I wish I could say I love liver. It’s an incredibly nutrient dense food that all of us should be eating on a weekly basis. And it’s definitely something that must be eaten on a balanced Paleo diet.
Unfortunately, like many of my clients and readers, I don’t really care for it, and I usually have to force myself to eat it. However, I’ve had it a few times prepared in a way that I liked it, usually as a pate or cooked by a restaurant.
There are definitely some techniques to use that can make your liver consumption easier and more palatable if you’re looking to add this nutritional powerhouse to your Paleo diet. You should be aiming to eat about a quarter pound a week, and there are a bunch of different options for getting those 4 ounces into your weekly diet.
Here are my top liver recommendations that I’ve shared with my clients:
Use Lamb or Calves’ Liver Instead of Beef Liver
Whenever I’ve cooked liver in the past, I’ve always found lambs’ and calves’ liver to be more mild and easy to eat than beef liver. I’m not sure if it has to do with the age of the animal or the fact that the animals drink milk as opposed to eating grass, but I’ve always preferred to buy lambs’ or calves’ liver if given the opportunity.
I usually get my liver at one of the local farmers markets by me, such as the State Farmers Market, Durham Farmers Market, or Carrboro Farmers Market. If you think beef liver tastes too gamey or strong, try lambs’ or calves’ liver!
Soak Liver in Lemon Juice Or Milk
Chris Masterjohn has some great tips for how to cook liver, and one of his key tips is to soak the liver in something acidic such as lemon juice. Pat the liver dry with clean paper towels before cooking it.
I’ve also found that soaking liver in milk or even kefir can help cut down on some of the metallic or “iron” taste of beef and lamb liver. Chris thinks it’s because the acid of the lemon juice helps protect the liver from oxidative damage, which can cause an off taste. (I’m not sure why milk has a similar benefit!)
This is also the cooking strategy recommended by the well known cookbook Nourishing Traditions, which has a lot of great recipes for traditionally prepared, nutrient dense foods.
Don’t Overcook It
Whatever you do, PLEASE don’t cook your liver into a piece of rubber. That’s probably the biggest mistake most people make when trying to pan fry liver. The USDA recommends cooking liver to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, as there’s more likely to be bacteria in the interior of liver compared to muscle meat.
My opinion is that if you freeze the liver for a few days before cooking it, there will be a far lower risk of bacterial contamination, and it will be okay to cook the liver to a medium-rare doneness. (Some folks even recommend cooking liver rare, but I’d caution avoiding this for children, pregnant women, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system.)
Cook it for a few minutes each side and don’t let it get overcooked and tough. Otherwise you’ll be chewing for 30 minutes come dinnertime.
Use A Recipe
There are a bunch of great liver recipes online that can help you find ways to make your liver more palatable. There’s no reason to eat liver plain if you don’t enjoy it. I often simply fry up some bacon and onions to pile on top of my liver, but here are a few other recipes that can help you get creative:
- Bacon Beef Liver Pâté from Autoimmune Paleo
- The Silkiest Chicken Liver Pâté from The Healthy Foodie
- Chicken Liver Pâté from Zenbelly
- Chicken Liver Mousse from Paleo Parents
- Crispy Spiced Chicken Livers from The Clothes Make the Girl
- Beef Liver with Fig, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Compote from The Healthy Foodie
- Easy Chicken Liver Pâté from Balanced Bites
- Beef Bacon 50/50 Braunschweiger Burger Sliders from The Paleo Parents
- Tex Mex Loaded Meatloaf from The Healthy Foodie
- Ultimate Beef and Liver Chili by Mommypotamus
- Egg-Free, Tomato-Free (Hidden Liver ) Paleo Meatloaf from The Paleo Mom
- Warm Liver and Toasted Cashew Salad from The Healthy Foodie
- Turkish (Hidden Liver) Meatballs from The Paleo Mom
- Beef Liver with Caramelized Peaches and Onion Compote from The Healthy Foodie
With this many options, there’s no excuse not to find a recipe you enjoy!
