Sunday after church meant two things when I was growing up: burning trash and grilling. My uncle worked for Valleydale Sausage in the 80’s, and one of the perks of squeezing pork into casing day-after-day for a decade was receiving rolls of pressed pig and other pig-parts. The part he most prized from the pig was its liver.
The fifth quarter, or butcher’s cut, is offal traditionally kept by the butcher for home cooking. Often inexpensive and always tasty, RVA’s monthly column, Fifth Quarter, offers less-traveled recipes that are both good and offal.
The fourth installment of Fifth Quarter utilizes pork liver, which can be found at Latin groceries for $1 a pound.
Sunday after church meant an afternoon of two things: burning trash and grilling. The piles of trash were usually yard waste, though “accidentally” throwing a polyester something from the nearby clothesline into the 60-gallon drum, raging black smoke, was fun too. Ah, the joys of living in the country, 30 years ago.
My uncle worked for Valleydale Sausage in the 80’s, and one of the perks of squeezing pork into casing day-after-day for a decade was receiving rolls of pressed pig and other pig-parts. The part he most prized from the pig was its liver. He’d unwrap the plump, glistening liver like it was a newborn, cut it in half, and walk next door to the Greek family to trade one half of the liver for caul fat, which they kept in a chest freezer on the back porch… along with frozen carcasses of goats, pigs, and (I suspect) dogs. My uncle freaked out anytime Sarge, his beloved German Shepherd, got loose, and their yard was the first place he looked. The second place was their freezer.
When invited to a BBQ now, I expect hamburgers, hot dogs, steak, chicken, or kielbasa, but not pig liver. And that’s a shame. Fresh pig’s liver is rich, earthy, and flavorful. Taste-wise, it is not as lucullan as cow liver and not as earthy and grainy as chicken liver. Pig liver is the perfect medium for the grill.
Grilled Pork Liver with orange, fennel and bay leaf
(Adapted from a Salem, Virginia meatpacker)
- 2 pounds of fresh pig liver (available at Big Apple Grocery on Jeff Davis), cut into 12 pieces
- 1 lb caul fat (available at Belmont Butcher)
- 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed
- Zest from large orange
- 6 bay leaves
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Serve with crusty bread, salad and a dish of good olive oil.
Clean the caul fat by soaking it in water overnight with the juice from one half of the lemon. Change the water and add juice from the other half of the lemon and soak for a couple of hours more at room temperature. Drain the caul fat, pat dry with paper towels. Divide the caul fat into 12 pieces. You will wrap the caul fat around the liver.
Soak 24 bamboo skewers in water. While the skewers soak, mix the orange zest, salt, pepper and fennel seed together in a bowl. Dip each 1/2-inch thick piece of pork liver in the mixture, top with half a bay leaf, and wrap with caul fat. Insert two bamboo skewers into the pork liver, lengthwise, so that the liver will hold its shape on the grill. Plate the liver and put in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Prepare a charcoal grill with hardwood charcoal. Make sure to light the grill with a paper towel soaked in olive oil, not lighter fluid, which will ruin the taste of the liver.
Once the coals have turned white, put the liver on the grill and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until the caul fat dissolves and the liver strips get crispy. Serve immediately with lemon wedges, bread, dish of olive oil and a large field green salad.