Chicken liver Ragù

Right, ok, so – you make a slow-cooked, tomato-based pasta sauce, but with chicken livers, and you put some dill in it. Honestly, you probably don’t need to read the recipe now.

Nigel Slater managed to blag a twelve quid paperback onto bestseller lists by filling a couple of hundred pages with “ideas for dinner” that aren’t a whole world sturdier than that. But he’s got the media platform of a kind of chorizo-coated Stephen Fry, and I’m going to have to work a bit harder than that.

This is something I’ve been cooking for years. It’s been through a few iterations, but I think this is the simplest it’s been while I’ve still liked it. The nice part is that because chicken livers cook down pretty readily, you can get to the texture of a painstaking slow-cooked ragù in a fraction of the time. They’re also dirt cheap. The dill is a little twist that freshens up the heaviness of the liver.

I was going to keep this as “exclusive content” for the book, but:

  1. I’ve been making this forever, and quite a lot of people have versions of the recipe.
  2. The book is horribly stalled because I’m shit (and there’s been limited spare daylight hours lately).
  3. I’m bored.

It serves 3-4, and you can put carrot and celery in it if you want to.

Chicken liver raguIngredients:

  • Chicken livers, 400 g
  • Bacon, 100 g (I use smoked streaky, but it can be overpowering)
  • A tin of tomatoes
  • Onions, 2 medium
  • Garlic, 2-4 cloves as dictated by your moral compass
  • Red wine, 250 ml (I use a light red like Valpolicella)
  • Chicken stock, 200ml
  • Basil, 1 tsp
  • Parsley, 1/4 tsp
  • Dill, 1/4sp (or half a teaspoon if you’re feeling brave)
  • Black pepper, a really sturdy grind

Also some pasta, obviously. And parmesan – gods, we’re not savages.
Herbs are all dried here. Fresh doesn’t add much in this case.


Peel and finely dice the onions and garlic. Chop the bacon. Very finely chop the liver. You almost want to mince it. Yes, this is gross. Try not to think about it.

Fry the onion on a low heat in a little olive oil for 5-6 minutes, until it’s soft with just a little colour. Add the bacon and raise the heat a little. Cook it for a minute or two, and add the liver. Fry this off at a fairly robust heat, stirring to break up any clumps, for another 5-6 minutes, making sure you’ve driven off any liquid and it’s all frying along nicely.

Add everything else, mix it well, and set it on a low simmer for about an hour, or until the liquid is mostly gone and we’re looking at a thick, jam-ish texture.

Chicken liver raguMake pasta happen, put it all together, and get on the outside of it with the rest of that bottle of Valpolicella.

A word on the cooking time. That hour doesn’t really deliver on my promise of a quick pasta sauce, does it?

Well, two things – I will never lie to you about onions, and you can knock a fair bit off it if you need to.

Once it’s had at least twenty minutes to all amalgamate a bit, you can crank the heat up and reduce it hard. Now, I don’t do this, and only in part because I’m a massive gastroponce. The flavour does suffer a bit (I cook mine for closer to an hour and a half) and you’ve got to watch it so it doesn’t burn. But the flavour doesn’t take so much of a hit that you’re fucking the meal up, not by a long way. Basically, you can burn a bit of subtlety for a timely dinner.

Chicken liver ragu

Either way, what you get is pretty deep and rich. The dill lifts the earthiness of the liver, but not so much that it’s not recognizably organpaste. Chicken livers are some of the gentlest bits of offal you can cook with, but they’re still hard-working meat. That’s kind of the point – we’re taking a shortcut to big and heavy flavour, then throwing in the favoured fish herb of the 1980s to gentle it all out.

Oh – I’ve added chorizo to this before, and it’s been tasty. Because chorizo. If you’re going to try it like that, dice the chorizo, maybe using it to replace the bacon, and switch out the dill for some fennel seeds.

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