Calves Liver with (or without) Bacon and Onions

Liver and Onions

Liver and Onions

by Cat, May 2008; updated Dec 2013 (photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1. Pottenger’s Liver Cocktail; 2Raw Liver Drink, Raw


Yuk!  Right?

Wrong!  At least if you know what to buy and how to cook it properly.  First, you want the liver of a yearling or younger, as the older the animal, the more toxins will be found in the liver. The most healthful way to eat liver is raw (see Raw Liver Tonics), but that’s too disgusting for many to contemplate.  The next best thing is lightly cooked (rare).

The best beef liver is calves or baby beef liver from a grass-fed, pasture-raised animal.  The liver, as an organ, is a chemical factory, busily detoxifying harmful toxins.  The older the animal, the more toxins in the liver at any given time. Also, the liver from an older animal is fairly tough.  Calves liver costs more, but is so worth it.

Lamb’s liver and buffalo liver are also very good, but I do not recommend pig’s liver unless you raise the pigs yourself and can attest to the age and cleanliness of the animal.

What’s so good for you about liver?  According to Dr. Ron Schmid, all primitive societies prized liver and other organ meats, eating them raw right after killing the animal.  They knew that liver helped to keep their own livers healthy, and was especially important for ensuring healthy offspring.  If you are having problems with your own liver, such as liver toxicity, fatty liver, and so on, raw or rare calves liver could just be your best medicine.  It is also helpful for treating problems with calcium metabolism (symptoms are clogged arteries, arthritis, dental cavities, gall stones, high blood pressure).

I make a practice of preparing a liver dinner at least once a week, and my favorite way is with sautéed onions and bacon.  I serve it with a boiled or steamed Yukon gold potato, some kale, and a colorful veggie like winter squash or beets. 2013 update: I’ve lost my source of grass-fed liver so have not been able to eat it frequently anymore. Boo hoo.

There are also gourmet recipes for calves liver. There used to be a restaurant in my old Portland neighborhood that served lightly cooked liver in a wine sauce that was delicious, but I’ve not been able to duplicate the recipe.

See also The Daily Lipid: How to prepare liver (2), by Chris Masterjohn. He gives excellent advice on how to buy and store liver (in the freezer) until ready to use, and then to marinate in lemon juice or other acidic medium (l use yogurt) to improve the flavor. And of course he recommends only liver from young grass-fed cattle or buffalo.

Calves Liver with Bacon and Onions

This is my own recipe, based on how my Dad used to make this dish.

If pork is not for you, omit the bacon and use more onion and some butter. Also excellent with cooked potatoes, pan-fried in some butter until golden. Makes 2 servings.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • ¼ large onion, sliced
  • 4 – 6 strips Organic bacon (or home-cured)
  • 8 – 12 oz liver slices, about 1/2 inch thick
  • unbleached white flour
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil (plus ½ Tbsp butter if not using bacon)
  • Unrefined sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • small brown bag or bowl (for dredging)
  • cast iron skillet


  1. If desired, the night before you plan to cook the liver, marinate it in an acidic medium like yogurt or lemon/orange juice to remove the off-taste. (2)
  2. Slice onion into thin rings or half-rings.
  3. Cut bacon strips in half.
  4. Dredge liver slices in flour; lightly season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  5. Heat olive oil over medium heat (or olive oil and butter if not using bacon).
  6. Lightly cook bacon on both sides; when almost done, pile on one side of the pan or remove to plate and keep warm.
  7. Add onion to pan and sauté in bacon fat until wilted and just beginning to brown.  Scoot them to the side of the pan or plate with the bacon.
  8. Raise heat to medium-high; add dredged & seasoned liver slices to the pan and cook 30 – 60 seconds on each side.  Do not cook well done, as the liver will get quite tough and lose much of its nutritional value.

Assembly or Serving ideas

  • To serve, make a bed of the onion slices on each plate; lay liver and bacon on top.
  • Serve with a boiled or steamed potato, or mashed potatoes, and a dark green leafy veggie, such as kale or broccoli, lightly steamed or sauteed in oil or butter.  Add cooked or pickled beets, or baked winter squash.
  • If you like to serve with a sauce, remove meat, onions and bacon from pan and keep warm. Add some sherry wine to deglaze the pan. Thicken with tapioca starch or flour, and season with salt and pepper.


  1. Cat’s recipe collection
  2. How to prepare liver:

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1 Response to Calves Liver with (or without) Bacon and Onions

  1. Pingback: The case for organ meats (offal) « The EssentiaList

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