It’s one of those dishes for which there is little middle ground. People tend to either love it or hate it, and kids, in particular, seem to have an aversion toward this traditional English dish.
This is interesting, because liver and onions is one of those entrées that’s largely defined not by its main ingredient, but by an added ingredient.
The best example of such an entrée would be escargot. It’s probably safe to say that very few people know what cooked land snails taste like because they’re typically dipped in drawn butter (often infused with garlic) prior to consuming. The butter flavor can overwhelm the flavor of the meat.
Likewise, with liver and onions, the flavor of the liver—be it pork, beef or lamb (the latter being the traditional English preparation)—may be overwhelmed by the flavor of the accompanying caramelized onions. Some recipes call for adding bacon to the mix, which further “dilutes” the liver flavor.
It’s kind of like eating a hamburger “with the works.” With the catsup, mustard, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, pickles and cheese competing for the palate’s attention, what chance does the beef patty have?
But back to liver and onions…and wine. Is there a type of wine that pairs well with this dish?
To find an answer, we must “deconstruct” the dish. Since so many people include bacon in their homemade preparations of liver and onions, so shall we.
Bacon, of course, is fatty. Liver, regardless of the animal from which it came, is gamy. And caramelized onions are sweet.
One wine that can mesh with all of these qualities is Syrah, which often possesses a bit of its own gaminess. And if the wine is from Australia (where it’s known as Shiraz) or California, it likely will offer some ripe berry flavor that’s a perfect complement to the sweetness of the onions.
Fortunately, with these assertive flavors in the mix, the saltiness of the bacon is not a negative factor, and its fatty quality and flavor help to bring the dish together.
And let’s be honest: Is there anything that doesn’t taste good with bacon?
Tomorrow: A Syrah/Shiraz-friendly recipe for liver and onions.
A Syrah would also be my first pick, however a large mildly tannic cab would also be a great choice. My syrah favorites are those of the Sangieus wine makers of California, and My cab choice would be a Justin or Earthquake!