Do you love liver? Can't get it at home? Do you enjoy good talk around the table? Then get yourself over to the Liver Club. Actually, the Liver Club of Washington, DC, doesn't have a clubhouse. And it doesn't have any bylaws. It's just a group of men who love calf's liver and get a great deal of pleasure out of sitting down together at a restaurant and eating the delicacy.
"This is one of the rare ways that men can get together in Washington, without leaning on their professional connections," says John Neubauer, a free-lance photographer who founded the unofficial club, known officially by its members as Le Fraternite d'Amis du Foie de Veau (the Fraternity of Friends of Calf Liver).
"There's something very special about getting together to do something fun -- and a little different," says Neubauer.
Different, yes. Whoever heard of a Liver Club? But for men who can't get liver at home -- because their wives don't like it and don't cook it -- the Liver Club is a natural.
The men pick an evening and meet at a restaurant they've chosen ahead of time. The chef and Neubauer will have gone over the special menu. The liver will be served after drinks and the first course.
The January meeting was held at La Brasserie restaurant on Capitol Hill, where 14 members ate Liver with Red and Black Currant Sauce and tossed out compliments -- "great," "terrific," "wonderful." These men know and appreciate good liver.
The chef was Gaby Aubouin, a Frenchman and chef at the French Embassy for seven years before buying La Brasserie. "This recipe," he said, "is a variation on the liver dishes that I have on the menu. I make it with apples, oranges, strawberries or raspberries. John Neubauer had it with strawberries and loved it. You must have the calf liver -- very fresh." He emphasizes the word fresh.
"The secret of this recipe," said Aubouin, "is to cook the liver very quickly in walnut oil. Walnut oil does well under high temperatures, and it gives the liver a crispy coat. I cook it very briefly, just enough to keep the liver pink inside."
In his restaurant kitchen, Aubouin bent over each plate and poured a glaze to cover it. Then he arranged the slices of liver in a three-pointed star, and spooned the currant sauce around the edges. He garnished it with swirls of sweet potato pure'e from a pastry bag. Within seconds, a waitress whisked the creation off to the Liver Clubbers, and the eating began.
"It's in the presentation," said Aubouin. "It makes a beautiful dish."
The Clubbers agreed.
On that night, the men who gathered included writers, business executives, a government worker, an electronics engineer, an insurance broker and a photographer. But they didn't talk business. "It's great to get together and not discuss hospitals or health," said Jack Owen, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association. "This is a fun group -- no business. Just a chance to talk about anything."
The Liver Clubbers also like the opportunity to sample different restaurants. Owen said, "We get the chance to try out the restaurants and see which one serves the best liver in Washington. I order liver when I'm out, because my wife doesn't cook it at home."
"I've eaten liver -- probably in almost every restaurant in Washington," said Owen. "The Maison Blanche, 209 1/2, and Normandie Farm in Potomac -- all serve it traditionally with onions. At La Colline, they do it with chopped celery, onions and green vegetables. La Maree serves a wonderful calf liver with raspberry pure'e. And the Hunter's Inn in Potomac does liver with bacon in a red wine sauce."
Early members of the club remember a Spanish restaurant, Torremolinos, where the chef brought the whole, raw calf's liver out on a platter to the table.
"The liver was probably two feet long," said Alex Berry, owner of a graphic design and marketing firm. "Everyone in the restaurant was looking at us. One of the club members, who's Spanish, brought along a film crew and it was recording the whole thing. Then the chef went back in the kitchen and cooked the liver. He used a 200- or 300-year-old Castilian recipe, breading the liver. Afterwards, he came out and sang to us."
Torremolinos has since closed down, but the men have other favorite spots: La Brasserie and La Chaumiere in Georgetown. "The managers know us and there's a real 'fun' feeling in the kitchen when they're cooking liver for us," said Neubauer.
The chef at La Chaumiere serves them calf's liver sauteed in butter, parsley, red wine vinegar and shallots. At Martin's Tavern in Georgetown, they're offered charcoal-grilled calf's liver with saute'ed onions.
Camaraderie and liver. That's how the Liver Club started.
"Alex and I discovered we both liked liver and our wives hated it," said Neubauer. "When Nancy or Mary traveled, Alex and I would go out to dinner and both end up ordering liver. Then a neighbor of Alex's, Ike Kershaw, heard about it. He asked if he could come along next time. So we had a threesome. At the time, I said, really joking, 'Gee, maybe I could form a club.' It was all in fun. Then we added some other men, so we were seven or eight. Pretty soon, others were coming up to us in restaurants and saying, 'This is wonderful. Can I join you?' And I said, 'Do you like liver? Come on.' "
That was five years ago and since then, the club has grown to about 25 members. The chief requirement is that you like liver. "And you've got to have personality," said Neubauer. "We don't want dull people. Ego people are wonderful. It's great to get everyone together with strong egos and see how they bounce off each other.
"There are no rules to this club," he said. "There's no membership fee. We've talked about having a Black Tie Liver Dinner with the chairman wearing a red ribbon!" He smiled. "This is hokey stuff, all good-humored, all meant to be fun.
"The only requirement," he said, "is that everyone eat liver."
