Just hear me out: Chicken livers.
Wait, come back! Let me try again: Chicken livers! Consider this: Chicken livers are super cheap, super fast to cook and super nutritious. They're also — stay with me — delicious, rich and silky. If you're trying to cut down on red meat but like meaty things, the answer is chicken livers. If you like things that taste fancy but cost $1.99 a tub, the answer is also chicken livers.
I grew up on the chicken livers, blissfully unaware of how divisive they are — until the fateful day I heard the phrase, "What am I, chopped liver?" It was like asking, "What am I, bread?" Hold up, was this a bad thing?
In adulthood, I have found it difficult to bring others into the fan club. Nobody wants to come over for chicken livers. Nobody wants to order a plate of chicken livers for the table. Mostly.
Fortunately, southern cooking has a healthy respect for this humble food, which is showcased nowhere better than in classic dirty rice. When I talked to Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano earlier this year about their new book "Black, White, and The Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant," I asked about how the dish is served there and how a home cook can turn traditional dirty rice into "Quick & Dirty" rice.
In the book, Bailey recommends soaking your livers overnight in milk in the fridge. "You don't have to," she says. "You're just going to get a more intense iron kind of flavor." She does advise, however, "If you're trying to convince someone to like chicken livers, then you should soak them."
Then there's the matter of the dish's use of the Cajun "holy trinity" — celery, green pepper, and onion. I happen to have very strong anti-green pepper sentiments, so I asked Bailey about substitutions. "I like that bitterness of them," she said. "But you can use red bell peppers, and I think that you can use green onion. That'll give you a sweeter rice, but it won't set it off too much. It will not be a true trinity, though."
My "Quick & Dirty" rice is far from authentic, but it's really good — savory and complex and comforting. I flout the trinity with pre-cut mirepoix mix from the supermarket — onion, celery and carrot. I don't chop my liver very finely either, because I love the distinctive flavor I get from big bites. Bailey's recipe calls for brandy and gumbo filé, which infuse the dish with a singular flavor. But I don't keep either of those things on hand. Instead, I rely on cayenne and red wine.
I think of this as an homage to the simple dinners my grandmother used to make from leftover rice and livers accumulated one by one from whole chickens, a meal that gratefully borrows elements from the iconic southern dish. You could do likewise with the flavors of your own family rice recipes, improvising for a comfort food dinner that comes together in minutes.
Just don't leave out the livers themselves. I promise, they're a taste worth acquiring.
Recipe: "Quick & Dirty" Dirty Rice
Inspired by Mashama Bailey and "Black, White, and The Grey"
- 2 cups of cooked long-grain white rice (Chinese food leftovers work well here.)
- 8 ounces of chicken livers, patted dry and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of butter (Add more, if needed.)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red pepper, green onion, carrot or green pepper (You choose!)
- 1⁄4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 2 cloves of minced garlic (Use more or less to taste.)
- A healthy pinch of Cajun seasoning or cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup of red wine, your choice (It won't kill the vibe to substitute a splash of white if that's what you've got.)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Over medium heat in a heavy pan, melt the butter and sautée the vegetables for about 5 minutes, or until they start to soften.
- Add the chicken livers, cooking 1 to 2 minutes, or until they just brown.
- Add the wine, scraping up all of the browned bits in the pan with a wooden spoon.
- Stir in your spice of choice, then fold in your rice. Make sure everything is warm throughout and well-combined.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve hot from the pan, accompanied with some of that wine.
More Quick & Dirty:
- The best Sunday night comfort meal is rotisserie chicken chili, especially with a pinch of cinnamon
- Cacio e pepe pie is an insanely easy pasta dinner to make on nights when you don't feel like cooking
- A chocolate sandwich tastes exactly as comforting as it sounds — and it's sublime
- The viral feta pasta dish everyone's raving about is even better without pasta
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