How to get your kids to eat liver


KID-FRIENDLY LIVER: homemade chicken liver pâté.

The French are quite oblivious to the American understanding of liver as the stereotypical despicable food, the quintessential really good-for-you, totally gross food.

The French like liver as much as they like anything, but if Americans eat liver, it’s usually not for enjoyment. It’s out of duty. There’s work and there’s play, and this is work. No smiling allowed. Our prejudice against liver is rooted, I believe, in our tendency to overcook it into a hard, dry slab. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Making liver enjoyable may seem almost cowardly or unethical, like making church interesting or accepting pain killers during childbirth. It puts our hardcore sincerity in doing things the hard way to question.  But let’s just consider this oxymoronical, radical idea: yummy liver.  If you don’t tell your kids it’s not supposed to be good, they may not figure it out.

On our visit to France this summer, we ate several delicious pâtés: traditional and creative French culinary inventions generally involving liver.

One of France’s finest delicacies is the famous foie gras, a pâté made from the livers of force-fed geese. It’s an objectionable practice, certainly.  Even if I could afford it, I like to think I wouldn’t ever buy any, but for that reason alone.  An American friend I once introduced to foie gras failed to appreciate it, declaring, “It tastes like liver.”  For good reason, of course.  But that statement, for many Americans, is similar to calling something “socialist.” It’s enough to end all debate.

The pâtés we had in France were so inspiringly delicious that I decided to try making my own. I knew I had a recipe at home. It was just one of those things I had always figured was a bit beyond my abilities.

As it turned out, there was really nothing to it. I passed an enjoyable hour or so in the kitchen making it one evening after dinner with my daughter, who was doing her homework at the kitchen table.  She likes to have moral support while studying, and I like a little company while I’m cooking. The time was spent so much more productively and recreationally than sitting in front of the TV that evening.

We started eating our pâté the next day.  We mostly ate it spread thick on slices of Ezekiel toast for dinner or before dinner.  It’s especially good accompanied by nibbles of little pickles, the French way, or pickled capers. My daughter took sandwiches of it in her lunch box.  We even took a little to the beach on the weekend, where it was declared delicious by the only one of our American friends who dared try it.  At home, we kept working on it, with pleasure, every day.

“Was that hard to make?” my daughter wanted to know. “Because it’s really good.”  She said that one day at school when she had it for lunch a bunch of her friends wanted to try it. She told them they wouldn’t like it, that it was liver, but they insisted. They liked it. Just proof that kids not wanting to eat things probably  has more to do with the food dynamic with parents than the food itself.

We debated how long such a pâté would keep.  We figured that the half pound of butter in it would help it keep for awhile. All we know is that it was still absolutely delicious on day five, when we ate the last of it.  We were very sorry to see the end of it.

This recipe is a great one to get even young kids involved in, with opportunities for not only simple stirring and a little basic cutting and chopping, but blending in a food processor, smashing in a mortar and pestle, and best of all: setting it on fire briefly (flambé). It’s exciting and dramatic and extinguishes itself in no time. No part is actually difficult and you will all feel like serious chefs. And once the children have been that implicated in the process, eating it isn’t likely to present a hurdle, even if it is liver.

Besides being good for you, as we all know, and delicious as a pâté, as you will discover, liver is relatively cheap meat.  I recommend buying the best liver you can get, from grass-fed, free-range chickens.  If you can, use organic butter, or even better, raw,  organic butter from the milk of pasture-fed cows.

Pâté au fines herbes

1.5 lb fresh chicken livers

Salt and white pepper (or black pepper)

2 T unsalted butter

1 T oil

4 large shallots (small pink onions), chopped

3 T warm brandy (or cognac or rum)

½ C broth (preferably homemade and gelatinous)

2-3 T finely ground fresh herbs (chervil, parsley, rosemary, thyme)

1 large garlic clove

½ lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, well softened

1.Rinse and dry off livers, and cut each in half. Season them with salt and pepper.

2.Melt the butter and oil in a large skillet (don’t use a non-stick skillet), and when hot, add the livers along with the shallots and sauté over medium heat until browned or cooked to your satisfaction. It’s ok to leave them a bit pink inside.  Stir regularly, insuring even cooking of the livers and careful not to let the shallots burn.

3.Pour the warm brandy on the livers and immediately ignite it with a match. The flame will only last a few seconds while it burns off the brandy.

4.Put the livers and shallots in a blender or food processor.  You may want to do it in two batches, depending on the size of your blender.

5.Pour the stock in the skillet, scraping the pan well, then cook over high heat until the liquid is reduced to about 2 T. Add it to the livers.

6.Puree the mixture at high speed until it is very smooth.  Add more salt and pepper if you like. Allow to cool about 30 minutes.

7.Meanwhile, combine the herbs (I used rosemary, which was all I had on hand, and some dried thyme) and the garlic in a mortar and pound them (or use a blender) into a smooth paste.

8.Blend the two sticks of softened butter in a bowl with the herb mix until it is smooth and well blended.

9.Mix the herb butter in to the completely cooled chicken liver puree. It should be well mixed, without butter lumps.

10.Spoon the mixture into an earthenware crock or small baking pan. Refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.

Adapted from Perla Meyers’ excellent collection of delicious and unusual European-style recipes arranged according to what’s in season: The Seasonal Kitchen: A Return to Fresh Foods.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon  / 9 September 2009 / All rights reserved

Related post:  “The Secret Life of Kids: Are Picky Eaters Still Picky when No Grown-up’s Around to See?”

This post was featured on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on Feb. 26, 2009.

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  1. September 11, 2009 at 10:12 am

    I am very thankful for this recipe. My favorite health guru (askshelley.com) is a big fan of liver and pate is the only way I’ve liked it in the past. I grew up on braunschweiger and my mother’s homemade pate, but I’ve never tried it before myself. You’ve given me the courage! Thanks!

  1. December 21, 2009 at 8:51 pm

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