chicken liver and onions

Among many things we quickly discovered about America when we first arrived is that you could buy chicken liver by the pound in plastic containers. In addition to its abundance, it was also shockingly cheap, which worked to our advantage because we were just as shockingly poor. In Russia, the only time you could get your hands on chicken livers would be by buying a chicken, which came with all of its entrails and a few feathers here and there, that you’d be responsible in plucking. This rarity, of course, made it sheer delicacy and would be preserved only for the children’s consumption. They would be the ones with the highest nutritional need, and chicken livers are a great source of iron and hemoglobin.

For me, however, chicken livers meant gagging and disgust – it was one of my most abhorred foods. My mother would fry up some onions, dust the chicken livers in flour and salt and fry that up as well. The resulting dish was then placed before me and my mother, standing akimbo in the kitchen over me, would oversee the torturous and seemingly interminable feeding process. I would, of course, eat the onions and then poke around at the liver. The meal would always end in tears, with my mother finally losing her patience and snapping; and me, scared and nauseous, wailing over my plate.

raw livers

I don’t mean to paint my mother a monster – she certainly was trying her best to make sure I had as much good, wholesome food as possible; and has taught me how to make some of my favorite dishes. I think that I was a very picky eater in my childhood and could pretty much drive the most patient of people crazy. Chicken liver, back then, was my arch-nemesis.

not the most appetizing shot, i know

I don’t know when my palate changed and learned to love chicken livers, but it does now. And I was excited to find out when KS and I started dating, that I found another chicken liver fan as well. I showed him how we made it in my family and he turned around and made the preparation even better. His secret, while the chicken livers are cooking, to periodically add a tiny bit of the flour mixture to places that have become “un-coated” with it. The result, a crispy outside, delicately textured, almost buttery taste. Nothing goes better with it than a plate of freshly fried onions, a tiny dash of good balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt.

1 pound chicken livers, rinsed and patted dry
Olive oil as needed
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Quality balsamic vinegar
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

1. Rinse and drain the chicken livers. Thoroughly pat dry with paper towels and set aside.

2. Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet (preferably cast iron) set over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onions cook, stirring, until the onions start to change color. Season onions with a little salt, decrease heat to low, and cook, stirring from time to time, until onions are caramelized. This can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. Transfer onions to a plate and set aside.

3. Add more oil to the skillet and return to medium-high heat. While oil warms, combine flour, 1 tablespoon of salt, and pepper in a bowl. One by one, dip chicken livers into the flour mix and shake off excess. Place the livers in the skillet – the oil should sizzle, but not too much. Sear the livers until well browned on all sides and are cooked to medium; a pound of chicken livers will take about 8 to 10 minutes, but it all depends on the strength of the flame of your range. Transfer livers to the plate with onions and serve immediately with a little balsamic vinegar and flaky sea salt.


  • clumsy

    I will have to try these. I was never a big liver fan (I used to buy chicken livers to turn into dog treats!) but Jim loves them. I guess my tastes have been changing because now I like calf liver and pate when I didn’t used to, so the next step(thankfully cheaper!) is for me to start liking chicken livers. I hope to make this Sunday, I’ll let you know how it goes. -Robin

  • Olga

    Wow, I too grew up in Ukraine and used to have to eat all of what was served for me. That was funny how you described it and I instantly relived my childhood :) But I do love chicken and beef liver now, and cook it for my American boyfriend. Your way does sound good, with the crispy outside. I will be trying it!

  • jamie

    My dad and I were the only ones who liked liver in our house when I was growing up. These days you often don’t even get the giblets when you buy a whole chicken, so I was delighted to find one gizzard and three livers in my most recent chicken. I will try your recipe. If ever you are in Dalton, Georgia, try the chicken livers at the Oakwood Diner in the downtown. Yum! I hope I can make some that are nearly as delicious.

  • Radish

    Jamie – what a lovely recommendation! I certainly will try if I’m in the area!! And yes, whenever I get livers and gizzards, I am absolutely delighted as well.

  • Chuffed

    I make mine just like this, but I like the leftovers , too – for making a version of Cajun dirty rice or quick, roughly -chopped liver pate for thin slices of sourdough toast…

  • Otto

    I have loved chicken livers from the very first time I ate one ,probably when I was four years old. Fried just like these is the best! I wish I had would have some leftovers to make some pate’, but I seem to eat them all!

  • wedding catering

    I haven’t found a way I like liver yet either-I will give this a shot!
    Try cooking the liver on the rare to medium rare side. Texture is moist and not grainy. Over cooking makes them less palatable. :)

  • olga

    Michael – I need to fix that; you’re right. Odd typo not even sure how that happened and no one pointed it out! Thanks!

  • Terry Shults

    I hope that’s not the BEST reason for coming to the US. BUt I do like chicken livers and use a similar recipe. My mother never made them. All in all, I prefer calf liver, but beef liver only when expertly prepared by someone else. I have liked kidneys, especially lamb, but they are almost impossible to come by where I have lived.

  • alina

    Its funny, how political immigrants from Russia have to trash the country even in a recipe…hope now, that you can buy chicken liver by pounds,you have a great life in USA…

  • olga

    Alina – I’m sorry if you felt that I was trashing the country, but I was only making a remark that you couldn’t separately buy chicken liver. It’s a fact, plain and simple, and if you have ever lived in Soviet Russia and shopped there, you’d know it to be true. If you could please point me to a sentence where “trashing” occurs, I’d be much obliged. Have you read my other Russian recipes, and am I consistent in my trashing? Oh, and thank you, life in the USA has been good. While I personally cannot compare it to that of Russia of my childhood years, I can assure you my life in the US now is far superior to what it would’ve been if I had stayed behind. Thanks.

