À Lisboeta is famed in Rio for its Portuguese cuisine, and this dish clearly points to Portuguese origins. Of all the regions of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro has, in culinary terms at least, the closest links to the motherland - to Portugal. Historically it stands to reason, as during a significant part of the 19th century Rio de Janeiro, not Lisbon as you might think, was the capital of the Portuguese Empire. When Portugal was invaded by Napoleon's troops in 1808, the entire Portuguese court from the Emperor on down fled Lisbon and sailed away to Rio de Janeiro, from where they ruled what portions of the Portuguese empire that remained loyal. Many ordinary Portuguese followed their rulers, and even today Rio de Janeiro has a much higher percentage of its population claiming Portuguese ancestry than other regions of Brazil do.
Liver and onions is one of those love-it-or-hate-it dishes. Those in the love-it camp are fervent in their adoration, and those in the opposing camp often claim not to be able to abide even the smell of the dish. This recipe, therefore, is strictly for those who already know they love liver and onions and who want to make it the way they do in Rio. If you can't abide liver in onions in any language, don't try iscas com elas.
RECIPE - Brazilian Liver and Onions (Iscas com Elas)
2 lbs (1 kg) beef liver, sliced thin
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
salt and pepper to taste
4 large white onions
1/2 cup extravirgin olive oil
1 cup pitted Kalamata or other black olives
1 cup cherry tomatoes, washed
2 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
extra olive oil for drizzling
Thoroughly wash the liver, then remove any membranes, fat or nerves. Cut the liver slices into thin strips, then place them into a mixing bowl. Add the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste, mix completely and let stand for 30 minutes.
Slice the onions into thin rings. Place them in another mixing bowl, separating the rings. Cover with cold water and let stand for about 10 minutes. Drain the onion rings completely, then dry them with paper towels. Reserve.
Heat a large frying pan, then add 1/4 cup of the olive oil. When it is hot but not smoking add the onion rings and fry, stirring frequently, until the rings are nicely golden. Remove the onions from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain them on paper towels. Reserve, keeping warm.
Add the remaining oil to the same frying pan. While it heats, remove the liver strips from their soaking water, reserving the water. Fry the liver in the hot oil just until the strips are browned - do not overcook. When the liver is done, remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve, keeping warm.
Add the soaking liquid to the pan, add the olives and cherry tomatoes, then raise the heat and bring rapidly to a boil. Let boil for a few minutes, until the liquid has reduced by half. Remove from the heat, stir the liver back in and reserve.
Serve on a large lettuce-lined platter. Alternate layers of liver and onions, then pour the sauce over all. Drizzle olive oil over all and serve accompanied by white rice or boiled potatoes.