsley. This is also where you can add your fresh spinach. If you put the spinach in too early in the process, it’s just absorbs and you won’t even see it in there.
The final result of mine can be compared to the one above and see it doesn’t look all that different, even though I don’t have a lot of the same ingredients. Actually, the flavor wasn’t bad. There are many things I would do differently if I had an unlimited budget.
For those following the challenge who want to know what I’d do, first of all, I’d use a red wine instead of grape juice and skip the vinegar. I’d also add mushrooms, probably white and or button mushrooms, in the sauce. Porcini wouldn’t be bad either. I’d also use different spices, such as thyme, oregano, parsley, some rubbed sage, and I’d add some peppers for heat–an aneheim or even just a jalapeno. Thai peppers would go great with this. I’d also use some minced garlic and black garlic in this dish if I had unlimited funds to make it.
The key to this dish working is cooking the sauce long enough to reduce it to make that slightly sticky, slightly sweet, slightly spicy flavor. The other key is cooking it long enough that the veggies are soft. This dish just doesn’t work with crunchy veggies in it.
All said and done, my family really liked it and they asked me to please make it again in the future. With the cheap, cheap cost of chicken livers and how really easy this was to do (it’s really just a bunch of chopping, which I do every meal), I’m totally going to make this again.
For the challenge meal, corn was on sale three for a dollar, so we bought some when we were at the store, but I was wanting to use it pretty quickly, so it since the dish was ‘mushy’, I thought some crunchy corn would work with it and then we added some onion rolls from the bakery, which took a chunk on the budget, but was worth it, I think.
Hope you enjoy the dish! Let me know if you are brave and you try these chicken livers! Definitely, if you can afford to, try it with the alternatives–the wine, the mushrooms, and the spices, but if you can’t, the cheap version was so good you might not even notice!