I’ve been working on a dish without a name. For a while I didn’t even realise that I was working on it – it just started to coalesce in the menu items I was creating for the forthcoming weeks. It is a salad of sorts, but it is based on a pretty robust meat element. I’m still getting my head around how to tell you about it, without writing several iterations of recipes. The main component of it is grapefruit.
I used to hate grapefruit. Then again, I used to hate marmalade, and I found myself buying a jar of that this week too. A person’s palette changes as they get older, hence some flavours are often seen as being more grown up than others. I used to hate mushrooms, but I grew out of that quite quickly.
I love to cook duck with fruit, but usually just as a sauce. This time around I decided to create a duck salad dish to complement the seasonably hot weather we were having. I wasn’t happy with any of the usual fruit combinations I associate with duck: cherries, orange or redcurrant. Grapefruit just took a hold and refused to let go. The idea of having segments of juicy grapefruit with a juicy duck breast seemed like a good match to me. The excess juice would form a bright dressing for the salad.
The dish was close enough to being a success to try and replicate it a few weeks later. Only this time I did not want it to be with duck. That’s a lie: I had forgotten that the original dish had been done with duck until I started writing this blog. That has more of a logical consistency to its basic design.
What I was designing was a liver dish. My partner had been pregnant for what was by then seeming like a lifetime to both of us, and pregnancy means avoiding lots of lovely food: sushi, ripe cheeses and liver. Most of those things don’t bother most people, but we like offal in our house, and liver is one of our favourite meals. Especially when we have a pound of fresh Northumbrian lamb’s liver sitting in the freezer, taken from a beautiful Herdwick Hogget from my partner’s family’s farm.
She was dying to have it and I was dying to do something worthwhile with it. Normaly this would mean some rather simple cookery, along with some well-prepared vegetables, mashed potato and a good gravy. The big barrier to that was the heat of the summer. We needed a summery dish with which to celebrate the liver we had, and my half-remembered duck recipe got a high five from me.
Ok, so pairing some really good lamb’s liver with grapefruit and salad may seem tantamount to heresy in the eyes of some people, but they don’t live in this house. I knew that the liver would be quite rich, as the meat that it had come from was all very compact and bold. My supposition was that a good thwack of citrus acidity would do that richness the world of good. I was correct in that.
I started by assembling a salad of beans and parsley, with plenty of salt and a finely chopped red onion. I knew that the freshness of the allium would help season the grapefruit juice and aid it in cutting through the richness of the liver. The duck had not had such a complicated salad: leaves and carrot, wilted by the acid of the citrus, seasoned with salt and a hint of garlicky chilli sauce. The liver deserved a bigger canvas to perform on. Borlotti beans would add an earthiness to the whole dish.
This was only the second time I had segmented a citrus fruit, so I was still a little wary. The idea of pulling a sharp blade close to one’s hand seems anathema after years of assiduously doing the precise opposite of just that. Just make sure to steer clear of the fingers and you’ll be fine.
I started by cutting the skin from the fruit, but I am not experienced enough in this task to remove only skin, so a few lumps of flesh came with it. They were squeezed in to the dressing, so not a drop of that acerbic juice would be wasted. The same applied to what remained of the fruit after the segments had been removed. It left a lot of flesh around the pith; flesh which could be squeezed in to the dressing. What remained was a limp ball of ugly looking white matter in my stinging hands.
Grapefruit, salt, pepper and a splash of good olive oil were all of the dressing I needed, so I added it in to the parsley, beans and onion and stirred well. That could sit for a while, so as to give the juice time to attack the stalks of the parsley. It would add a pleasant pickle to the onion, too. Liver time.
I had chopped the thick slices of liver in to cubes, and dusted the lot with heavily seasoned flour: I had added in garlic powder, paprika and mustard powder, to give the whole thing a solid kick. It had sat to one side while I was messing about with fruit, and the flour coating had gone all sticky and red, making the liver look less appetising than usual. Hot oil in a wok, and push the floury liver in.
Liver doesn’t take too much cooking. It will also tell you when it is done. Get the outside crispy and brown on all sides, and let it sit there for a bit. If it is not cooked yet it will be squishy to the touch, and it will bleed. Flip it over and keep cooking. There should be no sign of flour on the final result.
I suppose it was Cyprus where I had got my taste for grapefruit; post meal gratitude from one of the restaurants we went to included a bowl of soaked grapefruit segments: our daughter hated them, so we fought over her bowl. They weighed heavily on my mind from then on, begging to come for tea.
A plate full of leaves, topped with the dressed beans. Scatter the livers on top and set the segments of grapefruit in to the gaps. It’s an appealing plate of food, but hardly restaurant quality. The taste is all rather dependent on the quality of the grapefruit which is available: The UK will never be as good as Cyprus, when it comes to grapefruit, but we coped. My partner certainly seemed to enjoy the dish, even though she had been less than convinced when I had reluctantly told her about it. I was less convinced: it was good, but it would need more work. Like I said, I’m working on a dish.