An Odd Bits Recipe: Liver and Onions

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Liver and Onions 600

Written by Foy of Foy Update – Garden. Cook. Write. Repeat.

I know liver is healthy but I’d never made it before or even eaten it.  I wanted to know if liver was easy to prepare and if it tasted good.

Liver and onions cat 300

The cat was very interested in the liver and got as close as I would let him while I took the photos.

I am happy to report that liver is a cinch to cook; only taking 30 minutes.  And while it did not taste like any meat or beef I have had before, it was good.

The texture of liver is often what people comment on.  Liver is  the texture of the yolk of a hard-boiled egg mixed with fine grit.  That doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it does taste good in a soft meat kind of way.

In the same way an egg yolk is rich, so is liver.  A little acid from lemon helps cut the fat.

We enjoyed ours with a side of sauteed kale and polenta with our liver and onions.   Broccoli, tomatoes, coleslaw or green beans would all make excellent sides depending on the time of year.

The Wahls Diet

This month I am following the Wahls Diet and writing about my experience over on my blog Garden. Cook. Write. Repeat.

The Wahls diet was developed by a research medical doctor, Dr. Terry Wahls at the University of Iowa, to treat her own multiple sclerosis.  When all the latest drugs and therapies failed her and she had deteriorated to living in a tilt recline wheel chair because her spine could not support her weight she went back to basics.

Dr. Wahls asked herself what does a body need to build and maintain healthy neurons?  Perhaps it wasn’t bad genes or some unknown toxin exposure in her past that was causing her multiple sclerosis symptoms.  Perhaps it was inadequate nutrition.

She gave up the Standard American Diet and created her own with directed nutrition.  Within months she could walk with a cane and soon unassisted.  Nine months later she could ride her bike.  It was nothing short of miraculous.  That was in 2008.

Since she has given a very successful TEDx talk called Minding My Mitochondria and started The Wahls Foundation to do further research and spread the knowledge that it is not just health and nutrition, but that nutrition is health.

The Wahls Diet in a nutshell:

Eating for brain health updated

As you can see once a week you should eat organ meat.  Organs contain nutrients including high levels of creatine and carnitine; two extremely important nutrients for healing the mitochondria.

Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck as well as the Weston A. Price Foundation both strongly recommend liver in the diet for  nursing mothers, babies and children.

Improving the Health of the Recipe

I had never cooked an organ meat before, so I decided to make one of the classic, tried and true organ meat dishes: liver and onions.

I turned to my favorite cookbook publisher Cook’s Illustrated.  In their Italian Classics is a recipe for Sautéed Calf’s Liver and Onions.  I did a little tweaking to make it fit into the Wahls Diet.

  • Replaced non-stick with stainless steel skillet – Cook’s Illustrated suggested a non-stick pan, however using a non-stick pan over high heat can cause the tephlon or similar coatings to release PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) which could be bad for health.  Reducing toxin load is one of the goals of the Wahls Diet, so I opted for stainless steel.  Cast iron would also be a reasonable option I would think.
  • Replaced olive oil with coconut oil and butter with clarified butter– Cook’s Illustrated also suggests using olive oil with that high heat.  The Wahls Foundation shared on their FaceBook page “Coconut oil is ok for heating, clarified butter (removes proteins) and rendered animal fats all ok for heating. All others cold. Heating food at high temps damages vitamins, antioxidants, takes away compounds your cells wanted to use.”
  • Replaced locally raised cow liver for calf liver – finding a local farmer I trust to raise hormone free, grass-fed liver is more important to me than how young the animal was when slaughtered.  I buy from a local farmer who raises cows to about a year or two old.  The farm sells their meat frozen at their farm stand.  They often have heart, tongue and liver in stock.  Anyone have a recipe for those?
  • Replaced table salt with sea salt so that it will count towards the 1 teaspoon a day of minerals.   Sea salt has iodine, zinc and other trace nutrients that straight salt lacks.

Here’s the recipe.  It’s quick and easy and incredibly healthy! Get your four ounces of organ meat a week!

I should also tell you, if you are a first time liver cook like me, liver smells strange.  I was worried when I took it out of its package and it smelled acrid.  I thought maybe it had gone bad, so I Googled what liver is supposed to smell like and apparently that’s right.  Uncooked liver is a sharp smell.  I even saw one person describe the odor as rotten.  So don’t worry if your liver smells weird.  It will cook up fine if you treated it like any other meat product.

An Odd Bits Recipe: Liver and Onions

An Odd Bits Recipe: Liver and Onions

An Odd Bits Recipe - A nutrient dense recipe for liver and onions.


