Liver and onions, like in Venice

Most people, including me, have an aversion for organ meats.

I have been wanting to try this dish for a while now, I’m not quite sure why. Maybe I wanted to convince myself that I could find a recipe that will make like liver.

I finally came to understand that the most common mistake with cooking liver, is that people have a tendency to overcook it, making it rubbery and intensifying the metallic taste. Pork and beef liver naturally have a stronger flavour, but I find that milk-fed veal liver is much more palatable. This is what I used in this dish.

Onions are naturally paired with liver, because the sweetness of the onions against the potent flavour of the liver, make for a balanced dish. Adding other strong flavours, in this case, Marsala and sage, help equilibrate flavours even more.

Although Venetians probably did not invent this, they apparently do it better than anyone else. Waverley Root, in The Food of Italy, indicates that there are two secrets for cooking a perfect fegato alla Venetiana: the first one is to colour the onions very slowly, taking at least 30 minutes to do so, and the second, is to cook the liver very rapidly over high heat, in less than three minutes. To achieve this, the liver needs to be cut finely into thin ribbons. The rest is up to you.

For a variation, use a dry white wine instead of the Marsala, and use red wine vinegar instead of the red wine. Some people also use balsamic vinegar at the end, though this is not traditional.

I am pretty happy on how this dish turned out. It was pretty tasty. Will I want to make this over and over again? Not sure. But one thing is sure, it is certainly the best way to eat liver and onions, so if your doctor told you you should eat more liver because you have anemia, then that’s the way to go.

Fegato alla Veneziana is traditionally served with soft or grilled white polenta, like in Venice.

Fegato alla Veneziana

Fegato alla Veneziana

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
450 g (1 pound) milk-fed veal liver, thinly sliced and cut into thin strips
450 g (1 pound) yellow onions, cut into thin rings
1 handful fresh sage leaves, chopped
1/4 cup dry Marsala
2 tablespoons red wine
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper


1. In a skillet over medium heat, melt two tablespoons of butter with the olive oil.

2. Add the onions and cook over medium-low or low heat, stirring often, until they start to turn golden brown, about thirty minutes.

3. Remove the onions from the skillet and keep warm. Add a bit more oil to the skillet if needed, increase the heat to medium-high, and when the oil starts to smoke, add the liver and the chopped sage, season with salt and pepper, and toss continuously for one to three minutes, until the liver has lost its raw appearance. Do not overcook it.

4. Add the onions back to the skillet and mix with the liver. Add the Marsala and the red wine and continue to mix, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove sticky bits, until the sauce is thick. Add the remaining one tablespoon of butter and stir to melt it. Add the parsley, keeping some to sprinkle on top. Taste and correct seasonings and serve immediately on warm plates.

Fegato alla Veneziana

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