How to Make Southern Liver and Onions

Liver might be one of those foods that no amount of ingenuity can make palatable for some, but dusted in flour to give it a crunchy texture then covered in sweet caramelized onions, Southern-style liver is hard to resist. While liver and onions is common to many cultures, in Southern cooking the onions should smother rather than simply garnish the meat.

Start to Finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

Difficulty Level: Beginner


  • 1 stick (4 ounces) butter
  • 2 large onions, peeled and cut into thin rounds
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 pound calf's liver
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken or beef stock
  • ½ cup red wine


Melt half a stick of butter, or a modest sheen of cooking oil, in a skillet over medium heat. Butter is closest to the spirit of Southern cooking and gives the dish the richest flavor.

Transfer the onions to the skillet, sprinkle with the sugar, and saute them for about 15 minutes until the onions turn translucent and caramelized around the edges. Stir the onions occasionally so they cook evenly, bearing in mind that they will reduce noticeably in volume.

Remove the onions from the skillet and leave them to rest in a bowl, uncovered. Shake off any excess oil into the skillet and remove it from the heat.

Lay the liver slices on a cutting board and gently remove the membrane around the edges by nicking beneath it with the tip of a sharp knife, taking care not to tear the meat. While the membrane doesn’t influence the flavor, it turns rubbery during cooking and can make the steaks curl as it shrinks.

Cut any extra large slices down to make each piece roughly the same size, so that cooking times are easier to coordinate. Season the slices with salt and pepper as standard. This being a Southern recipe, though, a little paprika or cayenne pepper wouldn't be out of place, either.

Spread the flour in a flat dish and toss each piece of liver in it to cover the meat. If you marinated the liver, shake off any excess milk first.

Return the skillet to the heat and allow it to reach the point where the remaining oil shimmers. Add a little extra butter or oil if necessary.

Lay the liver steaks one by one in the skillet, cooking in batches so that each slice has plenty of space. In a too-crowded pan, the meat will steam rather than fry and the flour will turn soggy instead of crisp. Move the pieces as they finish cooking to rest on a plate while the others fry.

Fry each slice for about 2 minutes, just enough to brown the surface. Turn and brown the other side for 2 minutes. At this point, the liver will still be pink and bloody on the inside.

Lower the heat, return all the liver slices to the skillet, and cover the lot with the fried onions. Allow the liver to cook on a low heat for no longer than 5 minutes or the meat will turn tough.

Remove the liver from the skillet and serve hot with mashed potatoes or rice.

Make a Gravy

Put the skillet back over low-to-medium heat, add the remaining butter, and free up any scraps of onion or liver sticking to the surface with a wooden spoon as the butter melts.

Add around ½ cup of the dredging flour and stir it into the foaming butter until it forms a roux. Stir the paste attentively to prevent burning. Slowly pour in the chicken or beef stock once the roux has thickened, pouring with one hand and stirring the roux vigorously with the other.

Finish off what is now a gravy with a half cup of red wine, and add a few of the cooked onions to give the sauce some body.

Plate the liver and onions, remove the gravy from the heat, and pour it on top while it’s still hot.