Lyon and the surrounding Lyonnais district have competed for centuries with Paris to be first in food. Paris is chic, sophisticated, refined; Lyon goes for hearty, accessible country cooking that is easy to love. This recipe sums it up.

Serves 5 or 6

  • 6 tablespoons/90 ml lard or vegetable oil
  • 6 large onions (about 2 1/2 pounds/1 kg total), sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 bouquet garni (a tied bundle of sprigs of fresh thyme sprigs, a dried bay leaf and sprigs of fresh parsley)
  • 5 or 6 thick slices calf’s liver (about 1 1/2 pounds/675 g total)
  • 3/4 cup/175 ml chicken broth

Melt 4 tablespoons/60 ml of the lard in a frying pan over low heat. Stir in the onions, garlic, sugar (the sugar helps the onions to brown and caramelize), salt and pepper and tuck in the bouquet garni. Press a piece of aluminum foil down on the onions to retain their juices. Cover the pan and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and foil, turn up the heat to medium and continue cooking until the onions are caramelized and golden brown, 8 to10 minutes longer. Stir them often so they do not scorch. Discard the bouquet garni, taste, and adjust the seasoning; set the onions aside and keep warm. They may also be refrigerated for a couple of days and reheated on top of the stove just before serving.

To finish: Pat the slices of liver dry on paper towels and season them with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons lard in another frying pan over high heat. Add the liver and sauté until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Do not let the liver overcook or it will be tough; it is its best pink in the center. Transfer the liver to 5 or 6 warmed plates and pile the onions on top.

Discard any excess fat from the pan. Add the broth and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the pan juices. Taste them for seasoning, spoon them over the liver, and serve at once.

photo by France Ruffenach
by Anne Willan, Chronicle Books, 2007.