The Ingredient Alton Brown Disliked The Most On Chopped

Alton Brown will rig a pepper grinder to a power drill, but if he can help it, he won't be caught dead cooking with calf liver. According to Brown, it just doesn't taste good, no matter how you prepare it, and it's perhaps no mystery why the celebrity chef and television personality named calf liver as his least favorite basket ingredient in "Chopped" history. As he told Food Network, "Anybody that tells you that calf liver can be good is lying." According to him, even in the hands of a pro, calf liver just can't be saved or repurposed into a killer meal — or even a palatable one.

If you've never worked with it before, calf liver is beef liver that hasn't matured yet. It comes from young cows and can consequently be tougher to track down than regular beef liver. Age also impacts flavor, and the liver has filtered fewer toxins in a young cow than in an older animal — as such, calf liver presents a "cleaner," less-gamey taste. Still, its gray-red hue leaves something to be desired in the aesthetics department, and if prepared improperly, the flavor can come out bitter and metallic. A well-prepared calf liver should be crispy and browned outside and be a tender pink in the middle. Overcooked calf liver becomes leathery, and undercooked, it's mushy. Long story short, it's tough to get calf liver right, and if you get it wrong, the next best step is to toss it and start over.

No calf liver for this foodie

"Liver and onions" is about the un-sexiest sounding meal as they come, but that hasn't stopped offal from having a moment lately in the food scene, despite Alton Brown's distaste for it. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton revolutionized the New York City dining scene by adding monkfish liver to the menus at her former establishment Prune. Pâté and foie gras grace the menus of Michelin-starred restaurants everywhere. Sweetbreads (which are neither sweet nor bread) are on the menu at Thomas Keller's world-renowned French Laundry; Chef Marcus Samuelsson loves offal; Anthony Bourdain layered chicken liver into his lasagna Bolognese. And right now, Japanese restaurant Shabu-Tatsu in Manhattan's East Village is serving beef tongue hot pot.

While the preparation method does play a big role in flavor, calf liver tends to come out with a meaty, slightly sweet taste and soft texture. It can be sauteed, roasted, pan-seared, curried, stewed, stir-fried, and more. Some cooks soak it in milk, brine it in broth and balsamic with tart apples, or doll it up with bacon and onions. But by Alton Brown's estimation, working with calf liver is high risk for low reward. Aside from being a fun excuse to hit up your local butcher, cooking with calf liver is probably a hard pass, if you ask the self-proclaimed foodist.