Simmered Chicken Livers

When our daughter was very young, we were fortunate to have a series of wonderful Chinese caregivers for her – they loved her as one of their own and spoiled her rotten: multi-dish hot lunches were the norm (is it any wonder she can’t think of a cold sandwich as lunch to this day?), and one of her very favorite dishes (although she’ll deny this vociferously now) was simmered chicken livers. One day she asked for this for dinner, so off to the store we went, only to find that the chicken livers were not available. A loud wailing ensued, and an older woman bent over the stroller: “Oh, honey, won’t your mommy buy you a cookie?” She totally did NOT believe that the tears were being shed over chicken livers….

Not a lot of people seem to eat liver these days, but my husband and I do like it, so we took advantage of some extra turkey livers being available at the farm where we buy our Thanksgiving turkey. This dish is quick and tasty (if you’re a fan of liver) and can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold.


  • 1 lb chicken (or duck or turkey) livers
  • 1/4 c dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 c light soy sauce
  • 1/4 c Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1 T brown or raw cane sugar
  • 1/2-3/4 c water
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2″ sections
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root
  • 2 cloves star anise or 1/2 tsp anise seed
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns


  1. Boil 4 c water, then pour it over the livers in a bowl. Give it a gentle stir, then drain and rinse the livers in cold water.
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small pot, add the livers, and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Immediately reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 m.
  3. Turn off the heat and allow the livers to sit another 5 m.
  4. Cut into bite-sized pieces and serve hot, drizzled with a bit of the liquid.


You can remove the livers from the liquid and reduce it at a rolling boil, then use the resulting syrup as a drizzle on the livers.

do ahead

This dish can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and either served cold or gently reheated. Store the livers in the liquid in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.


Five-Spice Brined Ribs and….

I’ve become a big fan of brining (soaking an animal protein in a mixture of salt, sugar, and water before cooking), and this recipe is the result of an experiment in that arena. (You can find an excellent in-depth discussion of the basics of brining in Cook’s Illustrated.)

I have made this recipe with beef short ribs as well as pork ribs – cooking time will vary greatly, so plan on testing at regular intervals; otherwise, this is a great recipe that involves almost no prep time whatsoever. The brine will also work for other proteins – chicken, duck, rabbit, fish…and even tofu! (Count on 1/2 lb of bone-in poultry or 1/4 lb of fish or tofu per person).

Five spice powder is a spice mix found in Chinese cooking that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle.

brine – count on 1 pt (2 c) per lb of ribs

  • 1 c water
  • 1 c peach nectar
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 1 T sugar, preferably brown or raw cane
  • 2 T kosher salt


  • beef shortribs or pork ribs (spareribs, back ribs, or country style) – count on about 1 lb per person


  1. Combine the brine ingredients in a glass baking dish large enough to hold the ribs in one layer, stirring until the crystals are completely dissolved.
  2. Add the ribs to the brine – the liquid should just cover the meat.
  3. Refrigerate for 3-8 h, then remove the ribs from the brine and pat dry.
  4. Preheat the oven to 275F.
  5. Place the ribs on a roasting rack in a pan, and roast until very tender. For pork ribs, this can take as little as 1.5 h; for beef ribs, count on at least 2.5-3 h. Test for doneness: the meat should be sliding off the bones and easily pierced with a knife or skewer. If the meat begins to brown too much, cover with foil and reduce the temperature to 250F.

Simmered Duck

It’s been a long time since I’ve cooked a duck, but inspired by the recent acquisition of a pastured one from our lovely local farmers at Back Forty Acres, we’re back on track. The beauty of a pastured bird is that it is much leaner than the conventionally farmed version, and the flavor – well, there’s just no comparison!

One of our favorite duck preparations is a dish in which the duck is simmered whole in a spiced liquid, then served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. In China, it would usually be chopped, bones and all, into bite-size pieces with a huge cleaver: you eat the pieces, spitting out the bones as you go. If that is unappealing or you don’t own a cleaver (or your kids refuse to eat it that way!) you can carve it much as you would a roast chicken or turkey, slicing the breast, removing the wings, and leaving the drumsticks and thighs intact or cutting the meat off the bone.

Eileen Yin-fei Lo has a detailed description of how the spiced liquid was made (and kept for years) in her grandmother’s kitchen, but it is possible to simplify the process and make the liquid for a single use if you don’t have the time or energy to keep it safe for that long! We also prefer a “white-simmered” version (which doesn’t contain soy sauce) to her “red-simmered” one.

Whole star anise and anise seed are generally available in the spice section of most grocery stores.


  • 1 duck, 4-6 lb
  • 2 T Chinese cooking wine or sherry
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 stalks scallion, cut into 1″ sections
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root
  • 3 pieces star anise or 1 tsp anise seed
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp Sichuan or other peppercorns – the black/white/green/red mix is nice here
  • zest from 1/2 an orange
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves


  1. Rinse the duck with cool water, then pat dry. Rub it inside and out with the cooking wine, then with the salt, and let it stand 1 h in the refrigerator.
  2. Place the scallions and ginger inside the duck cavity, then put the duck in a large pot.
  3. Add  the remaining ingredients and enough water to cover the duck.
  4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, immediately reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer for 1.5 – 2 h.
  5. Let the duck cool in the sauce just until it’s cool enough to handle, then cut it into bite-size pieces with a cleaver or carve it as you wish. It can be served as is, or with a garnish of fresh scallions.


  • The cooking liquid can be reduced over medium high heat until it’s a sauce consistency, then drizzled over the duck meat.
  • If you prefer the duck at room temperature, remove the bird from the liquid and let it cool up to 30 m before slicing.

do ahead:

  • Cool the duck in the liquid in an ice-water bath in the sink, then refrigerate it in the liquid if you prefer to serve it chilled.
  • The duck can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and chilled in this fashion. You can either serve it cold or remove it from the liquid and let it come to room temperature (about 30 m) before serving.