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If you listened to our Wild Fish and Game Podcast Episode 215: Liver, Heart, Caul, and Tongue…Yum then you know we promised to begin harvesting more offal (organ meats) to prepare recipes for you. In addition to some delicious offal recipes, I wanted to conduct an experiment with the preparation of wild game liver. I wanted to know if soaking the liver before cooking is really necessary and how the soaking changes the flavors and texture of the liver.
There are a large amount of recipes and traditions that identify different solutions to soak liver in before cooking. Based on my research, these solutions include soaking in either milk, salt water, or lemon/vinegar water. I began this little science experiment to determine which, in my opinion, solution produces the best cooked liver
Backstory and Theories:
Liver is a badass organ and it completes over 500 tasks to keep the animal healthy. Its most important function is to act as a filter for food. Once food hits your stomach and is digested then it gets absorbed into the blood and passed through the liver where toxins are filtered out. Diet and age play a huge factor on taste of liver because all the food digested passes through the liver. A young, grain fed animal may have a light flavored liver in comparison to an older, grass fed animal who’s liver may taste much stronger.
The website Fine Dining Lovers has a great article on the science of liver. They say livers contain glutathione and thiols which contribute to the “metallic” taste and unique smell. They recommend combating the aggressive flavor by soaking raw liver in an acidic substance such as lemon juice or vinegar, claiming this will limit the oxidation of those compounds when cooking.
There are many people who claim that soaking in milk is better. In one theory, the calcium in milk is credited with lightening the flavor because calcium can bind with iron in the blood. The thought would be that you are removing the “irony” taste from the blood when you wash away the milk after soaking. Milk also contains casein which a protein that often neutralizes numerous compounds.
Modernist Cuisine, a cookbook by Nathan Myhrvold, states they are skeptical of soaking in milk and could only taste a difference in mild organ meat like foie gras. For stronger flavored organ meats, they recommend just soaking in water. When soaking in salt water, the difference in the salt content of the water and the meat will cause the liquid to flow in and out of the meat. In theory, this causes the blood and impurities to come out of the liver into the water.
Prep and Cooking:
I divided an antelope liver into fourths and used the three soaking methods above. I retained one portion of liver un-soaked to use as a baseline for natural flavor. I submerged the liver in each solution in a separate zip-lock bag and placed in the refrigerator for 1.5 days. I removed each of the liver portions from their solutions, washed them with fresh water, and patted the portions dry with a towel.
For cooking, I followed Fine Dining Lovers recommendation. I sliced the liver in thin slices and cooked the meat rapidly over medium high heat in a lightly oiled, non-stick pan. Long, slow cooking can lead to dehydration which stretches the fibers within the liver. Stewing of liver will often result in a dry dish that is rough to chew. I cooked two pieces from each method and staged them for a tasting.
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The milk soaked liver was my least favorite. The texture of the liver changed and the meat was more grainy and mushy when chewed. The flavor was just slightly lighter than the un-soaked liver, but a strong after taste remained.
The salt water soaked liver seemed to be more moist following the thought of brining meat to add moisture. The flavor was the same intensity as the un-soaked meat and the lingering metallic taste was ever present. So still not great.
The un-soaked meat and lemon water soaked meat had similar texture and moisture content, which was good. The flavor of the lemon soaked liver was slightly lighter and pleasant. The main selling point was that the metallic after taste quickly lessened after chewing.
In the end, I enjoyed both the un-soaked meat and the lemon soaked meat for different reasons and could comfortably eat them prepared either way using the right recipe and complementing ingredients. I think I would enjoy the lemon soaked liver on the grill with other citrus and spice components. The un-soaked liver would need to be combined with other really robust ingredients to help balance the stronger flavors present. I would also, slice or cube the liver before adding to the soaking solution to help penetrate the meat. Either way, I recommend trying the liver from your next animal.