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When Did Liver Lose Its Luster?

I love liver. I love chicken and duck liver in a mousse or pate, and calves liver sautéed with garlic, vinegar, mustard and onions. I understand that traditionally liver has ranked above all other offal as one of the most prized culinary delights. And isn't "Rich Man's Disease" called that because it was mostly the well off at one time who could obtain and consume liver regularly (which among other things can contribute to said disease)?
So my question is why in America today is liver not regarded as highly as it once was apparently and when did this first begin to occur here?

Note: I say liver today is not regarded highly because:
1) Liver is cheap
2) I rarely see liver on restaurant menus
3) Liver is often presented in mainstream culture as an undesirable food item


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  1. Foie gras is highly desirable, and that's liver. Ankimo is delicious if you can find it at your local sushi bar.

    I suspect that cheaper, more mundane liver from beef or pigs isn't more popular because it is cheaper, and more mundane- that is to say, it is not cleverly marketed and priced high enough to override the mainstream's aversion to offal.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Humbucker

      You are absolutely right. I should have been clearer. I meant to focus on calves liver, and the like, that would be served as a main entree.
      I'm not a food historian obviously but I recall calves liver (i.e. liver and onions) being more popular when I was a very young child (mid 70s), prepared both in homes and in restaurants. I would like to know how popular was it at it's height in the US and when did it slip?


    2. I think it has to do w/ liver as a filter of the blood and all the nasty, nasties it filters out and is very high in cholesterol. That said, we have a local place where liver is the Wed. Night special for only $5.95!

      1. Thin sliced, dredged in flour, dipped in egg and quickly pan fried. Yum. But you're right, it's not generally on restaurant menus and lots of people (my better half being one of them) can't stand it. So I don't get to eat it much, other than as paté at home and foie gras in high-end restaurants. I suspect too many people had it overcooked and horrible-tasting as kids (eat it, it's good for you) and never got over it.

        I don't think there will ever be a liver marketing program because it would require different producers (poultry, pork, beef) to get together to market what is essentially a very small portion of the overall product.

        Although I HAVE seen liver and onions on restaurant menus at times, usually at family style places, for a fairly low price (although I must admit I've never ordered it, mainly for fear of it being overcooked and horrible-tasting).

        2 Replies
        1. re: hsk

          I wonder if Kobe/Wagyu liver tastes better than run-of-the-mill beef liver. If so, perhaps it could be marketed as as four-legged foie gras.

          1. re: hsk

            Yes I think that our American obsession with doneness whether it be of salmon, steak, or calves liver can make each really less appetizing. As a matter of fact an overcooked liver might be the worst of the three because the texture gets really strange (not merely dry) along with the sweetness being eliminated.

          2. plenty of liver to be had at delis - chopped liver and always liver and onions.

            1. Ground beef is cheap and quite popular. When I was little and knew nothing about popular opinion or where liver came from, I hated the stuff. At least in steak form. Pates are another matter.

              1. One contributing factor: organ meats need to be purchased and eaten very fresh, but most American homes (no longer having someone at home who goes out to purchase food for each day) don't buy or eat food that way anymore.

                1. We eat a lot of freshly killed game liver. I hunt and fish a lot. When I get a deer, ducks or even fish, we fry up the liver straight away.

                  1. As a lifetime liver lover, I've luckily lived in liver-friendly locales: Nashville's ubiquitous "meat-and-three" lunch places usually have it on their menus at least once a week, and here in LA County it's fairly common coffee shop/diner fare. I recently had a very nice plate of calve's liver with onion and bacon at a diner in North Hollywood; our favorite plate-lunch place in Nashville, the now-defunct Buddy's, offered a surprisingly delectable pork liver with onions in gravy on Thursdays. Plates of chicken livers are widely available in both areas as well.

                    My mother tended to overcook liver to a board-like consistency, but I liked it anyway. Good diner liver is usually overcooked as well, but as that is typically caused by having sat in a pan of hot gravy for some time the liver is not dried out or tough, and I find it quite enjoyable. As for my own cooking practices, I don't even use egg, but simply dredge thin slices in flour and shake off the excess, then sauté them quickly in butter so they're just barely cooked, deglaze the pan with some white wine and chopped parsley, cook that down a bit, pour over and serve. Talk about instant dinner!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Will Owen

                      Love your line, "...lifetime liver lover" -- there ought to be a club for us! A Northern Italian take on calves' liver is one of my favorites and closely mirrors your "hot & fast" preparation with a slight twist.

