Twenty-seven years ago, my friend Nancy was living in Italy. She'd married an Italian, she was a vegetarian, and she was getting very anemic. Her mother-in-law, a woman named Valeria Giacotti, started getting on her case about eating liver. Liver is incredibly high in iron, and the type of iron found in meat (heme iron) is much easier for your body to use than the kind you find in plants (non heme). (I once had a hemoglobin of six. Normal is twelve, so I know the iron drill.) Nancy was reluctant, so she went to the doctor. He prescribed some low dose iron drops, and then proceeded to order liver and spinach.
As it turned out, Nancy loved it. She now eats every kind of liver there is—beef, chicken, pig, whatever. But her favorite, the most delicate, she says, is rabbit.
Valeria taught her how to make it with sage and garlic, and the other day, Nancy showed me. She starts with a whole rabbit. That up there is the liver. Look how big it is in comparison with the tiny heart!
Once she cut the liver out, she rinsed it in cool water, patted it dry, and sprinkled it with salt. Then she poured about a third of a cup of olive oil into a big cast iron skillet and let it get hot. She sliced in two cloves of garlic, dropped in a handful of sage leaves, and added the liver.
Very quickly, it started to brown around the edges. Nancy says the most important thing about making liver is not to overcook it—you want medium-high heat so that you get some brown crispiness on the outside, but you want the inside to stay pink. It should be medium-rare, she says, and that happens in less than five minutes. You cook it about two minutes on the first side, flip it, add a few last sage leaves for perfume, and turn the heat down to low. Give it another minute and it should be done.
Nancy served us each a plate with half a liver, a pool of oil, and some of the browned garlic and toasted sage.
It was absolutely delicious. We mopped up the oil and herbs with a slice of crusty bread, and we both cleaned our plates. Nancy says she also makes rabbit liver with sautéed onions and a little balsamic-brown sugar glaze, which sounds delicious. Or she roasts a whole rabbit and throws the liver in with the pan juices for the last few minutes.
She gets her rabbits from a farm in Concord, Pete & Jen's Backyard Birds. This year, for the first time, the animals will be raised on pasture! We've got one in our freezer, and I have a feeling the liver will disappear first.
If you're looking for local rabbit (be sure to ask if the liver and other organs are included; they aren't always), check out the list of local farms that sell it over here.
RABBIT LIVER WITH SAGE & GARLIC
When Nancy made this for me, we also cooked the rabbit kidneys and the tiny heart. I liked the liver best, but the other organs were also delicious.
1/3 cup good olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and with the green hearts cut out (Nancy calls this the "anima")
8-10 sage leaves
1 rabbit liver
Warm up the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once it starts to get hot, slice the garlic in, and throw in all but 2 or 3 of the sage leaves. Add the rabbit liver. After a minute or two, it will start to brown around the edges. This means it's time to flip it. Cook it for another minute or so on the other side, then serve hot with a slice of crusty bread and the cooking oil and herbs.