You should have seen me. I was trussed up like a Christmas goose.
I wore a tent-sized apron, and next to my latex swathed hands was a spray bottle of Clorox Clean-up. My hair was tied back, and my glasses were acting as safety goggles. The only reason I wasn’t wearing a face mask is because I freak a wee bit when stuff covers my mouth and nose. But I was drawing infrequent, shallow, nervous breaths.
Bomb disposal or possibly brain surgery, you ask?
Neither; I was burrowing through a plastic container of raw chicken livers to clean and prepare them for dirty rice.
Yeah, I know I’ve always spoken disparagingly about organ meat, and vowed to never eat it. But at the Duke Atrium cafeteria I literally ate my words.
One afternoon I chose what I thought was rice pilaf. Turns out it was dirty rice. I know that traditionally it contains livers and gizzards, but I didn’t see anything that resembled offal — it just looked like a moist fluffy pan of rice.
It was delicious; zippy, but not spicy-hot, full of veggies and flavor. The next day while in the cafeteria, I caught the eye of Miss Cathy, an Atrium cook.
She was sweet and friendly. I decided I liked her when she turned her back and there was a long dreadlock ponytail, completely wrapped in a Duke scarf. I decided I loved her when I asked her for the recipe for the dirty rice and she handed it to me.
“Go copy it and bring it back.”
I took a notebook from my purse and got to work. There it was, almost the very first ingredient — chicken livers. I decided to make it at home, and follow the recipe as closely I could, organ meat and all.
The sheet had the components, but not directions. So I researched recipes online and determined the procedure.
I was in complete virgin territory. I’ve made hundreds of gallons of rice, but never worked with livers before. I tried chopping them by hand, but didn’t like the results. Some recipes called for a food processor, so I dumped ’em in.
At this point I almost gave up the enterprise. I had a bowl of what looked like pale blood. I was extremely skeptical about how this stuff would cook up.
When I sautéed the livers, I was surprised and grateful. In less than two minutes the slurry had browned up, tightened, and resembled ground sausage.
Miss Cathy’s Dirty Duke Rice
1/2 white onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, sliced down the middle and cut into ¼” inch slices
2 poblano peppers, seeds and ribs removed, cut into ¼” dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken livers, pulsed in food processor ‘til smooth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups long grain white rice
3 cups chicken stock
Hot sauce to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Pour olive oil into heated heavy bottomed pot, and when shimmering, add onion, celery, and poblanos, reserving a couple of tablespoons of each (and some garlic) to cook with livers. Sprinkle in thyme, oregano, then add bay leaf, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper.
When the vegetables have softened and started to brown, stir in rice until all the grains get coated and start to toast. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, then pour in chicken stock, hot sauce, and bring to boil. Lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 15-20 minutes or until stock is absorbed.
While it's cooking, heat a skillet, and add butter. When melted, add reserved veggies, except for garlic and season with salt and pepper.
When veg have softened, add chicken livers and garlic. Cook, stirring continuously, just until the liver’s browned.
When rice has finished cooking, gently stir in liver and vegetables. Replace cover and allow to sit off heat for 15 minutes.
Makes 8 large servings.
It’s stupefying to think that at this advanced age my mind can change on such a firmly held belief.
If I can enjoy eating liver who knows, maybe I’ll buy a cat, develop a fondness NASCAR and become a magician.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.