This recipe for liver and onions is a comforting, old-fashioned dish that’s easy to make. It features bacon and gravy for a delicious, hearty meal.
Liver and onions is one of those classic dishes that seems to have fallen out of favour over the years. Even though it’s been lost on the palate of the younger generations, this traditional meal still has a lot to offer!
If you thought spinach was a superfood, you haven’t met liver. This variety meat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods around town. Brimming with vitamins A, B, and C, liver is also rich in iron, folate, and copper, to name a few (source).
Despite its rockstar status, not everyone likes liver. Made right, however, it stands a far better chance of making a regular appearance on the dinner table. Let’s get to it!
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Out of all the variety meats (also known as offal and organ meats), liver is one of the easiest to procure. You can find it in the meat section at the grocery store, often at a shockingly low price. If you strike out at the grocery store, swing by your local butcher instead.
Since liver is so affordable, I recommend going on a hunt for grass-fed beef (or veal) liver. I’ve had luck with this at farmers’ markets, local co-ops, health food stores and farms. I’ve even come across bison liver which will work just as well with this recipe.
HOW TO MAKE OLD-FASHIONED LIVER AND ONIONS WITH BACON AND GRAVY
Since this is a simple recipe, you won’t need very much apart from the liver, onions, bacon, and minimal ingredients for the gravy. Before beginning, however, I highly recommend soaking the liver for a couple of hours or overnight. There are two popular options to consider:
OPTION #1: SOAKING LIVER IN MILK
This option, I feel, is the most classic of the two. When I was growing up, I remember hearing my mom say that milk-soaked liver is the best way to prepare it.
One reason why folks are wary of liver is because of its strong iron taste. A milk bath serves to mellow out the flavour a bit. It is also said that soaking liver in milk makes it more tender. A double win!
OPTION #2: SOAKING LIVER IN LEMON JUICE
Soaking liver in lemon juice is a method that comes from Sally Fallon Morell’s Nourishing Traditions Cookbook. Fallon claims that soaking the liver in lemon juice helps to draw out toxins.
I’ll touch more on the concern about toxins in liver in a little bit, but having tried both soaking methods, I prefer the flavour and texture of liver soaked in milk over the lemon juice.
DO YOU RINSE THE MILK OFF BEFORE COOKING?
Why create extra work? If you’d like, you may rinse off the milk. Either way, you’ll need to pat the liver dry before frying it up.
After the liver has been patted dry, season it to taste on both sides with salt and fresh ground pepper. If you want to go crazy, you can sprinkle some garlic powder, cayenne and paprika on there. Follow your instincts and season the liver however you see fit!
HOW TO COOK LIVER AND ONIONS WITH BACON
Begin by cooking the bacon in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the fat renders and begins to sizzle, add the onions.
Once the onions have softened and the bacon is crispy, empty them out into a bowl and set it aside for later. Next, get that skillet good and greasy by adding additional bacon fat, lard, tallow, or any cooking fat that would make a great-grandmother proud. Add the liver and let it fry away.
You’ll notice blood pooling at the top, which is normal. After 3-5 minutes of searing, give the liver a flip and sear it on the other side for another 3-5 minutes. In the meantime, prepare a roux for the gravy by mixing a tablespoon of butter and flour (equal amounts of each) in a small bowl until you have a paste.
I should note that it’s important not to overcook the liver during this stage. If you overdo it, you’ll wind up with liver that shares the same texture as shoe leather. In any case, once the liver is cooked, remove it from the pan and transfer it to the oven to keep it warm.
MAKING HOMEMADE LIVER GRAVY
Making gravy from scratch is simple to do, so forget about spending money on a can or a packet for this recipe. In fact, learning the basic formula behind preparing a homemade sauce means you will never have to buy another gravy mix again!
Once the liver is out of the pan, add a cup of beef stock (or whatever you have on hand) and deglaze the pan by scraping the crispy bits at the bottom.
When the stock comes to a simmer, stir in the roux until it’s incorporated. The roux will thicken the gravy up, but while you wait for that to happen, return the onions and bacon to the pan.
With the salt from the bacon in the gravy, now all that’s left is to season the rest of it, adding additional salt to taste. Grind in some fresh black pepper, add a spoonful of mustard and continue to stir it around until the sauce has thickened.
At this point, you may pour in some heavy cream for a richer gravy, but this is optional. With or without cream, when the gravy has thickened to your taste, plate the liver and smother it with this delectable sauce. Bon appetit!
WHAT GOES WITH LIVER AND ONIONS?