And be a male. The Liver Club does not allow women.
"With women," said Neubauer, "The macho thing comes out. We don't want that. We just want to get together as men. In Washington, men have a hard time meeting men as friends. Our club is a chance to do that."
When the Liver Clubbers are not eating together, some are cooking liver at home. But not without reaction from their mates. "When I make liver," said Kershaw, an advertising executive, "my girl runs out of the room. She hates liver."
Berry's wife is a little more courageous. "Mary has tasted all my liver dishes," he said. "But she just doesn't like liver. You know, I don't cook liver the way my mother did, until it was black. I saute' it rare, the French and Italian way. I cook it over very high heat for a very short time."
Paul Harris, Washington bureau chief for Variety, cooks liver at home. "I cook liver with onions. My wife is not a big liver eater."
Neither is John Tyers' wife. He cooks liver with bacon and onions. "I buy my liver at specialty grocery stores, just to make sure it's fresh. Next time, at home, I'm going to try Liver Piccata, with vermouth and capers."
Many people acknowledge that liver is good for them as a source of protein, iron, vitamin B and trace minerals, but they can't eat it because they hate the taste. That never happened to clubber Michael Hobbs. "I liked liver, as a child," he says. I know you're not supposed to. Maybe that's what appeals to people in this club. There's a certain perversity about enjoying liver."
As Kershaw said, "Liver is like buttermilk. You either love it or hate it. We love it." GABY AUBOUIN'S LIVER WITH RED AND BLACK CURRANT SAUCE (La Brasserie Restaurant) (6 servings) FOR THE SWEET POTATO PUREE: 2 medium sweet potatoes 1 tablespoon sweet butter Dash of salt and pepper FOR THE GLAZE: 1 1/2 cups veal stock 1/2 teaspoon honey Pinch of cardamom FOR THE LIVER: 3 pounds very fresh calves liver, cut into 18 serving pieces 4 to 6 tablespoons walnut oil 1 cup chopped parsley Ground sea salt to taste Freshly ground pepper to taste Few drops raspberry vinegar FOR THE SAUCE: 1 pint red currants 1 pint black currants 2 tablespoons sweet butter Sugar to taste
Make the pure'e: Boil potatoes, skin, pure'e and strain. Add butter, salt and pepper. Keep warm. Put into pastry tube.
Make glaze by cooking all ingredients for 15 minutes in a pan. Keep warm.
Remove membrane and veins from liver. (Ask your butcher to slice the fresh calves liver very thin, about 1/4 inch.) Heat a thin layer (about 2 to 3 tablespoons) of walnut oil in a skillet until very hot. Add 6 pieces of liver, 1/3 of the parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for less than a minute, on each side. The liver should be pink inside. Repeat twice with remaining oil, liver and seasonings. At the last moment, deglaze the skillet with a few drops of raspberry vinegar.
Spoon a little of the warm glaze all over the bottom of each person's plate. Arrange the liver on top of it -- 3 slices per person -- in the form of a 3-pointed star.
Make the sauce by heating all ingredients in a pan for 1 minute.
Heap the sauce around the slices of liver and top with dollops of sweet potato pure'e. JOHN TYLER'S LIVER AND ONIONS (6 servings) 1 pound bacon 6 tablespoons butter 6 tablespoons olive oil 3 pounds fresh calves liver, whole Flour for dusting liver 5 medium onions
Fry the bacon and drain all but a little of the grease. Put bacon in a slow oven to keep warm. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet. Lightly coat the liver with flour. Fry in the oil and butter for less than a minute, on each side, depending on how rare you want it. In a separate skillet, fry the onions in remaining 4 tablespoons butter and 4 tablespoons oil. Drain if desired. Slice the liver and cover with the bacon and onions. LIZ AND TOM WARNOCK'S LIVER WITH CARAMELIZED BACON (6 servings) 1 1/2 cups raw (turbano) sugar 1 pound lean, thick-sliced bacon 1 1/2 pounds calves liver, sliced into 6 pieces, 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick 1/2 cup flour Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 6 tablespoons lightly salted butter plus extra for greasing 1/2 cup chopped shallots 1 clove of garlic, peeled 1/2 cup raspberry vinegar 1 tablespoon course ground mustard 1/2 cup chopped parsley
Spread sugar on a cookie sheet. Press both sides of the bacon into the sugar to coat it evenly and heavily. Put bacon on buttered cake rack with a clean cookie sheet underneath. Bake 15-20 minutes in a 375-degree oven, until crisp and caramelized. Remove from rack immediately and place on a clean cookie sheet to cool. (Don't use paper towels -- they stick to the bacon.)
Remove membrane and veins from liver. Blend flour, salt and pepper. Dip liver in flour. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add liver and saute' 2 minutes on each side, or according to taste. Liver should be medium-rare. It tastes best that way. Remove liver, put on platter and keep warm in a 200-degree oven.
Add remaining butter and shallots, peeled clove of garlic and vinegar. Saute' over low heat until shallots are soft, about 5 minutes. Discard garlic. Add mustard and parsley. Pour sauce over liver and arrange the caramelized bacon around it.