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Venison liver and onions is a bedrock deer liver recipe you will want to learn. I normally don’t like liver, so this recipe is for skeptics like me. I genuinely loved this dish.
Let me start by saying that I normally leave deer livers in the field. Too many bad experiences with ultra stinky livers, even after my double soak method.
My what? Yes, I have a double soak method for both livers and kidneys. It’s a brine then a dairy soak that really helps tame off odors and flavors in these organs. I know, sure, purists will tell me that if I have to do this, I just don’t like livers. Yeah, bro, that’s exactly right.
So this deer liver recipe starts with the deer — keep in mind this works well as an elk liver recipe, too, and livers from pronghorn or caribou or any large mammal, for that matter.
Bottom line: Make venison liver and onions with young animals. It’s not that big bucks or bulls are alcoholics or anything, but for whatever reason, many seasons of filtering something — tannins, maybe? — they reek. So use this recipe for livers from yearlings, small bucks or youngish does.
Double Soak Deer Liver
First step is to cut the liver into slabs you want to eat. I do this for every deer liver recipe. In the case of venison liver and onions, you will want pieces about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, and as large as you can make them, so a little smaller than a plate, usually.
Now make a brine of about 1/4 cup kosher or sea salt (non-iodized) to one quart of water. Soak the pieces in this overnight.
The next morning, pour off the brine and replace it with either milk or buttermilk. Both work well, but I prefer buttermilk with older livers, i.e., not yearlings, because the acidity seems to tame the smell. Also use buttermilk if you really don’t like livers, but want to try anyway.
Let that soak most of the day — no more than 8 hours with buttermilk because of its acidity — then rinse the liver pieces under cold water, pat dry and store in the fridge up to a week. You can also freeze the pieces at this point; mark them “prepped.”
Venison Liver and Onions
I really prefer truly caramelized onions for my venison liver and onions. This takes time, but you can do it ahead, as caramelized onions store well in the fridge.
Caramelizing onions takes at least 30 minutes, but you can shortcut it in two ways: Hard saute the onions over higher heat, which is also nice, or cheat on you caramelizing by sprinkling a little baking soda over the onions as they cook: They will brown much faster, but they’ll also soften significantly.
I also like to add a little thyme and honey to my onions, which boosts the flavor a lot. And the sweetness contrasts nicely with the deer liver. Side note: Pretty much every deer liver recipe works well with something sweet, or at least sweetish. Try a slice of apple alongside a liver pate.
Serving and Storing
Deer liver and onions is a make-it-and-eat-it recipe. It doesn’t keep well, and definitely doesn’t freeze. The components can keep a few days in the fridge, but once made, eat it and enjoy.
As for serving, I usually eat it as-is, maybe with some crusty bread alongside. This is one of the few deer liver recipes I see served for breakfast, so hash browns would be a nice side there.
If you liked this recipe, please leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating and a comment below; I’d love to hear how everything went. If you’re on Instagram, share a picture and tag me at huntgathercook.
Deer Liver and Onions
- 2 pounds yellow onions, sliced thin
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)
- 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
- 1 cup flour, for dusting
- 1 pound venison liver
- Black pepper to taste
- 1 lemon (optional)
- Optional pre-soak. If you want, and I recommend it, to tame the odor of the liver, cut them into pieces between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thick, and as large as you want. Soak these overnight in a brine of 1/4 cup kosher or sea salt to 1 quart water. Soak in the fridge. The next morning, discard the brine and soak in milk or buttermilk up to another 8 hours. Rinse under cold water and pat dry.
- Heat the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onions. They will mound up and be awkward at first, but keep cooking them and stirring until they wilt. When they do, salt the onions lightly. Stir and cook until you see just a little browning, then drop the heat to medium. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions brown more deeply. You might need to drop the heat to low and/or cover the pan to keep things from scorching or sticking.
- When the onions are close to being done, add the thyme and honey, if using. Let this cook another 10 to 20 minutes — up to you. Remove from the heat.
- In another pan, add a few tablespoons of high-heat oil, like canola, grapeseed or avocado oil, and get this hot over medium-high heat. As that is heating, dust the liver pieces in the flour. Press the flour into the meat well on both sides. Note: If you did not brine the livers, you do need to salt them before flouring.
- Sear the livers in the hot oil for no more than 90 seconds per side. You want the livers to be pink in the center. It's better to slightly undercook than overcook deer liver, since overcooked liver gets dry and chalky.
- To finish, serve the livers over a bed of the caramelized onions, with some bread or potatoes. Grind some black pepper and squeeze some lemon juice over them when you serve.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.