To make liver and onions a true comfort dish, serve it up with the classic favourites:
Mashed or boiled potatoes with lots of butter
Steamed vegetables or a crisp salad
Homemade french fries or skillet potatoes
Last, but not least, a sandwich makes a great vessel for liver and onions. Add a dill pickle for an extra kick!
DO I NEED TO WORRY ABOUT TOXINS IN LIVER?
One thing that seems to concern some folks is the idea that liver contains toxins. While the liver is responsible for processing toxins in the body (it’s basically detox central), it doesn’t actually store anything harmful.
Eating beef liver is one of the best ways to ensure the body is getting essential, bio-available nutrients. That being said, the best way to ensure you’re consuming high-quality liver is to source it from pasture-raised animals. Visit a trusted butcher, your local farmer’s market or a farm to ensure you’re getting a quality product.
CAN COOKED LIVER AND ONIONS BE FROZEN?
In short, yes! Let the dish cool completely and then transfer it to a freezer-safe container. Label it (otherwise, you’ll wonder what that hunk of freezer-burnt junk is) and be sure to consume it within three months.
CAN I REHEAT LIVER AND ONIONS?
Of course! Heat up a skillet over medium-high with your fat of choice and add the liver when it’s good and hot, turning the temperature down to medium once it’s in the pan. It’ll take 3-5 minutes to heat up on the stovetop.
My favourite way to use up liver and onion leftovers is to slice up the liver, fry it, and use it in sandwiches. I highly recommend sticking it in a crusty kaiser roll (gravy and all) with a couple of choice pickle spears. You won’t be sorry you tried it.
MAKING OLD-FASHIONED LIVER AND ONIONS WITH BACON AND GRAVY
I hope I’ve convinced you to give this recipe for liver and onions with bacon and gravy a try. It’s a delicious dish that is brimming with flavour, and it’s also good for you! So what are you waiting for? Give it a try today and let me know how it goes!
INGREDIENTS FOR LIVER AND ONIONS
12 oz beef liver (or pork)
2 bacon rashers, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 tbsp cooking fat (bacon grease, tallow, lard, etc.)
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup beef stock
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp mustard
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
DIRECTIONS FOR MAKING LIVER AND ONIONS
2-8 hours before cooking (or overnight), soak the liver in milk (so it’s mostly covered) to help remove some of the iron taste.
Before cooking, pat the liver dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat. When the fat begins rendering, add the onions.
Cook the onions until soft and translucent, then transfer the onion and bacon to a bowl and set aside.
Add the cooking fat to the pan (if needed), followed by the liver.
Sear the liver on the first side for 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 5 minutes until it’s nicely browned.
While the liver is cooking, prepare a quick roux for the gravy by combining the flour and butter together in a small dish.
Remove the liver from the pan and keep it warm in the oven. Meanwhile, over medium heat, add the stock to the pan and deglaze, scraping the crispy bits.
When the stock begins to bubble, stir in the roux until everything is smooth. Return the onions and bacon to the pan and season with the mustard, salt and pepper.
Taste the sauce and make any adjustments as needed. As the gravy bubbles, it will thicken. At this point, add the cream (if desired), check the seasoning and let it simmer once more until thickened to your desired consistency.
Smother the liver with the gravy, bacon and onions. Serve immediately.
PRINTABLE OLD-FASHIONED LIVER AND ONIONS RECIPE CARD
Old-Fashioned Liver & Onions with Bacon and Gravy
- 1 large skillet
- 12 oz beef liver
- Milk enough to cover
- 2 bacon rashers chopped
- 1 medium onion sliced thin
- 1 tbsp cooking fat bacon grease, tallow, lard, etc.
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp mustard
- 1/4 cup heavy cream optional
- 2-8 hours before cooking (or overnight), soak the liver in milk (so it’s mostly covered) to help remove some of the iron taste.
- Before cooking, pat the liver dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
- In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat. When the fat begins rendering, add the onions.
- Cook the onions until soft and translucent, then transfer the onion and bacon to a bowl and set aside.
- Add the cooking fat to the pan (if needed), followed by the liver.
- Sear the liver on the first side for 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 5 minutes until it’s nicely browned.
- While the liver is cooking, prepare a quick roux for the gravy by combining the flour and butter together in a small dish.
- Remove the liver from the pan and keep warm in the oven. Meanwhile, over medium heat, add the stock to the pan and deglaze, scraping the crispy bits.
- When the stock begins to bubble, stir in the roux. Once the roux is mixed in, return the onions and bacon to the pan and season with the mustard, salt and pepper.
- Taste the sauce and make any adjustments as needed. As the gravy bubbles, it will thicken. At this point, add the cream (if desired), check the seasoning and let it simmer once more until thickened to your desired consistency.
- Smother the liver with the gravy, bacon and onions. Serve immediately.