                      I freeze the cleaned liver slices so that slicing is easier because you'll need to make some very thin slices and I like them on a bias. They're briefly sauteed, in a mix of olive oil & butter, hot & fast so the meat stays pink, SPTT and finished with a couple of torn fresh sage leaves. Almost nothing could be faster or easier and this is delicious, even to some liver-haters. If you're feeling particularly energetic, after cooking, remove the liver from the pan, add a splash of white vermouth and additional knob of butter, reducing the vermouth to almost nothing. Return liver to pan & shake to distribute everything. Fried whole sage leaves can garnish, a lovely touch but unnecessary. This is lovely with polenta (or grits!)

                      1. re: Sherri

                        How thin do you slice the liver?

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          About the same thickness as bacon or stir-fry beef....pretty darned thin. OK, now I'm officially hungry for liver.

                          There's another old way with liver, chicken this time. A quick saute of chicken livers, remove them from the pan, add sliced mushrooms, additional butter and wilt. Stir in ham chunks and sauce w/ Marsala, return the chicken livers to pan & heat through. Keep them pink. Odd as it sounds, this is delicious with creamed spinach.

                        2. re: Sherri

                          Oops, I re-read my "Northern Italian Liver" post a day later and realized that I forgot an important ingredient ........... caramelized onions!

                          Before cooking the liver, thinly slice one large onion and cook very slowly in butter-olive oil until deep golden. Remove from pan and proceed w/ liver, etc. I hope this omission has not caused anyone problems.

                      2. 1) I have a lot of friends that shy away from organ meat, even these days, when it is more trendy..
                        2) It doesn't get featured a lot in new recipes.. basically, not much press
                        3) Its called "liver"

                        1. Well, just think of the saying "what am I, chopped liver?"

                          I love calf's liver, grew up on it pan-fried with onions and apples, served over mashed potatoes. It's delicious, and I think much more popular in Germany than here in the US.

                          It's pretty cheap in our supermarket here (Wegmans), though it doesn't always look superfresh -- btw, I DO shop for food every day, European habit '-). Sweetbreads are also amazingly cheap, considering that they're much more known as a delicacy and actually served in many upscale restos....

                          I'd have it much more often if my man were into it. That's both liver and sweetbreads, actually. *sigh*

                          PS: I like the alliteration in your title, chinon.

                          1. I don't ever recall liver being particularly popular, but I think in the past, oh, 10-15 years at least, with increased focus on eating healthy and the high cholestorol content of liver its popularity has declined. I'd also say that cooked liver has a certain smell about it that probably keeps more people from trying it and more restaraunts from serving it.

                            1. It's around- you have to dig a bit. The venerable Locke-Ober restaurant in Boston features calf's liver with onions as one of it's specialties. My B-I-L has it every trip.
                              What's lacking is a good jewish deli on the gulf side of Florida- what I would give for a thick pastrami and chopped liver on rye!

                              1. I sort of like chicken liver, but my husband won't eat because the liver tends to collect mercury and other environmental pollutants. At least that's what we've heard.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Petrichor

                                  I can't imagine any way that mercury could get into chicken diets--other than perhaps yard chickens eating earthworms down slope from slash-and-burn areas of the Amazon in limted areas high in naturally occuring mercury and during the wet season when soil leaching and erosion rates are high.

                                2. I grew up loving pan-fried liver and onions. In the Detroit area, Polish restaurants usually have liver on the menu once a week.

                                  I make fried chicken livers at home. Only my young son and I will eat them. More for us!

                                  1. I say that today (and among thinking people always) liver is not highly regarded because of WHAT it DOES in the body.

                                    Ghaaaaaaagh!!! Don't EAT that!!!!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ptrichmondmike

                                      Please elaborate: WHAT DOES it DO in the body? When you EAT that, I mean?

                                    2. Found an interesting recipe I'm eager to try...

                                      Moroccan Fried Liver and Onions---

                                      "Sliced liver is marinated with with cumin and paprika, and then cooked with a generous quantity of fried or caramelized onions. Make the dish spicier by adding cayenne pepper, and serve on a bed of mashed potatoes (Puré de Batata) for Moroccan comfort food at its best."


