HuntingWild Recipes

Should You Soak Venison Livers


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.

Sections of liver soaked in various solutions

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 Results:

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.

Justin Townsend

Justin (Choctaw) is an avid hunter, angler, and chef whose passion for the outdoors lead him to create Harvesting Nature in 2011. He continues to hunt, fish, and cook all while sharing his experiences with others through film, podcasts, print, and with recipes. He also proudly serves in the United States Coast Guard.

3 thoughts on “Should You Soak Venison Livers

  • Blair Deseaux

    Regarding the reasons why soaking in milk might reduce the metallic taste of liver:

    You mentioned one school of thought which claims that “calcium can bind with iron in the blood.” The problem with that explanation is that calcium and iron don’t bind to each other because they both exist in positively charged forms, which repel each other. A positive charge will only form a bond with a negative charge.

    It is believed that the reason that soaking in milk removes iron from the liver is that casein (the main type of protein in milk) is known to bind to iron with high affinity. Anyone who has taken iron supplements will know that it is strongly recommended not to consume any dairy products around the same time as taking the supplement, since the casein binds to the iron, significantly decreasing the body’s ability to absorb it.


    For anyone interested in the science behind this: Calcium in milk (or any other dietary source) exists in a positively charged form, with a “+2” charge. The iron in our food exists in two different positively charged forms: The “+2” version (often called “reduced iron” or “ferrous iron”) and the “+3” version (often called “oxidized iron” or “ferric iron”). A positive charge (such as in “+2” iron) on one molecule will be attracted to a negative charge on a different molecule — in other words, opposites attract. However, two positive charges (or two negative charges) will repel each other.

    For example, table salt is a compound made up of positively charged sodium (Na+) and negatively charged chloride (Cl-), which form a bond with each other resulting in sodium chloride (NaCl). Sodium chloride is neutral in charge, because the positive and negative charges cancel each other out. However, you will never see a compound made of sodium and calcium bound to each other, because they are both positively charged. The same goes for the calcium in milk and the iron in liver: They will never form a bond with each other other.

    The fact that two positively charged ions (or two negatively charged ions) will repel each other is similar to how two magnets will attract each other in one orientation, but will repel each other if you flip one of them around. This is because magnets have two different ends, called “poles,” which have opposite properties. One end is called the “north pole” and the other end is the “south pole.” Two magnets will attract each other when the north pole of one magnet is placed near the south pole of the other magnet. However, the magnets will repel each other when two of the same pole (i.e., north and north, or south and south) are placed near each other.

    Note: The term “reduced iron” does not mean there is a smaller amount of iron present. In fact, reduced iron is absorbed by the body much better than oxidized iron is. In this case, “reduced” (along with “reduction”) is a term from chemistry relating to how many electrons are present in each atom of iron.

    • Harvesting Nature

      This is great! Thanks for sharing.

    • So does that mean I can eat liver soaked in milk without worrying that it made the iron useless?


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