Yes, It's Liver and Applesauce, But You Have to Try It
As a child, I was an extremely picky eater. I’m talking ridiculously picky: no sauce, no seasoning, no bread, no veggies, no meat, no color, no flavor, no texture, no taste, and no touching, kind of eater (sorry Mommy). So imagine everyone’s surprise when they discovered I loved chicken livers. Maybe it was the way my mom seasoned and fried them, but I couldn't get enough of those creamy little morsels. To this day, I still get funny looks from most people when I express my affinity for liver. As I was buying the container for this recipe at Whole Foods, the cashier reluctantly asked what I was going to do with it and was relieved when I exclaimed, “Fry them!” She explained that she’d been embarrassed in the past for expressing her own love for liver during checkouts only to have a customer once tell her they were being purchased for a dog! Well, if you consider chicken livers dog food, just toss mine in a doggie bowl and call me Fido!
If you've never had chicken liver, or are just generally uninitiated to eating offal (organ meat), you probably have concerns about the taste, or even the texture. First, just to get this out of the way: no, chicken liver doesn't taste like chicken. The taste is actually much richer and more flavorful than most cuts of chicken muscle; it’s decadent, iron-rich, and even a bit sweet. The texture is an amazing quality that really adds to the flavor: smooth and creamy with a fatty mouth-feel. If you already like chicken liver, the pairing with apples may throw you for a loop. However, if you consider that sweetness is a great contrast to rich and savory, as well as thinking about how well apples work with other well-loved, established savory dishes (e.g. pork), it may not seem so far-fetched. To help tie in the two opposing tastes, I incorporated sage, one of the best herbs that enhances both offal and apples. The flavor combination of the rich and savory poultry offal + the sweet apple + the fragrant, pungent sage is well balanced and intriguing to the palate.
The chicken livers in this dish are prepared in a typical Southern-fried style, a method that I use for regular fried chicken: a buttermilk soak and marinade, dredge-wash-shake to coat, then deep fat frying. The dipping sauce cooking method has a rustic applesauce basis where the fruit is broken down over low heat, then seasoned with a few umami-rich additions and pureed until smooth.
When cooking chicken livers, it’s best to start with the freshest batch you can get your hands on (they should be smooth and glossy with no discernible smell). Prepare (“clean”) them by rinsing with cold water, patting dry, trimming off fat and connective tissue, and cutting the lobes into bite-sized morsels. An overnight soak in a buttermilk, garlic and hot sauce marinade helps mellow out any potential bitterness and helps with achieving that wonderful Southern-fried crust. That golden crust is guaranteed to stay intact by dredging the buttermilk soaked meat in flour, dipping it into an egg wash, and then shaking in seasoned flour. A couple of tips to achieving maximum flavor and texture: be sure to be generous in seasoning the flour (you should be able to smell and taste balanced flavors in the raw flour), sprinkle a bit of buttermilk in the flour during shaking (this creates little flour balls that fry up into crunchy bits), and allow the floured meat to sit for 5-10 minutes before frying (this dries the coating and will produce a more even crisping when fried).
The apple dipping sauce has a simple, relatively quick preparation. The main tip is to fry the sage leaves until fragrant before incorporating with the apples. Also, start with small, equal parts of horseradish, chili paste and Dijon mustard when seasoning, and build/adjust the flavoring after everything is blended.