Liver and Let Die (Chicken Livers with Leeks, Balsamic Vinegar, and Dried Apricots)

It’s summer. It’s hot. Most people, hot in summer, do not crave liver. I didn’t mean to crave liver. In actuality, I haven’t eaten much liver in my life. I’ve eaten chopped liver–but that seems like a different thing: masked by egg and onions, eating chopped liver at a deli and eating a whole chicken liver is like the difference between eating canned tuna and eating tuna tartar. I’d had the can, I was ready for the real thing.

Only, what constitutes the real thing? We know that the best chickens are free range and, ideally, organic. Is that true of their livers? Unfortunately, I didn’t have much choice. My store, which carries a great variety of chickens, only had one kind of liver:

chicken liver box

The recipe I set out to do came from Mario Batali’s “Simple Italian Food.” He calls for 1 pound chicken livers, rinsed and drained which I promptly did:

draining chicken livers

At this point, I grew nervous. Is a chicken liver like a foie gras? Do I need to clean it? I researched this online and discovered that, indeed, there might be veins one should clean out. So I began digging in with my fingers–it was nasty work–until I realized I was pulling the livers apart. So, I stopped, and decided that veins are what make chicken livers delicious. As the post title says: liver and let die.

I dried my livers carefully:

drying chicken liver

Then I dredged them in flour seasoned with salt and pepper:

seasoned chicken liver

At the ready, I had 2 large leeks, rinsed and cut into 2-inch julienne and 8 oz. dried apricot:

chopped leeks and apricot

In a 12-inch pan, I heated 4 Tbs of olive oil over medium heat until it was smoking and then I added the livers:

sauteeing chicken liver

Before leaving to run an errand, Diana said, “My dad [who cooks lots of liver] says the most important thing is not to ___cook them.”

Now I heard her say: UNDERcook them.

What she later said she said was: OVERcook them.

So I was nervous about UNDERcooking them and may have OVERcooked them (Mario says cook 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown):

cooked chicken livers

After removing them, I added the leeks and apricots and cooked until the leeks were softened for 6 to 8 minutes:

leeks and apricots cooking

Then, you return the livers to the pan, add 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar and 3 Tbs butter and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Then you add 2 cups of curly endive (or “frisee”), toss to coat, and serve immediately.

This dish failed on two basic levels: (1) I overcooked the liver; (2) it was too hardy for summer. But the overcooked liver was the real snafu: it was mealy and nasty. I hated it. I wanted to make it die, but it was already dead. Luckily the richness of the liver enriched the other elements: I enjoyed the rich sauce that coated the curly endive and the apricots. Actually, the apricots were the best part. They were great.

But this dish was a bad idea. What was I thinking? I’m not very smart. But lucky for you, I’m entertaining in my failures!

9 thoughts on “Liver and Let Die (Chicken Livers with Leeks, Balsamic Vinegar, and Dried Apricots)”

  1. I love chicken livers – and foie gras (pan-seared). Like foie gras, quickly searing is best (10 minutes? Mario!)

    Try sauteeing them in a bit of olive oil, soy sauce and Balsamic vinegar and serving on a bed of fresh lettuce with a similar vinaigrette…. better for summer and maybe you’ll become a liver lover!

  2. You’re right that your failure is entertaining; but the picture still looks pretty delicious (despite having a fear of full, unmashed and unmasked chicken livers)!

    About the misunderstanding, isn’t “don’t undercook” a given? Wouldn’t a warning always be about overcooking? Undercooking can always be remedied with more cooking, whereas overcooking, as you know, cannot :)

  3. You ALMOST had me willing to try this, despite loathing liver – that is, until you failed =). If you can’t do it, then a novice such as myself doesn’t stand a chance, hehe. Still, it does look kind of delicious, so maybe I will have to try it. If I do, I will let you know how it comes out!

  4. Well, I must admit that I am not a big fan of liver, but shoot, I will certainly try anything at least once.

    You’re no fool AG — you know that you’ve got to try some pretty wild and woolly recipes every now and again – otherwise, Where’s the fun? Where’s the challenge? Where’s the adventure?

    So…. chalk one up for brave cooking – not every dish is going to turn out a masterpiece. In fact, it’s really the dishes that go wrong which make us truly appreciate the ones that work out well.

    Carry on my friend,


  5. You should try Kylie Kwong’s recipe for chicken livers, they’re topped with a fresh watercress and red radish salad dressed mostly with lemon juice. She normally cooks Chinese food, but does these livers French style with shallots and sherry. They’re much lighter and I’ve made them all summer long. And as she says with regards to overcooking them, “It’s all about timing with livers!”

  6. Another trick with livers is to give them a soak in milk for a couple of hours to draw out bitter compounds and improve the texture. This is advice typically given for veal/beef liver, but works like magic for chicken also. And definitely don’t overcook. It’s natural that many people don’t like liver – think of the function of the organ – even as a lover thereof it’s not something to eat often…

    1. Bitter compounds? The minerally, coppery, irony flavor of chicken livers is what makes them so delicious.

  7. You almost lost me on this with the “liver”.. apricot chicken is one of my favorites and I am always looking for new recipes – from the pictures it looks like you were using turkish apricots – I love those, but another option is to go with Califonia ones – they are a little more expensive then turkish, but they have a unique zing to tehm which really brings out the flavor of the dish you make it with – I buy them at a good price from this site –

    If anyone else has a good source for them let me know!!

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