Life loves the liver of it.
~Maya Angelou

‘Tis the season of faith and piety, right? You know, the three magi bowing before baby Jesus, the supplicant Dickensian Tim Cratchit with his tiny crutch and papa Claus. Nah, probably more like the days of buying, indulgence, inebrity, gluttony, and more consumption. Then repeat. The seven deadlies run amok. So agnostics and atheists alike, during the holidays perhaps you should shelve your skepticism and come forward to become a liver believer. I joined that sacred sect long ago.

Sidled up to silky scrambled eggs, perched atop tomato rubbed bruschetta, over polenta, nestled with capellini alfredo, rice pilaf or hearty and hued lentils, the much maligned but ever versatile chicken liver is flat heavenly–and that was just a short list. Savor these divine orbs, and you will be genuflecting, even tebowing (god forbid), in no time. Praise be to them.

SAUTEED CHICKEN LIVERS

2 lbs chicken livers, halved and trimmed

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 C shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
2 C chicken stock, reduced by half

1 T unsalted butter, softened
1 T all purpose flour

Fresh tarragon or parsley leaves, chopped

With your fingers, knead together the softened butter and flour in order to create a beurre manié

In a small saucepan, reduce the chicken stock by half to 1 cup.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Drop the chicken livers into a sieve and carefully lower them into the boiling water. Stirring some, allow to blanche for about 20 seconds. Remove and allow to drain.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high until foaming but not browning. Add the livers in one layer, salt and pepper, and sauté for about 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towels.

Add the sliced shallots to the same skillet and sauté over medium heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the apple cider vinegar bring to a gentle boil, and reduce to a glaze. Add the reduced stock and bring to a lively simmer. With a whisk, add the beurre manié a dollop at a time until the sauce thickens. Add the livers and warm.

Serve strewn with chopped tarragon leaves.

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The struggle itself…is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
~Albert Camus

Yesterday, the Tour field opened up (perhaps hemorrhaged), with many of the men being separated from the boys on a steep finishing climb in Switzerland. Today is a no-rest-for-the-weary day which does not always translate into better performances tomorrow as riders can fall out of psychic and physical sync.

The next stage (numéro 16) mercilessly traverses 160km up and down the majestic Alps of Switzerland, Italy and France. After a precious few flat miles, riders will crawl up the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard (HC), the pinnacle of this year’s Alpine summits (8,114 feet). The final 5km is tortuous and never ending, with an average 6.2% grade, and some pitches as steep as 10%. Pains my quads to even tap, tap about it. After cresting the peak, the riders will descend into Italy at breakneck speed heading toward the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard (Cat 1—a smidgen less steep) for another punishing ascent. Really? Again?

A symmetrical, buxom, double breasted race profile—the myth of Sisyphus times two, except unlike the tale, there is a finish to the stage.

The brief run through Northern Italy in tomorrow’s stage warrants a risotto recipe…a dirty, rustic one to be savored with the lights on.

RISOTTO SPORCO

8 C chicken broth

1/4 lb pancetta, chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
1 C porcini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 t dried thyme

1/3 lb chicken gizzards, chopped
1/2 lb chicken livers, patted dry and chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 C yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1/2 C poblano chili pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 C Arborio rice
3/4 C red wine
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
1 T Italian parsley leaves, chopped

In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Cover and keep warm over low heat.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and sauté until rendered, about 4-5 minutes. Pour out some, but not all, of the pancetta fat. Set aside and drain on paper towels.

Heat some more olive oil and butter in the same large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and thyme, and sauté until just browned and the juices begin to exude, around 2 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside on paper towels.

Meanwhile, melt more butter and olive oil in the same large skillet over medium high heat. Season livers and gizzards with salt and pepper. Add gizzards then livers a little later to skillet and sauté until not quite cooked and still pink in the center, about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside on paper towels.

In a large heavy sauce pan or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium high heat, add the onion and poblanos, and sauté until tender, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Ladle in 1 cup of the already simmering stock and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice has absorbed most of the stock, about 1-2 minutes. Add another ladleful of stock, and stir regularly until all of the stock is absorbed. Let each ladleful of stock be almost absorbed before adding next, allowing the rice to be covered with a thin coating of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently until the rice is almost tender but firm to the bite, about 20 minutes. The risotto should be smooth and creamy.

Remove from the heat and stir in the mushrooms, pancetta, livers, gizzards and most of the parmigiano reggiano. Transfer the risotto to shallow serving bowls. Garnish with the remaining parmigiano reggiano and parsley and serve immediately.

Dirty Rice

May 19, 2009

Somewhere lives a bad Cajun cook, just as somewhere must live one last ivory billed woodpecker. For me, I don’t expect ever to encounter either one.
~William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways (1982)

Decades after the ivory billed woodpecker was considered to be extinct, researchers found evidence that the majestic bird may still exist. In February, 2004, a lone kayaker spotted this species in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas, an encounter that led to an extensive scientific search for the bird.

Since then, researchers combed the wetlands to collect evidence they believe confirmed the continuing existence of this creature, and it was allegedly sighted more than a dozen times by experts and searchers. Then the trail went somewhat chilly. While the search continues, additional proof of this elusive bird’s emergence from extinction has been the topic of debate.

Cajuns were a regional peoples who originated in southern France, emigrating first to eastern Canada in the early 17th century, and then settling in a colony called Acadia. Refusing to give up their language and religion and unwilling to pledge allegiance to England, the Acadians were deported. In what has been called the Great Upheaval of 1755, Acadians were uprooted by the British and were driven from their homes in the New World. They migrated southward. Now, Cajuns are an ethnic group primarily living in southern Louisiana who are descendents of these exiles from Quebec, the Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island), and parts of New England. Many settled along the swamplands and waterways of Louisiana and resorted to their traditions of fishing, trapping and farming—making use of the bountiful natural resources there.

Cajuns retain a unique dialect of the French language and a single, prideful cuisine. The food is rustic, home-style, and adaptable to fresh local ingredients.

The aromatic mix of green bell peppers, onions, and celery is often called The Holy Trinity, even though I have blasphemously added red peppers (color) and jalapenos (heat) to this recipe.

DIRTY RICE

2 t cayenne pepper
2 t sea salt
2 t freshly ground black pepper
2 t sweet paprika
1 t dry mustard
1 t cumin seeds, ground
1 t dried thyme leaves
1 t dried oregano leaves

2 T canola oil
1 lb chicken gizzards, chopped
1/2 lb ground pork, coarsely ground
2 bay leaves

3/4 C yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C green peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 C red peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 C jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 C celery, finely chopped
1 T plump garlic, peeled and minced
3 T unsalted butter
3 C chicken stock
1/2 lb chicken livers, chopped
1 1/2 C long grained rice

Combine the first 8 seasoning ingredients in a small bowl.

In a heavy skillet over medium high heat, cook the canola oil, gizzards, pork and bay leaf until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the seasoning mixture, then the onions, celery, peppers and garlic. Add the butter and stir occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and stirring throughout, for about 8 minutes. Add the stock until and stir occasionally so that the bottom of the pan comes loose, about 8 minutes. Stir in the chicken livers and cook about 2 minutes.

Add the rice andt stir well, reducing the heat to low, for 5 minutes. Cover and remover from heat until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve.