The dark-winged hound of Zeus will come, the
An uninvited banqueter, and all day long
Will rip your flesh in rags, and feast upon your
Gnawing it black.
– Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus
In the legend of Prometheus, Zeus punishes him for stealing fire by tying him to a rock, where a giant eagle feasts on his liver. But his liver regenerates overnight, every night, so the eagle keeps coming back – what a cruel punishment Zeus divised! Following Greek mythology, men offered liver at the altars of the gods in place of Prometheus’ immortal liver. And at the altars of a different god, the Jews of the Old Testament burnt offal as sacrificial offerings (Leviticus 9:10).
Oh the liver, it’s is a funny one. We’ve had such mystical attitudes towards liver and offal, whether animal or human – from legends of immortality, to symbolic animal sacrifice, to humorism, which informed Western medicine for thousands of years. And our relationship with eating liver is no less mystical. On the one hand in parts of the world offal is considered a culinary delight – but in Great Britain we still have an aversion to the ‘fifth quarter’.
My experience is different. I grew up in Hong Kong where Chinese cuisine relishes every part of the animal. We don’t have a phrase like ‘nose-to-tail’, which I think is just an attempt to re-brand offal as haute cuisine. Chinese cooking loves to play on slippery, rubbery, gelatinous, ridged textures, of which offal is a great example. We have ways to cook every part of the animal and incorporate them into wider dishes, and offal suits varied methods of stir-frying, braising, steaming or stewing; perhaps that’s what makes it tastier?
So I’ve grown up with an open mind to eating unusual parts of an animal; something I don’t have enough of while living in England. Fish eyes, chicken feet – I love it all – and in recent years I’ve developed an insatiable appetite for bone marrow. Yes, I would even eat testicles (anyone want to send me some??). I believe no part of an animal should be wasted! So if you are squeamish about offal, try and open your mind and stomach before closing this blog post!
I asked Riverford to send me some offal with the meat box, and I got 350g of lamb’s liver – cleaned and pre-chopped. After a debate with mum as to how I should cook it (she said Turkish kebab style, I said devilled), I decided to recreate a simple stir fried dish that we used to have when I was young.
First I marinated the liver in some Chinese rice cooking wine, soy sauce, pinch of sugar and cornflour in the morning before I went to work. When it came to cooking it, I just tossed some garlic, spring onions and diagonally-sliced celery in a hot pan with sesame oil and then added the liver for 6-7 minutes. I made sure to stir fry it until there was no blood inside. To add a spicy kick I added one tsp of chilli bean paste.
The liver was really lovely and velvety. The marinating helps to reign in the strong flavour, but I soon realised you can’t eat too much of it as it’s so rich. It’s best served as part of a varied Chinese meal with white rice.
To accompany the liver I made up a Chinese-inspired side dish using leftover pumpkin from the tagine. I chopped the pumpkin into matchsticks, then braised it in a little chicken stock (I used a cube) until it was semi-soupy – a sort of typical Chinese thing to do.
What are your thoughts on liver/offal – love or hate it? Share your thoughts below!
350g lamb’s liver from Riverford costs £3.95.