Although it might not seem like it, eggs and livers are a perfect combination.

, Star Tribune file

Secret ingredient gives eggs a mysterious bite

  • Article by: MARK BITTMAN
  • New York Times
  • January 2, 2013 - 3:07 PM


When I asked Frank DeCarlo -- the chef at Peasant in New York City, and a friend -- to show me a big-flavored, funky, simple dish that he loved, he suggested a chicken liver frittata.

My mouth watered. Liver and eggs isn't a common combination, but it's one I've known and have been fond of; I especially remember a breakfast in Turkey of nothing but those two ingredients a few years ago.

Frank's version is more complicated than that -- although it takes only 10 minutes or so -- and even contains what he calls a "secret ingredient."

That ingredient is dry vermouth, which can be best described as white wine with a bunch of unnamed herbs and spices in it; in other words, an alcohol-based seasoning blend. Adding it to the eggs at the last minute keeps the eggs moist and adds a mysterious flavor. Frank remembers his mother cooking this dish, but later saw it prepared in parts of the Piedmont, the region of Italy centered on Turin, and the home of vermouth.

There is not an element of this dish that doesn't make sense, yet it's an uncommon little combination: browned onions, sage, Parmesan, liver, eggs, oil.

The odd thing is that it's not a frittata but simply scrambled eggs with livers. When I asked Frank why he described it as a frittata, he said it could be made either way.

"You can fry the onions and livers and then pour the eggs over and bake like a frittata, but I like it with the eggs soft-scrambled even more," he said.

Like almost all scrambled egg dishes, this is lightning-quick.

There are some subtleties, however. The onions should not become too soft but should brown at the edges and crisp up a bit, which means the initial heat should be high.

Having now made this a couple of times, I think the best herb -- not essential, but nice -- is sage; finely minced rosemary or thyme are also good, and I can't imagine that tarragon would be otherwise.

Frank said that any liver is good here, and I don't doubt it, but chicken livers are ideal, especially if you refrain from overcooking them. When cooked correctly, their creaminess is astonishing in contrast to their intense flavor; this, of course, is true of foie gras, as well.

(I know that those of you who hate liver have already stopped reading; those remaining obviously get it.)

The most time-consuming part of this dish is cooking the onions. By the time you add the eggs and vermouth you can practically turn off the heat; a few turns of the spoon and the dish is done. I would do this dish in a nonstick pan unless you have learned how to keep scrambled eggs from sticking on other surfaces; I, for the most part, have not. The addition of Parmesan and a little fresh oil finishes things off beautifully.

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