Mix With Ground Beef
You may have noticed a couple of the recipes listed are “hidden liver” recipes – that is, they’re primarily other types of liver mixed with ground meat such as beef. This is something my mom does at home a fair bit: she makes meatloaves that are mostly ground beef with enough liver mixed in to boost the nutritional content without overpowering the flavor of the meatloaf. Shockingly, even my dad likes it and he’s pretty picky when it comes to things like liver.
My mom doesn’t have a solid recipe, but she does have this tip to share: Mix the liver with ground meat in a 1:3 ratio.
This means for every pound of liver you use, add it to 3 pounds of ground beef/pork/chicken/lamb so that the liver flavor does not completely overwhelm the entire recipe. I’ve had clients complain that their “hidden” liver meatballs were not hidden whatsoever, and they had to gag it down. Make sure you’re not using so much liver in comparison to the ground meat that the liver is the only thing you taste. Also, it helps to soak the liver in lemon juice or milk ahead of time – like you would do if you were pan frying it.
Make Frozen Liver Cubes
This is a technique I’ve used before to help sneak liver into my food on a regular basis. The initial prep is a little icky, but once you’ve got a nice tray full of froze liver cubes, it’s super easy to pop them out into any dish you’re cooking for an extra nutrient boost.
Robin at Thank Your Body breaks the process down into 5 easy steps:
1. Thaw liver slightly. While still mostly frozen, cut liver into chunks.
2. Place chunks in a food processor.
3. Process until it’s all gross and gooey.
4. Scoop liquefied liver into an ice tray.
5. Cover and freeze.
You can then use these ice cubes in stir fries, ground meat dishes, and more. Each cube will provide about an ounce of liver, so use four cubes a week to get your recommended quarter pound.
Try Liz’s Raw Liver Smoothie Shot
Liz Wolfe, author of Realfoodliz.com and Eat The Yolks, has come up with a creative way to get your liver in without having to taste it. She calls them her Raw Liver Smoothie Shots, and while I haven’t (yet) tried them myself, I’ve heard from others that it’s a decently tolerable way to get liver into your diet.
Here’s how she makes them, using frozen liver “squares” she’s made, similar to the frozen cubes discussed above:
I mix 1/4 cup melted frozen strawberries OR tart cherry juice with a few squares of liver. I add enough water to cover the blender blades, if necessary, then pureé. Sip it down. Done.
I’m intrigued about this method and as of today (January 14th, 2015) I’m considering trying it at some point. If I do try them, I’ll report back to you all afterwards to share my experience!
Make Frozen Liver Pills
You might be sensing a theme here… frozen liver is easier to handle (for some people) than cooked liver.
Many of my friends and clients are fond of the DIY frozen liver pill method, described by Empowered Sustenance as “the easiest way to eat liver.” Here’s her recipe:
Rinse the liver and pat dry. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the liver into pill-sized chunks. Place the pieces, separated, on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Freeze until solid.
Transfer the frozen “liver pills” into an airtight container and store in the freezer. Freeze for 14 days before eating to kill any pathogens in the liver. Swallow a couple of frozen “liver pills” with every meal.
Personally, I can’t stand this method because I have a weirdly tight swallowing reflex and I always feel like these little frozen cubes get stuck in my throat. Maybe I wasn’t cutting them small enough, but to cut them any smaller would have required borrowing a knife from a sushi chef. So I don’t personally like or use this technique.
Your experience may be totally different, though, so don’t be afraid to experiment! If you hate this method, you can always blend up the frozen chunks to use with Liz’s liver shot.
If All Else Fails – Get A Supplement
Even though I usually recommend getting as much nutrition from your food as possible, and to minimize the use of supplements, I understand that not everyone will be able to stomach any of the above liver consumption methods.
Please do your best to try at least a few of the options before you give up. If you’ve already been through this whole list and you just can’t stand the thought of doing any of these techniques for the long haul, I think a desiccated liver supplement is a good “last resort” to get your liver consumption in.
My favorite supplement is a grass fed desiccated liver powder in capsule form. It’s not hugely expensive, although it’s a lot more expensive than simply eating liver.
Well those are your options, at least as far as I know! Is there a liver eating technique that you use that I didn’t mention here? Share your recommendations in the comments below!