                                      1. "When Did Liver Lose Its Luster?"

                                        I believe this was the prequel to "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

                                        1. IMO as more people are becoming educated about what beef cattle go through in fed lots the thought of consuming an organ that is basically the filter for every drug injected into the beast is a bit of a turn-off. The list of antibiotics alone is a mile long. Liver from 'range cattle' is fundamentally different from liver from an animal who has spent their entire life standing in their neighbors poop.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                            You obviously know nothing about feed lots. None of the animals that are finished in feed lots spend their whole lives there.

                                            1. re: Virginian

                                              I used to work for the Federal Dept. of Agriculture at the research station at Lethbridge Alberta. We had about three thousand head of different breeds of cattle all over the province. My job was to go to all our ranges and feed lots and collect data. During calving season I probably 'pulled' a thousand calves or more. I have forgotten more about 'feed lots than you will ever know. Typically if 'feeders' were going to be raised to full slaughter weight they would be weaned at about 400 pounds then put into 'back grounder's'. Right there the animal is off the range and into what is basically a kindergarten muddy poop filled feed lot. This is the beginning of standing in your neighbor's poop. Those animals that were going to be sent off early were shipped to the processor. When the animals were about 800 hundred pounds they were 'finished' with grain. The animals could not properly digest grain but the meat had a nice marbled fat. The grain causes bloating and diarrhea. Since the animals were put into the 'back ground' lots until they were off to the processor they spend their lives standing in their neighbors poop. You might want to do a little research before you accuse others of not knowing what they are talking about. I grew up on a farm near Cochrane. We had up to three hundred head of black angus. There isn't anything I don't know about how cattle are raised.

                                              1. re: Puffin3

                                                Correction: there isn't anything you don't know about how cattle are raised--or used to be raised--in Alberta.

                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                  Well I have family on farms raising beef now and I'm on those farms quite a bit. If there is anything specifically you disagree with in my post please inform me.

                                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                                    I know very little about cattle raising. I am, however, leery of claims to omniscience, whatever the subject may be.

                                                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                      What Virginian said above is correct. I don't know what they do in Canada, but in the US the general practice is that cattle do not "spend their whole lives" in feedlots. They are finished in feedlots, but up to that point they are generally pastured, and are not living in each others' poop.

                                                      I also don't accept general assertions that food x was lots better in days gone by before "they" started doing thing y. There are frankly far too many such unsupported claims made here. Greater skepticism would be a healthy addition to the discourse. Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but opinions shouldn't be accepted uncritically as facts.

                                                      One more comment about liver. While it's true that liver is high in cholesterol, it's also high in just about everything that's good for you. Liver is perhaps the greatest nutritional bargain out there, and well worth eating once in a while for that reason. Just don't overcook it, like most folks' mamas did.

                                            2. re: Puffin3

                                              Actually it is my understanding that is is there liver where nasties get detoxified, not accumulated - the latter occurs in fat cells. That said, the liver from an animal that has spent its entire life standing in its neighbor's poop probably has a better lipid AND flavor profile.

                                            3. Best liver story I ever heard, true too: visiting grandfather decides he will find a way to get the five kids to eat liver. Has poor luck. Thinks he will trick them into liking it, so grinds it up and puts it in spaghetti sauce. Serves it at dinner. Well brought-up Catholic children know better than to say what they are thinking about the dinner. Then the 2 year-old, who is barely starting to talk in sentences, says, "Now what in hell is this?". Older children fall off chairs in hysterics. Dinner hour ends abruptly.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. And let's not forget cholesterol . . . but it's never lost its luster for me.

                                                1. Liver and onions is a classic dish. Some say one way to test a chef is try his/her chicken, others say a properly cooked egg is a proper challenge. I'll go with liver and onions. Bouchon, Keller's place in Yountville, served me the best liver and onion lunch I had in 2012. It was my favorite dish of the year.

                                                  1. Ha! In my opinion, and I don't presume to speak for anybody else, as soon as it left the animal it grew up in.
                                                    That's my story and i'm stickin' with it.

