I stopped into South on Main for some lunch today, and I noticed that chef Matt Bell has not one, but two liver dishes on his new menu. This, in turn, got me thinking that liver is one of the most maligned foods out there, and that's a damn shame, because liver is fantastic. Chicken, beef, pork, duck, goose — the possibilities are numerous for the enjoyment of the iron rich, firm-textured, and delicately flavored organ meat that doesn't get near the love it deserves. Don't believe me? Take a chance on some of these wonderful liver creations and see if you don't change your mind.
*Hot Chicken Liver Salad (South on Main): Take a classic wedge salad with thin-sliced radishes, chunks of sharp blue cheese, crumbled bacon, and a delicious house-made dressing and you've got a fine meal starter. Do what SoMa newcomer South on Main does and add a pile of spicy, lightly-breaded chicken livers to the top and you've got something quite special. The livers are light and clean-tasting, with just the right amount of mineral flavor to give them some character. Cutting through the flavor of the organ meat is that blue cheese, adding a bright balance to the denser flavor of the meat. Add in the crisp, succulent flavor of the lettuce and radishes with a just a hint of smoky bacon and the result is a dish that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Order this as a full salad for a filling lunch, or order the half version to leave room for some of the restaurant's tasty plays on Southern classics.
*Country Pate (The Pantry): For a more classic spin on liver, look no further than The Pantry on Rodney Parham. This house-made liver spread comes in a small jar with an ample serving of crusty French bread with some cornichons thrown in for good measure. This pate is closer to a liver mousse: light, very spreadable, and spiced with the flavor of good cognac to add some caramel deepness to the flavor of the liver. There's an earthy, rustic feel to spreading this stuff onto bread and chasing it with a bite of pickle, and as far as starters go, this one is one of my favorites around.
*Higado Encebollado (La Hacienda): A Mexican joint might not be where you'd think to find liver, but this beef liver and onions dish ranks among one of the best dishes on the menu. Tender, marinated chunks of calf's liver are grilled to perfection with onions, then served with warm tortillas and a heaping pile of La Hacienda's excellent refried beans. Like fajitas, but with a stronger, more assertive flavor, this bold liver dish works perfectly with the fresh salsa verde served with every meal. It's a huge portion, but that's just right for a liver aficionado like myself.
*Honorable Mention - Fried Chicken Livers (Myrtie Mae's): And because no "Top Three" list would be complete without a #4, I've got to include the fried chicken livers from Myrtie Mae's in Eureka Springs. These decadent livers are first wrapped in thick-cut bacon, then batter-dipped, and then fried to a golden brown. The result is a golf ball-sized chunk of fantastic fatty deliciousness that I've always found to be the perfect end to a night visiting my favorite Eureka watering holes.
Liver is an unsung meat, richly flavored and relatively cheap to buy and prepare. It's one of the tastiest things out there — especially when prepared with such skill as the dishes I've listed here.