chicken livers with leeks and white wine
when i went home for the weekend, mum gave me a copy of my grandmother's cookery book from 1939. i've had my eye on it for a while now but never wanted to ask - i know it has sentimental value for mum because of the handwritten notes in the margins, left by my granny when she could still do these things. even so, i secretly hoped i would get it eventually. and this weekend, because it was my birthday, i did.
CHICKEN LIVERS WITH LEEKS AND WHITE WINE
it's an enormous book, over 700 pages, with chapters on everything from soups, making jam, to vegetarian food ("vegetarian diet should be done only occasionally and when there is a good medical reason for doing so"). the paper is yellowing and crumbling slowly in corners, and the whole thing smells faintly of sugar and old age - as if you left a library in a kitchen - and a bit like i remember my grandmother's kitchen smelling when i was little. some of the pages are torn, and the whole thing had to be re-bound by mum in sarajevo.
i found inside a forgotten, folded sheet of A4 paper, written in my grandmother's awkward cyrillic handwriting in faded blue ink. it was obviously the beginning of a shopping list and all it says is 1) HAM. but what granny loved doing best is a making seriously complicated and seriously rich cakes - the kind that start with half a pound of butter and sugar each, and twelve eggs - so the section on 'tortes' is the most obviously well-thumbed.
my grandmother was also diabetic and it was diabetes that killed her.
i spent the entire flight back to london reading the recipes. they belie a different era, one in which chickens had to be killed and plucked, in which lard was the cooking grease of choice, and where every housewife worth her salt knew how to joint a piece of meat or whip up a filo pastry as thin as cigarette paper.
i was itching to get cooking. the first recipe i picked (no index at the back so you really do have to read the whole thing) was for chicken liver with leeks, solely because i've had five leeks in the fridge for days, if not weeks, and they needed using up.
like many old cookery books, this is pretty vague about both quantities and cooking times. pretty rubbish for beginners but, not to flatter myself because things still do go spectacularly wrong, i do love this kind of cooking. it feels free and even if you make a mistake, so what - you can at least claim the final thing as your own. but because of that, i suppose i can't say that what i ended up with was authentic.
to be honest, i didn't have high hopes for this when i started. after all, it's just leeks and a bit of offal. the livers gets cooked for a while, which is different from how i usually have them (seared and still pink in the middle), which also worried me a little.
but my word, this was good. really good. so good i went back for second helpings. the sweetness of the leeks, the slightly sour, acid taste of the wine, and the meaty gravy released from the livers were all perfect. i'd urge anyone to make it, it's very tame for an offal dish though i know some people don't like the texture (it's the best bit, if you ask me).
CHICKEN LIVERS WITH LEEKS AND WHITE WINE
250g chicken livers
4 or 5 leeks, sliced into rounds the thickness of pound coins
a teaspoon of paprika (i used hot paprika which i don't think is very hot at all)
a glug of white wine (100ml or more)
1tbs chopped parsley
fry the leeks in a pan with some olive oil until soft but not brown. this should take around ten minutes. add the chicken livers, the paprika, most of the parsley and the seasoning and fry for five minutes or so, until the livers are almost cooked. add the wine and let most of it evaporate. you will end up with a thinnish sauce - if it's not liquid enough, add a little hot water. continue cooking for another 5 or 10 minutes but no longer than that as i suspect the liver will end up tough. sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve. i had it with some braised spinach and boiled asparagus.