Calf's Liver with Gin, Lime and Apricot Jam

This is another step on my nostalgic journey through the past looking for the recipes and types of cooking that I've neglected or forgotten so far in this blog. This time we're back in the 1980s again for a style of British cooking that was based on classic cuisine but was a bit eccentric and purposefully never trendy. It also tended to be upmarket and expensive and so copying it at home was pretty much my only option. This dish is based, rather loosely, on a recipe by the indomitable John Tovey.

The combination of liver, gin, lime and jam may sound like an outlandish notion now but back in the 1980s it didn't seem strange at all. There were certainly buckets of gin around back then but, with some noteworthy exceptions, I think they tasted pretty similar to each other. You can't go about your daily business these days without falling over a craft gin or three (and I'm all for that) but I wouldn't choose a modern gin that's too exotic in its flavour here. I thought about using Monkey 47 since it's such a very fine drink but I remembered its price and decided to use the always dependable Bombay Sapphire instead. But any good London dry gin will do.

Calf’s Liver with Gin, Lime and Apricot Jam
The sauce for this dish is made first and I think that makes the preparation a little bit easier and less time critical. This will serve 2 people, although the amount of liver you use will depend on your appetite and preferences. Typically, a portion of calf's liver will vary between 100 and 150g per person, but that's only a guide.

Butter for frying (you don't have to use butter but it does make a difference to the flavour)
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
The juice of 2 limes and the zest of 1
1 tbsp apricot jam (if your limes are large, then add an extra ½ tbsp of jam)
200 ml beef stock
1 - 2 tsp cornflour (if you want to thicken the sauce)
1½ tbsp gin
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Calf's liver in thinnish slices (about 250g for 2 people, I'd suggest)

Fry the shallot gently in a little butter without letting it take on any colour (I'm not sure that Mr Tovey would agree with ‘a little’ but times have changed). Once the shallot is soft, stir in the lime juice and zest, the apricot jam and the beef stock. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve and discard the solids. Return the liquid to the pan. It will probably still be a little thin for a classic sauce and so mix the cornflour with a little water before stirring into the sauce. Cook the sauce gently for 2 -3  more minutes but don't let it boil. Stir in the gin and whisk in the mustard.

Taste the sauce and adjust the flavours as you see fit. If the taste is too sharp, then whisk in a little extra jam. If it's too sweet, then add a small dash of wine vinegar. If you think it needs a little extra savoury kick, then add a dash of Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup. Keep the sauce warm while you cook the liver.

Season the calf's liver with salt and pepper. Fry the liver in a little butter until done to your liking. Please don't overcook it, though; I think 2 minutes per side is usually enough unless your slices are particularly thick. Serve immediately with the sauce. 

Some simple green veg goes well with this dish and, personally, I like a little bit of mashed potato as well.


  1. I love liver, especially calf and lamb's, but haven't seen calf's liver since we lived in France. This sounds an interesting way of serving it, sweet and sour? I agree with you, overcooking liver ruins it.

    1. This is definitely a sweet and sour style of sauce but quite a savoury one with the gin adding the touch of juniper spice. I can still find calf's (or calves, let's not get into that discussion) liver in some supermarkets and at the local butchers but I must admit that it was much easier to find, say, 25 years ago. I don't know if that means we've got less adventurous in what we eat or if it's just less fashionable now.

  2. Interesting recipe, Phil. I can see how gin, apricot and other flavors would complement the taste of the liver nicely. Reminds me that I haven't had a calf's liver in ages...

    1. That was true for me as well. For some reason calf's liver isn't as high on my list as it once was and there's no good reason for that.

  3. We are fans of liver in this house and usually buy lamb's liver. However, we are currently chez nous in France and I'm sure I've seen calve's liver for sale locally. I shall look out for it and give your recipe a try, it looks delicious!

    1. This is not a very French style of sauce for calf's liver but I 'm sure that it should be possible to get hold of calf's liver fairly easily unless the good people of Lyon have eaten the entire supply of French liver and I wouldn't put it past them.

  4. Phil, I think I've told you before I'm not a liver (or any organ meat) fan, but I must say, if ever I was going to be tempted to try it, *this* would be the recipe! I wonder how this sauce would be with chicken breast or thigh or pork tenderloin.

    1. That's a very interesting thought. I think the sauce could suit a different cut of meat, although I haven't tried it. I think pork tenderloin might be the best candidate and the sauce might need a little tweaking but it's definitely worth a try. That's definitely one for my to do list.


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