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Eric Akis: Over the top with liver and onions

Budget-friendly meat’s big, bold flavour is amped up by rich red wine mushroom sauce
Beef liver is topped with a rich wine, onion, bacon and mushroom sauce. ERIC AKIS

Readers Rob and Kathy sent me an email with the subject line “liver and onions.” In their note they asked if I could feature a recipe for it, one where I put my own spin on this classic combination.

I was keen because I enjoy eating beef liver and could not recall the last time I cooked it.

Lean, protein- and mineral-rich beef liver has a strong beefy, earthy, slightly sweet, almost wild game-like taste. Some recipes, particularly older ones, recommend mellowing that flavour by soaking the sliced liver in milk first.

I did not do that in my recipe because I, like many other lovers of this budget-friendly offal (organ meat), do enjoy its big and bold flavour that, not surprisingly, pairs well with other bold and flavourful things.

That’s why I decided to make what you could call liver and onions plus. The plus being that the onions were incorporated into a rich sauce that also had red wine, mushrooms, garlic and bacon in it.

After the slices of liver I had were seasoned, floured, fried and plated, that sauce was generously spooned over top of it. The resulting dish tastes similar to beef bourguignon, except, of course, it cooks much more quickly and liver is the star of the show, not cubed beef.

I bought beef liver at my corner butcher shop, but you’ll also find it for sale at many supermarkets. For my recipe, opt for beef liver that’s fairly thinly sliced and has the thin, but tough membrane surrounding it, removed. Avoid thickly sliced liver, as it takes too long to cook and can toughen during the process.

Beef Liver with Wine, Onion, Bacon and Mushroom Sauce

Beef liver is floured, fried and topped with a rich, wine-spiked sauce that’s strewn with onions, bacon and mushrooms.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Makes: two servings

1 thick strip of bacon, cut, widthwise, into 1/2-inch slices

2 tsp butter

2 Tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil (divided)

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

4 medium white mushrooms, thinly sliced

1 medium garlic clove, minced

• pinch minced fresh or dried thyme

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour (divided)

1/4 cup red wine

3/4 cup beef stock

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 (about 85 gram/3 ounce) slices beef liver, each about 1/2-inch thick

Place bacon in an eight- or nine-inch skillet and set over medium, medium-high heat. Cook bacon until crispy, drain away the fat, and set on a paper towel-lined plate.

Clean the skillet, set back over medium, medium-high heat, and add the butter and 2 tsp olive oil. When butter is melted and no longer foaming, add the onion, mushrooms, garlic and thyme and cook until onions and mushrooms are tender, about three to four minutes.

Mix in 1 Tbsp of flour and cook and stir one minute. Now slowly mix in the wine. When the mixture is thick, slowly mix in the stock. Add the bacon, bring sauce to a simmer, and simmer two minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper, remove from the heat and cover (see Eric’s options).

Place remaining 2 Tbsp flour in a shallow bowl. Pat liver dry with paper towel; season with salt and pepper. Coat the liver in the flour. Set a 10-inch or larger skillet over medium-high heat and pour in 2 Tbsp olive oil. When oil is hot, shake excess flour off the liver, set in the skillet and fry until richly browned on the outside, but still a little pink in centre, about two minutes per side.

While the liver cooks, set sauce back over medium, medium-high heat and return to a simmer. When cooked, set two pieces of liver on each of two dinner plates, top with some of the sauce and serve. Put any leftover sauce into a serving bowl and serve alongside the plates of liver, for spooning on at the table.

Eric options: You can make the sauce many hours before needed. After it has cooled, cover and refrigerate until ready to reheat and serve with the liver.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.