Liver and bacon, fried up in a pan and served with onion gravy, is the perfect dish to welcome in Autumn with open arms: the onion is sweet and caramelised, the meat hearty, rich and smoky, and the gravy thick and glossy, primed for dunking. It’s a simple dish: each of the elements is cooked in one pan. While some of those elements are set aside, the pan is not wiped out in between, so the gravy takes on the built-up depth of all the different ingredients, making the most of the little bits of browned meat, which is where all the flavour sits, waiting.
I know that many are still cautious around offal, if not actual avoiders. I understand the reluctance – liver and kidneys can seem daunting to prepare, and their raw smell can be off-putting – but I’m an offal evangelist. Apart from the common sense position that, if we’re going to choose to eat meat, we should be eating all of the animal that we slaughter, liver has a fantastic flavour: calves’ liver has an earthiness and meatiness without being as overwhelming as ox or beef liver. It’s also economical: some cheap cuts of yesteryear have become so fashionable that they’re now pricey, (bone marrow, pork belly, short ribs…), but offal, presumably thanks to its lack of popularity, hasn’t suffered the same fate, and remains extremely good value for money.
The key to good liver is to cook it fast and hot, so that the outside caramelises and colours, but the inside remains pink: this way it will carry bags of flavour, with a taut outside, but will still be tender. With this dish, the liver is cooked briefly and set to one side, before being returned to the pan just long enough to warm it through in the bubbling gravy, but without cooking it any further.
Onion gravy is a glorious thing and I could eat it by the jugful. When I was little and my Mum would make it, we would eat the main meal as fast as possible, so we could – against my mother’s protestations – pour the remaining thick gravy onto a buttered slice of cheap, white bread. Absolutely nutritionally unbalanced, but the ultimate treat. Don’t omit the ketchup, it does a surprising amount of work here: it balances the dish with a good dose of sugar and vinegar, and also ensures that the sauce is impossibly glossy.
Serve with buttery mash and some steamed greens – or, if like me, laziness wins, and you feel slightly nostalgic for gravy treats from your childhood, simply pile it onto a thick slice of toasted sourdough, and eat with lots of english mustard.
Liver, bacon and onion gravy
Makes: Dinner for two
Takes: 30 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
4 rashers smoked, streaky bacon
350g calves’ liver
100g plain flour for dredging, plus one tablespoon for cooking
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 large onion
500ml beef stock
1 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1. Put the bacon in a cold pan over a medium heat and cook until golden and crispy on the underside. Turn over and cook until golden on the other side. Remove the bacon from the pan and set to one side
2. Trim out any green or grisly bits from the liver, and slice into fat, finger length portions. Dredge the calves liver in plain flour seasoned with a little salt. Return the pan to a medium-high heat, add the butter and then the liver. Cook the liver fast, turning until it is coloured on all sides, then remove from the pan and set to one side.
3. Turn the heat down in the pan, add the onions and cook until golden and soft, but not brown, stirring regularly. If the brown bits from the meat on the bottom of the pan are sticking, add a splash of hot water, and stir.
4. Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over the cooked onions and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the beef stock, and cook until the onion gravy is thick. Add the ketchup, and then return the liver and bacon to the pan for a couple of minutes. Serve immediately.