Beef Liver with Onions and Bacon

Now, now – hear me out on this, okay?  (I can hear you groaning, you know.)

I have always loved liver and onions, myself.  I think I was fed it for the first time when I was very small by my great-aunt Maxine, a woman one simply did not argue with – if she sat something in front of you, you ate it, end of discussion.  In fact, there was no discussion.

Most Americans balk when it comes to organ meats, and I’m certainly among their numbers – while I enjoy beef and chicken liver, I have yet to force myself to try kidneys or sweetbreads.  It’s really a shame, because the organs of animals are among the most nutritious parts.  A 3-ounce serving of beef liver, for instance, contains the recommended daily allowance for riboflavin, copper, Vitamin A, and Vitamin B12 and better than 40% of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin B6, phosphorus, iron, zinc, folate and protein.

I think part of the problem we have with organ meats, especially liver, is that they’ve gotten something of a bad rap as of late – while that 3-ounce portion of beef liver is really nutrient-dense, it also contains a good amount of cholesterol and we’ve been made needlessly afraid of dietary cholesterol over the last 30 years (thank you, Time Magazine).  Another concern – and this one is very real – is the toxins contained in liver; the liver’s job is to clean them out of a person’s (or steer’s) system.  If you have a steer in a feedlot, eating an unnatural diet in filthy conditions and getting regular doses of antibiotics and growth hormones, its liver isn’t going to be in great shape.  In fact, the livers of most feedlot cattle when they’re slaughtered are infected and full of abscesses; I wouldn’t touch the beef liver sold in a grocery store with a 10-foot pole.  The liver of a healthy steer that’s spent its life out in the pasture, eating what it’s supposed to be eating and doing what it’s supposed to be doing, is free of these toxins and healthy for you.

I think another issue most people have with organ meats is that we’re so used to eating only the muscle meat of animals – we expect liver to taste and have the texture of a steak when it’s not.  Beef liver has a strong, distinct flavor (that can mitigated somewhat by soaking in milk – or any marinade, really – before cooking) and a softer, almost mealy texture that can easily turn tough if overcooked.  Gently cooked until just barely pink in the middle, grass-fed beef liver can be delicious, especially when smothered in bacon and sauteed onions.  ‘Cause what isn’t better smothered in bacon and sauteed onions?

Oh – if you need an endorsement for how good this tasted, ask The Young One, who had never eaten a piece of liver in his life and was hesitant to even try it.  He went back for seconds.

Beef Liver with Bacon and Onions

Beef Liver with Onions and Bacon

serves 3 – 4

1 pound thinly sliced beef liver, preferably grass-fed and finished


1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/2 pound bacon, preferably pastured, cut into 1-inch pieces

salt and pepper

Place the liver in a large bowl and add enough milk to cover; set aside and allow to soak for 30 minutes.

Heat a large, heavy – preferably cast iron – skillet over medium-low heat and cook the bacon until just crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve on a plate; keep warm.

Remove all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the skillet and reserve.  Over medium-low heat, cook the onion until soft, translucent and fragrant, but not brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the plate with the bacon; keep warm.

Drain the milk from the liver, pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Return the reserved bacon fat to the skillet.  Gently cook the liver slices in the bacon fat over medium-low heat until barely pink inside, about 3 or 4 minutes per side.  Serve immediately, smothered in the onions and bacon.

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Beef Liver With Onions and Bacon on Foodista

Posted in participation with Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday

10 thoughts on “Beef Liver with Onions and Bacon”

  1. I give you video of your almost favorite little boy, and you give me liver and onions? Really, Jan? Where is this relationship headed? He, he, he.

    You almost made that sound tasty, though. I’ll give you that. Almost.

  2. My mom used to fix liver. Mainly chicken livers, but sometimes beef and she prepared it similar to how you do. I actually DID like it as a child, but at some point the *thought* of it grossed me out and I don’t think I’ve touched it in at least 30 years.

    I’ll … think? about it????

    : )

  3. Liver and onions? Sorry, just can’t get passed the texture. I had to eat it as a kid and drowning it in ketchup and eating it in the smallest bites possible, so minimal chewing was necessary was the only way. ANd other people loved the way my mom cooked it, but I just couldn’t do it.

  4. Oh, Jan, kidneys are delicious! Before the EU got on their high horse about not mixing things, in the UK you could buy pork chops with a slice of kidney attached — or not — and that’s how I accidentally learned to eat kidneys. Soon I began to riffle throw the packets at the supermarket, searcihing out the chops with kidneys; people who didn’t like them chose different chops. Now we are not allowed — not that kidneys are not ok, just that we can’t buy them if we think we are buying a pork chop… That’s the law.

    Sweetbreads are another matter. I am an adventurous eater so I ordered them once in a restaurant when I was in college. Delicious! (but I admit I had to overcome that gross feeling) Alas, I no longer have to overcome anything: sweetbreads, and all neural tissue, is outlawed in the UK (mad cow disease)

    Despite what my mother used to tell me, I now know liver isn’t good for me. Luckily I don’t care for calves’ liver (too dry and rubbery), but I love chicken livers (lightly cooked and just a little pink in the middle — don’t throw up!).

    Nowadays most organ meats are demoted to guilty, foodie pleasure. If the mad cow doesn’t get you, the vitamin A, the cholesterol, the PCPs and the other rubbish will.

    It isn’t all because of intensively produced food. Apparently the liver of the polar bear is toxic because of the amount of vitamin A. Pregnant women should not liver of any animal, because of the natural concentration of vitamin A in animals.

  5. I always HATED liver with a pink and purple passion. Until…Jan made it last time. I LOVED it! Is it because Jan knows how to cook? Is it because it was Chuck? I know the first is true and suspect Chuck had a lot to do with it too. I can’t wait to have it again. All you naysayers, don’t be like me – you will miss out on a very tasty treat. Oh it’s good for you too? Pour me another scotch.

  6. Is Liver and Onions a southern thing? I think it must be. I grew up loving this stuff, and I don’t even remember the first time I had it, so my mother and grandmothers must have “fixed” it. My mother doesn’t really cook anymore, unless you count the occasional green bean casserole (yes, THAT green bean casserole) and my grandmothers have both passed (sniff). But whenever my mother and I go to lunch, our favorite place is the “cafeteria” where we can get all our favorites: liver and onions, collards, fried okra, black eyed peas, jello salad and sweet tea!

    Having said all of that, I have never in my life cooked a liver. Which is sad for my family. I’m going to go cry now.

  7. I ate this all the time as a kid. Loved it. Fell away, due to some vegetarians in the house. Perhaps one day. Since I do eat foie gras, after all.

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