Back in Sprecher's kitchen, Holzgang chides her daughter (as only a mother can) for not cutting the onions properly and instructs her to dredge the liver in flour seasoned with salt and pepper while she cuts a new onion the right way (more sliced, less chunked).
"You want the [raw] liver to be dark pink or red but not brown," said Holzgang. "You slice the liver [lengthwise] but not too thin or you lose the taste. The flour keeps it from drying out."
Another cooking tip, from Birrane of Dulaney Valley courtesy of her grandmother, is to prep the liver by trimming the congealed "hard areas" and soaking it in milk to remove some of the metallic "organ taste." Some cooks saute apple slices with the onion.
Holzgang prefers to not fry the liver in the bacon fat as many do. Instead, she used a second pan just for the liver, frying it less than 15 minutes until "faintly pink on the inside."
"A hint of pink," quipped Sprecher, a joker. "The thought of pink."
Holzgang declared the liver "Perfecto!" and ladled the bacon and onions atop each portion. Sprecher served it by candlelight in the dining room with sides of asparagus spears and chunked potatoes baked in the oven with onion soup mix and vegetable oil.
As mother and daughter dug in, Sprecher's husband, Stephen Sprecher, sat down to a plate piled high with chicken wings slathered in hot sauce. His distaste for liver is intense, and when he's out of town on business, he makes his wife promise that if she cooks liver she will grill it outside so it won't stink up the house.
Enjoying a tender mouthful, Sprecher said, "The worst thing you can do to liver is dry it out."
To which her husband replied, "The worst thing you can do is eat it."
Zelma Meyer Holzgang's Old Hamilton liver & onions
Makes six servings
1 pound of calves’ or “baby beef” liver, sliced lengthwise to less than a half-inch
8 to 10 bacon slices, cut in half
1 medium onion, sliced into rings
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of salt
Heat oil on stove in skillet (cast iron preferred). In second skillet, begin frying bacon (use this skillet only for the bacon). Lightly dredge liver in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown on each side — about four minutes total — so the center retains a pink hue. Remove from pan and pat with paper towel. Saute onion in liver skillet until clear.
For gravy, spoon excess flour — one tablespoon at a time — and a little water into liver skillet with onion until desired consistency. Return liver to pan, cover and simmer for another 10 or 12 minutes. When bacon is crisp, spoon onions and gravy on top of each portion of liver and top with bacon.
Serve with steamed asparagus spears and potato of choice.
—Recipe courtesy of Zelma Meyer Holzgang