Life loves the liver of it!
LIVER, n. A large red organ thoughtfully provided by nature to be bilious with. The sentiments and emotions which every literary anatomist now knows to haunt the heart were anciently believed to infest the liver; and even Gascoygne, speaking of the emotional side of human nature, calls it "our hepaticall parte." It was at one time considered the seat of life; hence its name - liver, the thing we live with.
Ambrose Bierce The Devil's Dictionary
My earliest memories of Liver were bitter - they were of cod liver oil capsules
Then I remember liver being spicy.
It was my grandfather's favourite Sunday afternoon nosh and wound up on our tables ever so often without any preamble unlike the fussy mutton curry and rice which announced its arrival hours before it made its way into our bellies. Spiced and fried into a delicious kosha alu mete (a spicy fried liver and potato dish), it embedded itself as a taste memory of my childhood.
In my terrible teens, liver became the stuff of horror movies - Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs destroying my sleep with a single line:
"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
And somewhere in the recent past, liver got pounded into becoming a chronicle of my kitchen.
While I am no lily-livered kitchen warrior, this particular skirmish with liver left me pale faced. It is a good thing that chicken liver has fantastic restorative properties and it especially helps the production of red blood cells. Thus I survived, though there were other casualties...
a. my World War II era Sumeet mixer grinder
b. my favourite paisley-patterned-pretty-pink apron
c. my already shaky self confidence in my somewhat questionable and often flawed culinary
...and all these great sacrifices of objects grand and inconsequential - for one measly little hospital-white soup bowl of liver pate...sigh...I wallow in the slush left behind by all my flimsy food fantasies.
And this particular episode was inspired by a book. Ha! Of all the foolhardy things to use as a guide...a book written by a neurotic non chef having an early mid life crisis...a book so close to my heart and a protagonist who could be my soul sister...it ed of a bad idea. And it was a meaty kind of reek.
Yet, since my life is a case study where idiocy usually triumphs better sense, I did eventually follow Julie Powell's excessive obsession with offal. For weeks on end, the only thing i could think about was offal. I fell in love with the syncopated syllables of the word that had previously existed in my vocabulary as one of those dirty words that could desecrate a place by its mere utterance. I was fascinated by Julie's downright graphic description of these bitlings of meat and sex and forbidden fruit all rolled into one.
And after obsessing about it in theory, I went on an eating spree. I revisited all the offal I had ever eaten from the squidgy heart in a broth to the divine devilled (tee hee...i love the silly oxymoronish nature of offal) kidneys on toast, from the fiery capsicum and onion braised ox tongue to the lovely creamy-kernel of carnivorous pleasure, every gourmand's favoured poison - the exquisite liver pate.
If I ever wrote a book on food, I would devote an entire section of it to foie gras. Sophisticated, sexy, stark, with a touch of S&M (the obese goose with its bulging fatty liver), it was a bit like a jazz maestro delivering his magnum opus before slitting his wrists.
It was fresh new love forever etched in my memory. I tasted foie gras for the first time at a French restaurant in a wonderful colonial hotel circa 2001. Where every mouthful of beauteous beige tasted even sweeter because it was the fruit of hard labour. It had been earned over a month of hour long sweaty bus rides populated by lecherous groping hands and foul breath and fouler tongues over the winding streets of Old Delhi.
It was a grown up romance. A sinful duet of minced meat that would melt in your mouth and a surprising centre of tender foie gras that would settle on your tongue for a second before melting away and leaving behind memories of gold. It was a quiet candle lit anniversary dinner at a quaint manor hidden amid leafy vines circa 2010.
It was a meeting between old lovers over a glass of their favourite spiced wine. It was foie gras, radiant in all its glory unmasked, unpretentious, demystified. Served on fine white porcelain, it was devoured by twin forks awkwardly touching in the quiet scuttle for the last dashes of this precious organ.
I speak of a time past and a time that is yet to come. Through all of it, the obsession with foie gras remains constant.
Meanwhile, in the recent times I was dreaming of liver and its meaty, dark and brooding flavours, I would wake up in the morning hungry. Like there was a little gooey liver coloured man in my head, asking me to feed it...well...liver.
After scouring five meat shops and two supermarkets, I manged to collect what looked like a respectable amount of chicken liver. Alas, my meagre bank balance and an obvious scarcity of cackling white geese around these parts makes raw goose liver a hard thing to come by. So I settled for chicken liver which strangely enough I have developed quite a soft spot for.
I mention the word 'strange' because there is not too much that is likeable about chicken liver. It turns an ugly grey once cooked. It is bothersome to cook. If overcooked it turns hard and mimics the consistency of cork and leather cricket ball. If undercooked it resembles a bloody science experiment gone wrong. However, if cooked right, it can knock the wind out of your gut with its powerful aromas. And I mean that in a good way.
I ran my fingers through the red, jelly-like nearly alive bits of liver in my kitchen sink almost trilling with pleasure at their velvety softness and fatty trims. I washed, patted them dry and dressed them in a winey, herby, buttery sauces. Then waving a metaphoric good bye to my little meatlings, like the veritable Mother Goose (or not in this case) packing her younglings off to bed, I grilled them, broiled them and pureed them with a dash of this and that.
I survived some tragic losses. I broke some family heirlooms and nearly lost a finger. I nearly required smelling salts by the time the whole process was over and also nearly destroyed my own liver with the copious quantities of alcohol consumed in a really short capsule of time.
Yet, at the end of it. There it was. Love on a plate. Sex on toast. My liver pate in a bowl.
To be lovingly shared with the husband. Since I can't sing, I will render my love song in pate.
We smeared it over our crackers, our whole wheat loaves. We stuffed it into tarts. We paired it
with jellies. We laced it with crisp salad leaves and bounced olives off its buttery crust.
It was liver-induced madness. With a hint of humour lurking around its edge.