  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted clarified butter (also known as ghee)
  • 3 medium onions, sliced thin (about 4 cups)
  • Sea salt
  • 4 (1/2-inch-thick) slices grass-fed cow liver (about 1 pound)
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice


  1. In a large heavy cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium heat melt 2 tablespoons coconut oil with 1 tablespoon clarified butter. When the skillet is very hot add the onions and a ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Sauté until the water starts to come out of the onions and they get limp and glassy about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking another 10-15 minutes until they are lightly browned. Put them a side on a plate and return the skillet to the stove.
  2. Over high heat add the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil. Meanwhile salt and pepper the liver generously. When the fats are starting to shimmer add the liver to the pan. Don’t over crowd the liver. You don’t want the slices to touch in the pan. If needed do multiple batches. Cook the liver for 60-90 seconds. You want to get a dark brown sear around the edge. Flip and cook for a slightly shorter time until the other side is browned as well. The hot fast cooking keeps the liver from getting grey and pasty. Take the liver out of the pan and set it aside.
  3. Return the onions with the parsley to the pan and reduce the heat to low. Add last 2 tablespoons of clarified butter. Then add the lemon juice and use a wooden spatula to deglaze the pan. Most of the liquid from the juice will cook off quickly. Place the liver and onions on a plate together and serve immediately.

Does your family eat organ meats?  I’d love to see your recipes and ideas. Please share in the comments!

13 Responses to "An Odd Bits Recipe: Liver and Onions"
  1. Kanelstrand says:

    I love eating liver not just cow liver but chicken liver as well. I sometimes prepare it following a similar recipe, other times, I bake it in the oven or fry it with breadcrumbs (not very healthy, I know!) The thing is that lately I’ve been reading that the liver itself is not the healthiest body organ to eat, I have to read more on the topic to make sure because I really enjoy it!

    • Foy Update says:

      I’ve seen that too that liver could be less healthy than other organ meat. From what I recall that’s because livers are what clean blood, so if the animal has been exposed to toxins or an unhealthy diet the liver could be harboring some things you don’t want in your body. Knowing who your farmer is an how they raise their animals is critical when buying meat.

      The Wahls Diet requires grass-fed or wild meat chiefly because it has more omega-three fatty acids than corn/grain-fed but also because the animals have less exposure to toxins.

  2. I need to make this. I’ve enjoyed liver & onions but at a few local Costa Rican restaurants, but never made it myself. I’ve always wanted to try to make it, but kept putting it off 😉

    • Foy Update says:

      It took Diana asking me to write an odd-bits recipe before I got up the gumption to try it myself.

      If the idea of liver makes you queasy another way to get the benefits of organ meat is to eat whole animals such as anchovies, oysters and clams. If you are eating them whole then you get the organs too. The healthiest option for you body are wild caught not farm raised.

  3. Donna says:

    I LOVE liver and onions. I cook ours in bacon fat in a cast iron skillet. YUM!
    Making sure you have a side of a ferment, such as sauerkraut, helps to cut
    through the richness.

  4. Jean P says:

    I love liver and have had varying success getting my family to eat it, including my husband. He is now a convert! The ultimate compliment — “Hmm, this doesn’t taste like liver” ! I use only grassfed, locally grown cow’s liver and soak if first for 30 minutes or so in milk (I use raw milk, but any will do). Drain, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. I first caramelize an onion in a cast iron skillet using my home rendered duck fat, adding a couple cloves of garlic during last couple minutes. Set aside, and brown the liver in same skillet. Do not overcook, should be pink. Remove from skillet and keep warm, add onion/garlic back in pan and deglaze with a splash of white wine, broth, a dollop of mustard (Dijon or regular) and a dollop of catsup and add pieces of liver back in on top to heat and comingle the flavors. It is really delish! When my kids were little I made it this way, but first cut the liver a la stir-fry when it was still slightly frozen and served it over rice.

  5. Lisa R says:

    Yes! I do eat organ meats. Love heart, liver and tongue. Tongue is easy to make, Wash/rinse well, put in a stock pot with salt and peppercorns, cover with water and bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer a min of 2hrs. Remove from pot, let cool fully then peel it, peeling off the outer “skin”. The meat is so tender, you can use it in Borscht (warm borscht), make sandwiches, or then go on and put it sliced 3/4 to 1 inch thick in a lightly greased (coconut oil) casserole dish. with carmelized onions and mushrooms on top and make a white gravy to pour over. Cover and bake for 45 minutes and serve it over rice. Very tasty.
    I have also known that soaking liver in milk takes out some of the strong flavor, pat dry, dust in a little flour and fry with onions. MMMMMM, that was my favorite way as a kid.
    Heart…. oh boy, steak fingers…. wash well. slice into strips, make a marinade (mine has worcestershire in it) let marinade 1 to 2 hrs and grill. Very tender and yummy.

  6. Annie Ferrer says:

    Nourishing Traditions recommends to soak liver in lemon juice for several hours to draw out impurities. I usually do this and coat liver with some flour before frying, my hubbie loves it this way

  7. This reminds of a really tasty dish with odds and ends from my native Azerbaijan. I think they used liver, kidneys, and even genitals (ahem) of sheep! Better not ponder that last one.

  8. I should add, in Azerbaijan they soak liver bits in milk prior to cooking to remove the bitterness. Chicken ones also.

  9. Josi says:

    Thank you! This was so fantastic! Even my 2 year olds liked it!

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