  • AK

    Contrary to Alina’s comment.. your description of eating liver as a child in Soviet Russia brought back vivid nostalgic memories of exactly the same (including towering mother trying for hours to feed said liver to me). Tonight I was craving some liver (my 7 yr old self is shuddering right now at the thought of willingly eating liver) and found this site. Thanks for the dinner recipe and the memory :)

  • olga

    AK – glad it was a similar (and positive) feeling. Definitely didn’t mean to ruffle any feathers with Alina :-)

  • Bonnie

    This is how my mother made chicken or calves liver when I was a kid. The only thing she added was fried crispy BACON! Some of that bacon fat doesn’t hurt cooking the onions either.

  • mark

    For those that don’t much like the flavor of liver try putting them in some milk overnight.

    Tried this recipe and loved it – thanks for the tip of re-flouring them on the flipside – worked a treat. Had them with some green beans done with bacon and onions too – liver and bacon a combo made in heaven. Now if I could just work some apple in there too?!

  • Barbara

    I LOVE these. Made them last night. They were good for one dinner and two lunches (for a single person) and delicious all times, even reheated (nuked) briefly.

  • Mary Walker

    This came out so nice! And I was soooo craving chicken livers! I like these so much better than the heavily breaded version.

  • Huong

    I love chicken livers & always have even as a child however my husband has such disdain for it that I don’t even make it at our house anymore. I secretly make it when he is not around. I need some clarification, when you say to serve it with balsamic & salt…is that used for dipping or am I put it on the livers and onions? Looking forward to cooking this tonight. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • Brad Cook

    When I was growing up my mom would make chicken and beef liver. I’d eat it because that’s what she cooked. My brother hated it and still does to this day. My mother, we found out in her last years, was not only German but also Russian, Black sea russians, Germans living in Russia. A lot of the foods I grew up with now make sense. Anyway, I’m now 55 and I’m the only one who will eat chicken livers, I love them. My wife makes me cook them outside if she is home. I found a recipe where you pierce the liver and cook it in sauteed ( in butter) with garlic, the flavor goes inside. Delicious. I’ll be adding you to my bookmarks.

  • Michelle

    Googling images of chicken livers and onions-yours looks the yummiest! I simply cannot wait to make them tonight. I love them soooo much but it’s hard to find a decent recipe so I just end up sticking them in the dish with a roasting chicken. For what it’s worth, I didn’t think you’re comments about Russia were disrespectful at all and I commend you for your gracious response. :)

  • Michelle

    Made it last night and it was fantastic! I put a little paprika in the flour but I don’t think it made any difference in the flavor. Added flour when cooking, as suggested-great idea. I used too much oil for the onions so I’m going to watch that next time. We steamed collard greens which went PERFECTLY with the livers. This was one of our top ten best dinners. What do you usually use as a side dish? What would your mom pair with chicken livers when you were a kid in Russia?
    Thanks for sharing. It wasn’t as pretty as your picture but then again, my dishes never turn out like the cookbook photos lol :)

  • AmyK

    Just pulled out some chicken livers to go with some potato vareniki. :) My husband grew up in Soviet Russia and Kazakhstan (where I lived and worked for 20 years.). We get very nostalgic for our favorite foods. I’m looking forward to seeing what memories the livers pull up for hubby tonight. (And we will have a bit of a repeat of me standing over MY 7 yo daughter tonight, to get her to just try a bite! LOL) Thanks for the story and recipe!

  • Philip

    I tried this recipe, I added all spice to the flour mix. And fried the onions with bay cumin and cardamom. Took your husbands trick of adding the flour while it was cooking for extra crunch. I made my onions crispy too. Thanks for sharing.

  • Cynthia

    I know this is an older thread, and I too have enjoyed chicken livers with onions, bacon, garlic and a hit of balsamic, I usually add oregano and fresh basil as well……but there is a second way my mother made them and to this very day, whenever I have livers, I can’t decide which recipe to make. So I thought I would share it with all you fellow chicken liver lovers.

    The recipe calls for the regular onions, and garlic. We’re Italian, garlic is required. The only difference is, I add hot cherry peppers in vinegar. Yes, that’s right. Bottled Cherry peppers in vinegar. If you don’t like hot cherry peppers, you can get the mild. Please try it, I guarantee it will land on your chicken livers recipe list. The peppers really pop the flavor to another level.

  • Tony

    I fried onions and garlic chunks in butter, stirring constantly making sure not to dry or burn them for about 8-10 mins and then did the same with the chicken liver coated in plain flour, salt and pepper for 8-10 mins turning halfway through. It wasn’t a deep-fry and I had to add more butter because it quickly evaporated. Served with plain rice and a side-salad, it was delicious, the butter and flour made the chicken liver palatable. Thanks!

  • Myrtle

    I don’t think matters where you grew up, our childhood experiences with liver are probably universal. However, I did learn to like it very early. My husband won’t touch it, so I usually only order it out. My little sister loves liver and onions so much that she always wanted that as her birthday meal. Hubby is out at the moment, so I’m cooking L&O tonight for myself. Yum!

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