Sweet and sour onions and chicken livers
In the vegetable world, what we source and use in the restaurants changes season to season, sometimes with things we’ve never seen before. Often these are one-offs. Last year, for instance, we started to get celtuce from one of our growers. Celtuce is a kind of stem lettuce, which we blanched and served with sesame oil as a snack. It’s something that I ate in China 20 years ago but that I was cooking in Melbourne for the first time.
For years, not much had changed in the onion world. That was until last year, when the cipollini onion arrived. These sweet little onions are tender and not as astringent as their cousins. They also have a lovely squat shape.
Roasted with butter and salt, you would be pushed to find a better accompaniment to a good steak. They’re also great in braises and stews, and hold their shape pretty well. In this recipe, a shallot could be used if cipollinis can’t be found, but they won’t have the same mouth feel or sweetness.
I’ve probably cooked these onions about 20 different ways now.
I’ve roasted them in their skins, wrapped in foil, which really concentrated their flavour. I’ve steamed them. I’ve poached them in a bollito misto. But I’m convinced this recipe is the best way to cook them – in a Sicilian-style sauce.
When I previously prepared this dish, the inclement weather suggested I serve the onions with some liver. Calves’ liver and onions are one of my favourite things. Sadly, due to the lack of good calves’ livers, I serve it in the restaurant with chicken liver.
With the chicken liver, out of habit I soak them overnight in milk to draw out the blood. Whether this works, I don’t know. It’s one of those things you’re told when you’re a young chef and you just keep doing it.
It does seem to sweeten them a little bit, though. And I’m happy with that.
- 4 tbsp oil
- ½ red onion, finely diced
- 2 sticks celery, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 large tomato, peeled, deseeded and diced
- 1 tsp capers, chopped
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 anchovy fillet, chopped
- 500g cipollini onions, peeled
- chicken or vegetable stock (about 500ml)
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 12 chicken livers
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- In a wide saucepan, heat the oil and cook the red onion, celery and garlic over a low flame until soft but not coloured.
- Add the tomatoes, capers, sugar, vinegar, bay leaf and anchovy. Simmer for a few minutes to soften the tomatoes and allow the mixture to become saucy.
- Add the cipollini onions and enough stock to cover three-quarters of the way up the onions. Cover the surface of the onions with a piece of baking paper and cook over a very low heat for one hour, or until the onions are very soft (you may need to add a little more stock as they cook).
- When the onions are tender, remove from the sauce and continue to cook the sauce until reduced and quite thick. Stir through the parsley and season the dish with lemon juice and salt to taste.
- Return the onions to the sauce and cover the onions to keep warm while you cook the chicken livers.
- Trim the chicken livers of any connective tissue or fat, then cut the livers in half. Heat the oil in a frying pan big enough to fit all the livers in a single layer. Add the livers and the butter and fry the livers over high heat until they are nicely browned all over. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- To serve, spoon the livers and onions onto a serving dish, and pour over the sauce from the onions.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 8, 2017 as "State of the onion".
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