Il Fegato del Salumaio

Sautéed Calf’s Liver with Bacon, Onion, and White Wine

In venetian ciacolare means to chat; in Venice, a city of narrow streets without cars where people are constantly meeting, ciacolare is everyone’s favorite activity. The daylong exchange of soft, consonant-dropping Venetian patter on the footbridges, by the newsstand, at the café, in the shops is the shuttle that weaves the city’s singular social fabric. Unless you are a stranger, you do not just buy a pound of butter, a loaf of bread, a dozen slices of prosciutto: You have a conversation.

The morning I stopped in at Gianni’s pork store, I had just been to the butcher. After a 10-minute survey of major topics, partly shared with the other customers, Gianni asked me what I’d be cooking for lunch. “Liver alla veneziana,” I replied. “If I give you the pancetta, Mrs. Hazan, and my recipe, will you try it my way?” “Pancetta?” My curiosity was roused. “Sure,” I said. Later, with the pancetta—which in Venice is smoked, like bacon—and Gianni’s instructions, we were at table with a version of fegato alla veneziana that we all liked even more than the familiar one.

The basic ingredients, calf’s liver and smothered onions, are those of the traditional recipe, but in this one the onions are cooked first with bacon and later with white wine. The final touch of parsley is also new to the dish. With this, as with any sautéed liver, it is vital to cook the liver briefly at very high heat so that it doesn’t acquire that flaccid consistency and vapid, steamed taste characteristic of slow-cooked liver.

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Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups onion sliced very fine
  • ¼ pound bacon, sliced somewhat thick, if possible, and cut into narrow strips
  • pounds calf’s liver, sliced thin (about ¼ inch thick)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • Salt
  • Black pepper in a grinder
  • 2 tablespoons parsley chopped fine

Method

  1. Choose a 10- to 12-inch lidded sauté pan or skillet and put into it 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the sliced onion, and the bacon strips. Cover and turn on the heat to medium low.
  2. Let the onion cook down slowly, stirring it from time to time, until it becomes colored a pale brown and is considerably reduced in volume. At the beginning the onion may throw off some liquid, but when done the only liquid left in the pan should be the oil and some of the bacon’s dissolved fat. The bacon should be well cooked, but not crispy.
  3. When the onion and the bacon are done, transfer them to a bowl, using a slotted spoon or spatula.
  4. Remove all the thin, tough skin that may still be attached to the liver, but take care not to break up the slices.
  5. Put the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, raise the heat to high, and put in as many of the liver slices as will fit flat, without overlapping.
  6. Cook the liver at very high heat in the uncovered pan. When one side of the slice has lost its raw red color, turn it, and when the other side has done the same, transfer the meat to a platter.
  7. When all the liver slices are done and out of the pan, return the previously cooked onion and bacon to the pan, add the white wine, sprinkle with salt and a few grindings of pepper, stir, and cook at medium-high heat until all the wine has evaporated. As the wine evaporates, stir with a wooden spoon, scraping loose any cooking residues from the bottom of the pan. If the liver on the platter has thrown off some juice, add this juice to the pan.
  8. When all the liquid in the pan save for the fat has evaporated, put the liver slices back in the pan. Add the chopped parsley, turn the liver over quickly 2 or 3 times, then transfer the liver with all the contents of the pan to a warm platter and serve at once.

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