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.

Pearl Meatballs

These delightful little meatballs are coated with rice – they will look like they’re studded with pearls if you use short-grain rice, and if you choose to use longer-grain rice, they will look like little hedgehogs. A big hit with kids, and a good school lunch item if packed in a thermos. Can be made ahead and reheated for a last-minute meal.

Glutinous rice (AKA sticky or sweet rice) is a very short-grain type of white rice that is used for dishes where its stickiness is a plus. It forms the base for Japanese mochi and Chinese rice cake, for example. It is also available in brown, but as with all whole grain rices, that will take much longer to cook and the appearance will not be so pearly.

Please note that the rice needs to be soaked for a long time before preparing this recipe, so do that early or overnight.


  • 1 c glutinous rice (you can also use regular, medium-grain rice)
  • 3/4 lb ground pork, preferably not too lean – look for pastured pork if you can find it!
  • 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms: stems reserved for making stock, caps finely minced
  • 2 T fresh ginger root, minced
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 large egg, from pastured hens if possible
  • 2 T cornstarch, tapioca flour, or potato flour
  • 1 T water (or oil if you’re using very lean meat or poultry)
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Rinse the rice well, then soak: you can boil water, then pour it over the rice and allow it to soak for 3 h, or you can use cold water and soak the rice overnight. Drain thoroughly.
  2. Oil a heatproof plate that will fit into your steamer.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients, stirring gently to mix thoroughly.
  4. Shape the mixture into 1.5″ balls, then roll in the soaked rice to coat completely.
  5. Place in a single layer on the plate, then steam 10-15 m – when done, there will be no pink left in the center.
  6. You can serve the meatballs on the same plate or pile them in a bowl.

do ahead:

The meatballs can be assembled, steamed, then cooled and refrigerated for up to 1 day. Resteam 10 m to reheat.


  • The meatballs can be made with ground beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey with the flavor varying accordingly. Adding a bit of minced ham and/or shrimp makes poultry versions a little more flavorful.
  • In Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Fuchsia Dunlop jazzes these up by adding minced ham and shiitakes to the rice instead of the filling – this makes for a more interesting presentation and opens the door to even more variations….