Monday, 28 April 2008

Pan-fried Chicken Livers with Ras-el-hanout, Ginger Pikelet, and Caramelised Fig


In The Sound of Music, a curtain-clad Julie Andrews surrounded by seven drapery-sporting children burst into song with the words, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start." What most people don't know is that she was actually referring to the cooking of offal and that Rodgers and Hammerstein changed their original song for fear of offending any vegetarians. You see Maria von Trapp, being the wise governess that she was, knew that getting children to eat lung, brain, and tripe is not the easiest thing in the world and that you need to introduce them gently to the concept of consuming strange body parts for tea. Yes, some kids are fooled by the sweet in sweetbreads but they soon wise up, unless you roll them in chocolate first (the sweetbreads that is, not the children).

Through the medium of song, the real Maria then went on to educate the children about the nutritious quality of offal from a variety of different animals, starting with the doe, which is a deer, a female deer. In reality this wasn't such a good place to start. Kurt was quite into the idea, but Liesel, she was having none of it. But then 16 is a funny age and I suppose she had her mind on other things.

The best introduction to offal should be something a little less intimidating, something for beginners, after all you wouldn't learn to drive in a Ferrari and you wouldn't learn to ride on Desert Orchid. A more sensible introduction to offal would be chicken livers and from there the road to pressed tongue and pigs brawn would be a far easier one to navigate. Had Maria done this, she would have had worldwide success with the Von Trapp Family Offal Guzzlers, rather than the far more prosaic Von Trapp Family Singers.

One of the events happening in the blogosphere at the moment is an offal competition called Meat & Greet and so I'm submitting this chicken liver recipe as my entry. Chicken livers are highly underrated and only seem to turn up in parfaits and pates when they are far more versatile and easy to use. Here, I've spiced them up with the Moroccan blend Ras-el-hanout, and given them some zing with loads of ginger and some citrus popcorn for added texture.

For the livers

5g unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sunflower oil
500g chicken livers, sinew and membrane removed and cut into 3cm pieces
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 ½ teaspoon Ras-el-hanout spice mixture
2.5cm ginger, peeled and grated
¼ teaspoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
225g baby leaf spinach

For the ginger pikelets

½ egg beaten
60g self raising flour
75ml milk
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon caster sugar
a pinch of salt
5g butter

For the citrus popcorn

20-30 popcorn kernels
3g butter
5ml sunflower oil
1 ½ teaspoon caster sugar
¼ teaspoon orange zest, finely grated

To serve

2 figs, halved from top to bottom
icing sugar for dusting
4 small coriander leaves


1. To make the citrus popcorn, in a small saucepan heat the oil and butter together. Drop one kernel into the oil and if it starts to sizzle, the oil is ready. Pour in the remaining kernels, sprinkle with sugar and place a lid on the saucepan. Shake the pan vigorously to coat the kernels with oil and sugar. Wait for the popping sound to stop then pour popped corn into a bowl and sprinkle with orange zest. Mix well and reserve.

2. Next prepare the batter for the pikelets. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and make a well in the centre. Mix the egg and the milk and pour into the centre of the well. Stir to combine and form a smooth batter beating out any lumps with a whisk or wooden spoon.

3. Heat a frying pan over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles in the pan. Add enough butter to just coat the bottom of the pan. Pour in enough batter to create a pancake around 10cm in diameter. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the pikelets are golden brown on the underside and you start to see bubbles appearing on the top surface of the pikelet. Turn the pikelet over and cook on the other side until brown. Remove the pikelet and depending on the size of your pan, repeat so that you have 4 cooked pikelets. Reserve the pikelets in a folded tea towel to keep warm.

4. Wilt the spinach. Place a knob of butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat. When the butter has melted, put all the spinach in the pan and place a lid on it. After 30 seconds, turn the spinach over with a wooden spoon so that the spinach wilts evenly. After 2 minutes when the spinach has wilted, take the pan off the heat, remove any excess liquid, season well and reserve in a warm oven.

5. While the spinach is wilting sprinkle the fig halves with icing sugar and place under the grill to caramelise for 1 minute.

6. Place a large knob of butter in a frying pan with a little oil over a medium heat. When the butter has melted and is starting to foam, add the ginger and Ras-el-hanout and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken livers and stir to coat with the ginger and spice mixture. Cook for 1 minute so they are lightly brown but still pink in the middle. Remove from the pan. Add half the tomatoes and return the livers to the pan and cook for a further 1 minute until the livers are firm but not hard to the touch. Take the pan off the heat, add the remaining tomatoes and the chopped coriander. Season with salt and pepper and leave in the pan while you assemble the dish

7. To assemble the dish, place a pikelet in the middle of each plate. Place a bed of spinach on the pikelet leaving a large well in the centre. Place the livers onto the pikelet in the centre of the well. Garnish with a few small coriander leaves, 3 pieces of citrus popcorn, and half a caramelised fig.

4 comments:

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Fascinating. A lot of people are doing chicken livers, but this is definitely one of the most interesting dishes I've received! Well done.

Lizzie said...

Wow - This looks incredible. How long did it take to make? I've never had chicken livers other than in pate but the ras-el-hanout spicing sounds right up my street.

Pete said...

It's a pretty simple dish to make. The prep time is about 30 minutes and it takes about 10 minutes to cook and put it all together. You can leave out the popcorn if you like and just add a tiny bit more orange zest to the livers. I really recommend adding some spice to chicken livers and if you don't have any ras-el-hanout to hand then try cumin, coriander and a little cinnamon as an alternative.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Great dish - I like the combo of flavours here. And the use of liver - so underused, and so underrated.