                                                    1. 2 reasons: Cholesterol. And lots of people don't like liver at all.

                                                      I can remember when Weight Watchers were told to eat liver once a week.

                                                      1. I think it has to do with the quality of the liver available today. Although I love my liver and onions, the frozen beef and calf liver available in the markets nowadays is not very good in my opinion. Our neighborhood butcher back in the day always had fresh veal liver at a very affordable price and we ate a lot of it. The same with veal kidney.

                                                        1. I love duck liver (I don't mean foie gras, just plain liver), simply grilled or sautéed (with red onion, garlic and a dash of lemon or wine).

                                                          And lamb's liver; I can get really good quality young lamb liver from a nearby halal butcher for a good price.

                                                          I like it when I want a good shot of iron, but wouldn't eat it every day as I already have arthritis and most certainly don't want to develop gout.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: lagatta

                                                            When I posted that first message near this thread's beginning in 2008 I didn't really even know what gout was, and then suddenly I did. All of a sudden a whole lot of favorite foods and beverages went on the Once-A-Month list. But even us Gouties can indulge now and then - just don't have it with fried eggplant on the side and a few pints of porter!

                                                          2. My father used to keep liver in the house for when his hunting dogs were whelping and defrost it in the sink. Nothing like waking up for school a couple hours before dawn and finding a slab of glistening liver lying in the kitchen sink. Sorry - liver never had any luster for me. Pop took care of that :P

                                                            1. Many years ago veal calf liver was always available. Night and day difference between that and the huge chemical filled liver from mature 'fed lot' cattle.

                                                              1. Nearly all of my older relatives love liver. If it's on the menu at a restaurant, it's on their plates and if they plan a dinner together it's cooking in the kitchen. I have never actually tried it which I think highlights the reason for this thread and I find interesting. My mom is in her 50s, me in my late 20s - she loves liver, I have never tried it and neither has anyone else I know my age so I guess something happened in between that time though it's a great question as to what. Good post.

                                                                1. I love liver when it's prepared well (I currently have a chicken liver and pork terrine in the fridge), but liver that's not cooked with skill can be pretty nasty. I find that true of most organ meats and offal, actually. And liver in particular does not handle being overcooked well.

                                                                  1. I'm in the Liver Lovers camp.

                                                                    I grew up eating liver in many forms: in savory pies, sauteed with onions and bacon, in pate, tossed with wilted greens or with pasta (chicken livers). But I also grew up eating tripe, eel, all sorts of fish...etc. We were adventurous eaters in my family, which might have been an ethnic thing, or because times were often lean, or...who knows.

                                                                    I'm thrown when I meet folks not that much younger than myself who are all grown up and still can't manage to get away from steak--ever-- (if they're eating out high end) or a burger/chicken tenders (if they're in a moderate/low end place).

                                                                    Anyhoo. I still see liver served pretty regularly in my neck of the woods, in diners as a regular night-of-the-week special, and gussied up in high-end joints.

                                                                    Anyhoo #2...I was ordered by my doc to eat liver once a week. I'm iron deficient, and can get anemic. For someone with normal cholesterol levels and a good intake of veggies, liver won't hurt you. It's the same myth that floated in the 90's that eggs would kill us all.

                                                                    1. Liver (grass fed and _finished_) is extremely nutritious for you, so it should be eaten more often than it is. We haven't been able to work up the nerve yet to cook any though, so I just buy dessicated liver capsules instead... I would never, in a million years, though, eat liver from a cow that spent any sort of time in a CAFO. I also avoid beef from such cows whenever possible (obviously, when you're a guest at someone's home, it's a bit different, but I never, ever buy anything but grass fed and finished beef), so, in that respect, it might be just as well that Americans don't eat much liver anymore. Our animal production process is so wretched that the nutritional profile is greatly changed.

                                                                      1. I grew up eating beef liver, tongue, heart... my grandfather was a dairy farmer. I love liver, heart is OK, not crazy about tongue tho. What we had then, compared to what i can get now, there's no comparison in taste. Add that to the fact that my husband hates the stuff - he leaves the room when i eat the liver from a roasted chicken - and I'm not serving liver and onions at my house! :-d

                                                                        I've never had pork liver - I'll have to keep an eye open for it... maybe I'll find it on some restaurant menu.