29th March 2012
Liver And A Nice Chianti
Liver with Gin and Lime Sauce, Artichoke and Sweet Potato Gratin

Liver. The great divider. Some people hate it and others detest it. But you can't beat it for price.

Browsing my local Fucking Supermarket™ the other evening after work. As you do. As you have to do 'cos all the other shops are shut when you leave work and have time to do any shopping. Anyway, I was somewhat surprised to come across a pack of calves' liver which had somehow escaped their sanitisation of any meat product which looks too red or meaty and might terrify the shoppers. And for the bargain price of 50p/lb as well. So naturally I snapped it up.

I was equally surprised when my friend Flora expressed an interest in helping me eat it when I happened to mention what I was having for dinner. Girls eating liver? Unheard of!

Once upon a time you would see great shoals of these ruddy little fellows lying panting and glistening on the local butchers marble slab alongside all the other beautiful inside-out animals, just begging to be slurped down like oysters. Unfortunately now that all the butchers have become tattoo parlours and all flesh is grown in white Styrofoam vats in Fucking Supermarket™ chill cabinets, good honest offal is hard to come by. And not best quality either.
Which is a pity because treated right it's delicious stuff.

Firstly you don't want to cook it the way your Mum did - poaching it to death until it resembles crumbly shoe leather. Overcooked liver is just awful, it must be pink and ruddy on the inside.
Secondly it really needs a robust sauce to go with it (not Bisto diarrhoea), otherwise it's difficult to get over the coppery offalness of the stuff. I rather like sauces based on gin or juniper berries, and often I'll just flame off my flash-fried liver with a couple of tablespoons of gin and finish with a squeeze of lime rather than go to the trouble of making a sauce. It's quick and easy and it's quite lovely, but today I was keen to try this particularly weird-looking Carved Angel recipe for Gin and Lime sauce.

Oh, and thirdly you need to pay some attention to the type and quality of the liver. It does need to be fresh, and while calf (or veal) and lamb liver are very tender with a fairly mild flavour, pig liver is quite a bit stronger (and sometimes I think rather fishy as if they were feeding their pigs fish-food or something!) and ox liver is like a meat turnip. So it's definitely a case of horse livers for courses.

Encouraged by internet suggestions I accompanied my liver with a sweet potato and globe artichoke gratin Yes, Globe Artichoke. I know - I thought I might have misread it too. And maybe that's how the recipe started out, but it actually works well! My liver dinner was enjoyed by all.

Now that my Mum's visiting to restock my freezer with Spicey Cottage curries though - my Buddhist, Piscatorian Mum - I had to hide all the liver.
However, since I still had about half my gratin left, I reworked it with a new layer of cheese and breadcrumbs actually it was nicer the second time around - the sweet potato was better cooked and I made more effort to mix the topping so it didn't just set like a cheese hat and served it with a vegetarian version of my mushrooms in chocolate sauce. The vegetable stock doesn't thicken the sauce as well, but the flavour was just fine, and I improved my methodology slightly by using a whole Ancho chilli rather than the chilli powder and avoiding blending up the onions into the sauce - which had given it a rather coarse texture.

Sweet Potato and Globe Artichoke Gratin
main side veg
Yes, Globe Artichokes. I figure somewhere someone misheard Jerusalem Artichokes but then just decided to go with it.

Serves 4

Fill a mixing bowl with cold water and half the lemon juice.
Using a bread knife, trim away the artichoke leaves right down to the hearts. Cut the hearts into quarters and then halve the quarters. Using a small sharp knife remove any hairs from the artichoke hearts. Place the artichoke wedges in the lemon water to prevent them from discolouring. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 2 cm thick slices.
In a large frying pan heat the olive oil and butter. Add the chopped onion and then the garlic, and cook gently over a very low heat.
Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the sweet potato slices to the boiling water and blanch for four minutes. Remove the sweet potato with a slotted spoon.
Add the artichoke wedges to the boiling water and blanch for 4 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.
Keep the liquid simmering to make up into a stock, adding the artichoke leaves and any extra vegetable or herb parts you have lying around and half a teaspoon of Marmite if you want it a bit more robust.

Meanwhile, add the blanched sweet potato and artichoke to the frying pan. Turn up the heat and add the white wine. Bring to the boil. Reduce by half.
Once reduced, add 2 ladlefuls of the vegetable cooking water if necessary, just enough to cover the vegetables in the frying pan. Simmer partly covered for 10 minutes until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the sweet potato on the edge of breaking apart.
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer the vegetables and any liquid to a heatproof serving dish.

Preheat the grill. Mix together the breadcrumbs and the grated Parmesan cheese.
Sprinkle the remaining lemon juice over the vegetable gratin. Spread with the mixed cheese and breadcrumbs. Flash-cook under the grill for 1 minute until golden.
Pretty good.
Since I couldn't find fresh artichokes (are they the last genuinely seasonal vegetable in this country?), I used (almost) two 300g jars of drained artichoke hearts in oil (each yielding 160g). Well, first I used one jar, but that really wasn't enough. And it's much nicer when you get the balance right. I didn't use any of the vegetable stock first time, just simmered in 300ml of white wine until it was mostly absorbed. But when I reheated for the second round I added enough stock to moisten the vegetables.

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