Calf’s liver with onions or bacon, or both, was once a popular dish in American restaurants—though it seems to have pretty much disappeared in recent years—and liver with just the onions appears in numerous traditional cuisines (Italy’s fegato alla veneziana, Catalonia’s fetge amb ceba, the higado encebollado of Columbia and Peru, etc.). In England, bacon has long been the main accompaniment, with onions playing a minor role, if present at all. Perhaps the first mention of the dish by an Englishman comes courtesy of one William Wreathcock, an attorney of dubious moral character, who when accused of robbing a clergyman in 1735, offered as his alibi that on the evening of the crime, he had been dining with his clerk and a client at Symond’s Inn on liver and bacon—no mention of onions—until the early hours of the morning. Onions aren’t present, either, in Mrs. Beeton’s recipe for calf’s liver and bacon from 1861. Today, calf’s or lamb’s liver is often served with both accoutrements. I got this recipe in 1998, for an article I was writing for Saveur about London’s Smithfield Market and the surrounding blocks. It comes from The Sirloin, the restaurant portion of the Victorian-era pub called The Hope.
Recipe courtesy of cookbook The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales by Colman Andrews. Click here to purchase your own copy.
- 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 8 slices back bacon or Irish bacon (recommended sources: properbritishbacon.com or balsonbutchers.com)
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1 Pound calf’s liver, cut lengthwise into 4 thin slices of equal size
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 Cups veal or beef stock, store-bought or homemade
Knead the flour and 1 tablespoon (15 g) of the butter together thoroughly, then wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 200ºF (95ºC).
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons (30 g) butter with the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the bacon for about 2 minutes on each side, turning it once, then use a fork or tongs to transfer it to a baking sheet and put it into the oven.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re very soft and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the onions from the skillet with a slotted spoon, put them into an oven-proof bowl, and put them in the oven.
Raise the heat to medium-high. Season the liver generously with salt and pepper, then fry it for about 2 minutes on each side, turning it once. Use tongs to transfer the liver to the baking sheet with the bacon in the oven.
Raise the heat to high and deglaze the skillet with the wine, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon. Cook until the wine has reduced by about half, about 5 minutes, then add the stock. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in the butter and flour mixture. Continue stirring until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, then spoon the sauce onto a platter, arrange the bacon and calf’s liver over it, and cover them with onions.