Learning to like liver

Adults like strange things — smelly cheese, strong drinks, dull movies. They like liver. Despite the obvious: It's awful.

As kids we accepted such odd tastes. One day, we too would be drawn to smelly cheese, dull movies and liver. And while our parents never encouraged a precocious attitude toward drink, they insisted we partake, underage, in liver.

I did. And didn't complain. But I didn't like it.

I've since tried. At least once. It was at a party, in my honor. The hostess — and cook — was my mother-in-law-to-be. One bite nearly scotched the whole deal.

So I took interest when I heard chef April Bloomfield say, during a radio interview, that the scent of liver makes her weak in the knees. In the good way.

It made me curious in the taste buds.

I looked up Bloomfield's book, "A girl and her pig," and noted on the cover the girl, looking serene, and the pig, draped over her shoulders, looking dead.

I followed the instructions, finding encouragement in old friends like garlic and shallots and port. I spread the chunky pate across a thick slice of grilled bread and bit. It was good, in an earthy, hearty, gutsy kind of way. A way that made me feel, if not weak-kneed, adult.

Lively liver

Makes: 4 toasts

Ingredients:

About ¼ cup olive oil, plus a bit

¼ cup finely chopped shallots

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons each: dry Madeira, ruby port

½ pound chicken livers, trimmed, separated into lobes

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

A few sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped

4 thick slices crusty bread

Brown:
Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large skillet and set over high heat. Reduce heat to medium. Add shallots and garlic. Cook golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the Madeira and port, give the pan a good shake, then scrape the mixture into a small bowl. Set aside.

Puff:
Wipe the pan out with a paper towel. Set it over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the oil begins to smoke, pat the livers dry and add them to the pan. Cook until the undersides are golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Turn them over and sprinkle on about 1 teaspoon salt, then give the pan a shake. Cook the livers just until they feel bouncy, like little balloons, about 30 seconds. You want them slightly pink inside, not rare.

Deglaze:
Turn off heat. Add shallot mixture, liquid and all. Shake the pan, stirring and scraping to loosen the crispy brown bits on the bottom. Scrape the contents of the pan into a bowl. Cool a few minutes.

Mash:
Drizzle about 1 tablespoon olive oil over the liver mixture and sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon salt and a couple twists black pepper. Use a large spoon to mash the livers until some of the mash is creamy and some is still a little chunky. Stir in parsley. Cool to room temperature.

Serve:
Toast or grill the bread until crispy but soft in the middle. Drizzle toasts with a little olive oil, spread on a generous amount of the liver mixture, and serve straightaway.

Provenance:
Adapted from "A girl and her pig," by April Bloomfield

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com

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