Weird Crap I Cook: Italian Liver Sausage

“This isn’t going to have a happy ending.” – Detective William Somerset, Seven

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Last Sunday I headed to the Italian Market with Tim to show him the market where I purchase all of the raw ingredients to make great meals while he criticizes me.  The Italian Market has a couple restaurants, fresh pasta vendors, cheese and cured meat stores, seafood, and a large assortment of butcher shops.  Most of the butchers sell freshly broken down meats, but a few make assorted sausages including my favorite butcher: Cappuccio’s.

Cappuccio’s has a lot of standard butcher shop fare, along with some more exotic items like veal kidneys that got this DB’s mind racing.  However, I still have a little bit of an organ meat hangover from Morocco so I instead focused on their large variety of homemade sausages.

Thought I would need to hit up Google images for this photo but was psyched to see that Carolyn, Kristi's mom, took this shot when they visited in January. I never remember my camera anymore, so the Best of Philly post will likely be all google imaged

Just as I decided to go with their pork, provolone, and broccoli rabe sausage, Tim marched in front of me in line and ordered two pounds for himself.  Freaking jerk, givin’ me pressure to adhere to social norms and not order the same thing, I’ll show him.  Which is how I ended up inquiring about the “Sicilian liver sausages” hanging outside of the refrigerated case that looked like this:

The familiar background should be a hint: I bought it


This stuff was hard as a rock and looked extremely dry and deflated.  I, of course, was very intrigued.

Sunday is a slow day at the Italian market and they are mostly just selling the leftovers from the weekend, so the shops staff accordingly.  We weren’t exactly working with Mr. Cappuccio.  This became clear when the sign on the sausages said “Sicilian Liver Sausage” and the butcher said “Northern Italian Sausage” to us when we asked.  As it turned out, the butcher was right about that, he was just wrong about everything else including cooking directions.

Breaking my organ meat hiatus, I bought the smallest strand of sausage that they had and headed home.  A couple days later I returned home from school hungry for lunch (business school makes you feel like a 5 year old again) and decided to cook up the sausage.  Which is what this post is about.

Looked a little like dried chiles. Smelled like dried chiles mixed with wet dog

According to the B team at Cappuccios, the best way to cook the liver sausage is in a pan with water, covered for about 20 minutes.

Every window was open in the apartment and I specifically timed it so that Kristi wouldn’t be home for 6 hours. Serious smells as this really got going

After 20 minutes, I took the lid off annnnnddd… it really didn’t look any different.  I was expecting them to hydrate and plump up but there was none of that, just a lot of funky looking water.

Like I said, that's some funky looking water. Wasn't expecting that. Maybe that color reflects all the good flavors that it was drawing out of the sausages that I couldn't find anywhere when I ate it

After an additional ten minutes, I figured they weren’t going to tenderize much further and pulled them out to trim and test.  First step was removing all of the ties and excess casing.

Honestly, my thought at this point was that it was looking reasonably edible, like charred kielbasa or blood sausage

I cut off a piece and tasted it.

Can't tell whether tis picture looks innocuous or extremely intimidating

When the sausage was described to me, I expected the liver to be pureed and mixed with fat and some sort of cornmeal, rice, or oatmeal.  Instead, its a coarse chopped pig liver with a few spices.  The first bite was rough since the pieces of liver were rubbery, the casing was thick, and it was pretty dry.  The second bite was a better but overall this was not the easy to eat meal I was expecting since I was hoping it would be like Italian scrapple.

At this point, I had no ideas.  I was very close to completely giving up and throwing away the sausage.  Instead, I made the remarkably intelligent decision to add some more ingredients to be ruined by the sausage.  Started it out with throwing red onion and red pepper into a hot pan and letting them caramelize for ten minutes before adding pieces of the sausage.

You can tell from certain pieces in this picture how ridiculously dry the sausage was

After some time cooking together, I added tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of capers.  Because I really like capers and figured the salty/vinegary flavor would help cover up some of the unpleasant strong flavors from the sausage.

I really love capers. Kristi had a caper intervention with me because I kept ruining meals she loved with them

I stirred and simmered this together for 10-15 minutes before shoveling (some of) it into a sub roll, adding a sprinkle (in Peter terms) of cheese, and melting it under the broiler for a couple minutes.

Combine melted cheese and tomato sauce on a sub roll and its always going to look edible. Even if it's hiding some evil

I settled in for my late lunch and started eating.  The first few bites were decent, the sauce had some flavors I like and the hints of liver flavor were good.  However, every second or third bite tasted gamey, irony, and like the intestinal tract.  I have had this experience before with the Italian Market.

This sub was purchased on the same January Italian Market trip with Kristi's parents. It barely even looks like a sandwich in this picture because it got so soggy on the thirty minute walk home

Tripe, beef tongue, and chiles braised together and thrown on a sub roll. Plus some peppers and onions.  The tongue was quite good, but the pieces of tripe tasted very poorly cleaned and like they hadn’t been boiled on their own before braising.  That sub taught me that the occasional bite tasting like a poop chute makes the other bites not worth it.

So, while I ate the whole tripe/tongue sandwich, I decided it was no longer worth it with the liver sausage and gave up a little over halfway through.  All remaining piece of this meal were thrown into a bag and put into the trash outside to help get the smell out of the apartment.  At least the nice folks at Vila Di Roma let me in 2 hours before they opened to pickup a to-go order of meatballs so the trip wasn’t a complete bust.

These are sooooo good. I have to buy them every time I visit the market

A short postscript: I went back to the market this past Saturday since we had friends in town visiting and hit Cappuccio’s to buy some of their edible sausages.  Saturday is the big day for them, so they had their best crew working.  When I asked about the liver sausage and explained my trouble cooking it, the guy behind the counter said cooking in olive oil over water is the way to go.  The sausage won’t ever plump up the way I expected, but the casing and hard chunks of liver will break down a bit.  Regardless, he said 90% of his customers just eat it in it’s dried form like its a Slim Jim, which we both agreed was disgusting.  I won’t be cooking this sausage again.

Nothing beats kicking off a food blog post with a quote from a Morgan Freeman character, but it was my attempt to forewarn that post was a little all over the place and only mildly edible.  ‘Til next time.