My friend’s brother-in-law, grateful for my friend’s help, gave him the liver of one of his sheep. In turn, my friend passed the liver onto me. So, I wanted to do something different from the traditional liver with onions. (Sorry, Mom.)
I found the recipe for calf’s liver with sorrel sauce in one of my favorite Spanish cookbooks, The Foods & Wines of Spain, by Penelope Casas. Casas mentions that this dish, originating in Segovia, was traditionally made with rhubarb leaves. Rhubarb leaves, despite being toxic, have a very pleasant citrus taste. (I had to take a pinch just to see.) However, due to their known poisonous properties, Casas uses sorrel, instead. Since they are in the same plant family–Polygonaceae–and very closely related, they share similar qualities, including that illuminating tartness from all the oxalic acid.
I did make a few modifications to the recipe.
First, I actually use rhubarb. No, not the leaves. I use the stalks by julienning them and soaking them in red wine.
Also, I am using two types of sorrel, the cultivated French Sorrel and the wild Wood Sorrel. The French Sorrel has been designed to be lower in oxalic acid (for good, healthy reasons). But, because of this, some of the desired tartness is lost. The Wood Sorrel, on the other hand, is nice and tart. However it also isn’t as hardy and gives way to the flame as easily as butter falls off a warm knife. That’s why I prefer the Wood Sorrel raw here. Of course, you can use just one sorrel and it will still blaze.
Oh, and I just used a small lettuce I found in my garden. It sprouted on its own, a child of last year’s crop, and I let it grow. Use romaine lettuce.
The recipe calls for an onion too. I didn’t have any on hand. I thought I did, but I don’t. So I am using shallots, instead. If using an onion, use 1 onion, and sliver it.
Finally, I added more wine than vinegar. I think the sourness is a bit mellower than the vinegar. By soaking the wine in rhubarb, you are adding a bit more flavor. Plus I was very, very low on red wine vinegar. Again, like the onion, I thought I had some.
- 1 sheep’s liver, about 2 – 2/12 lbs. (or cow’s liver — adjust recipe according to weight)
- Milk (optional — for soaking the liver to rid of it impurities)
- 3 shallots, peeled and slivered
- 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 3 tsp. flour
- 3 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika (seriously, use the Spanish smoked — the Hungarian one WILL NOT cut it; I did 2 tsp. Dulce, 1 tsp Picante)
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne
- 1/4 lb. lettuce leaves, chopped (I had a wild lettuce head in my garden, so I just plucked that and used it — romaine would work the best, otherwise.)
- 1/3 lb. sorrel, chopped
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 3/4 cup red wine
- 1 rhubarb stalk, thinly julienned
- 2 tsp. fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. of dried)
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Prepare the liver the night before. Soak it in milk. This will help draw out any blood and impurities. It can rest for a few days. Strain and rinse before use.
Thinly slice the rhubarb on the bias. Soak it in the red wine for at least an hour, preferably in the sunlight.
With a fork or small whisk, mix together the flour, paprika and cayenne. The paprika likes to lump, so be thorough. Set aside.
Slice the shallots. Set aside.
Chop the lettuce and sorrel. Put into a bowl. Set aside. Feel free to dunk your sorrel stems into the wine. They will add more depth to the wine later. Reserve some sorrel for garnish.
In another bowl, mix together the vinegar, wine, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper (salt and pepper to taste).
Now, make sure you have everything ready to go, more or less in one place.
OK. Now it’s time to roll.
Get a big skillet going on high heat. When it’s good and hot, throw in the oil, then immediately add the shallots or onion. (If using porcinis or other mushrooms like I did here, throw them in with the shallots.) Shake for a second, then toss in the liver. Brown it on each side for just about 10-15 seconds. While you’re browning each side, rub the spice mix onto the exposed side. Repeat after you flip again. Sprinkle the rest in the pot.
Throw in the wine mix, deglaze and shake around. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the lettuce and sorrel and stir it in. Taste and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Every few minutes, flip the liver until it is just pink inside, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat. Serve immediately with the reduced sauce and the wine-soaked rhubarb and fresh sorrel.
WHY THIS DISH IS SO GOOD: Liver is intense. It has a hefty concentration of iron. As such, its flavor is not delicate and subtle like muscle tissue. It is strong and knows what it wants out of life. The red wine and rhubarb, sour with a touch of sweet, in addition to the liver’s earthiness, make the flavors in this dish explode. It is for those palettes that pump iron. Or for longtime chain smokers.
A NOTE ON LIVER: Do not overcook this! It will get hard, mushy, granular and fall apart. Also, the residual heat will finish cooking it and, in fact, probably overcook it. If it ends up getting overcooked, don’t worry. There are a ton of things you can do with it. I’ll show you soon what I mean.
A NOTE ON SHEEP’S LIVER: They are impossible to find. I understand this an exceptional moment. Use cow’s liver instead. It will still light a fire in your glands.