Cuisine Fiend

pan-fried calves' liver and red onions


Liver and onions

I don’t get to eat offal too often as I’m the lone offal aficionado in my house. So unless I’m cooking on my own or introduce the restaurant type choice for each diner, it’s mainly when eating out that I can treat myself.

Sadly – it’s rarely a treat. I honestly don’t know how they achieve it, because as you will see below, it’s damn difficult to overcook liver, but more often than not my excited anticipation of liver, onion gravy and mash turns into a gloomy contemplation of unbelievably tough, grainy, mushy and appalling grey bits perched on a plate, bringing back the worst memories of old-school-type school dinners.

 I don’t know – they must be frying the thing into oblivion and then keep it on the heat for years until a poor unfortunate soul like me imprudently orders it. Either that or they insist on sourcing the offal from pisshead calves with advanced cirrhosis. Let’s try to give some justice to calves’ liver – the nicest kind* - and see how simple it is to cook it well.

*although I must note here a recent glorious exception to my experience. I warily ordered beef liver in a local place and it came a beauty. Never had beef liver before so double the success.

pan-fried calves' liver and red onions


  • two or three slices of calves’ liver per person
  • one large onion per person – red here but white will do nicely too
  • a little oil and butter for frying
  • salt and black pepper
Calves liver and onions


Preheat a skillet large enough to contain the liver and onions in more or less a single layer. You’ll also need a lid fitting that skillet. Slice the onion into thickish rounds. Season the liver with black pepper – no salt at this stage as it might make the meat tough.

Heat up the oil and butter in the skillet on medium–high heat and when foaming, place the liver slices in. Fry for a minute, then turn the slices over (don’t worry if they curl up a bit) and immediately tuck the onion rings in between. Turn up the heat, cover with the lid and cook for a couple of minutes, turning the onions once or twice until they start to caramelise.

When it’s almost starting to catch on the bottom of the pan, add a splash of water and cover with the lid again. Shake the pan a little, cook until the water evaporates which won’t take long, switch off and serve. Salt generously on the plates. Goes a treat with mash but also with some crusty bread to mop up the juices – and a couple of nice gherkins.

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