Her family is famous for oysters, but her specialty dish will surprise you
As general manager of Prestige Oysters in San Leon, Lisa Halili knows a thing or two about bivalve recipes. But when it comes to home cooking, Halili turns to a dish she grew up savoring.
“I was raised in Center, Texas, and my mom made chicken livers and onions over rice from the time I was little, so I developed a taste for them at a young age,” she said. “There weren’t many healthy ways to fry food back then and using lard was the norm. Sometimes, she would dredge the livers in egg, then flour, and fry them, but I’ve made my own healthy modifications.”
Halili’s mother insisted that the family eat both beef liver and chicken livers, sometimes twice a month.
Halili’s Italian stepfather from New York wasn’t much of a fan, she said.
“My mother had a really hard time trying to convince him to try liver,” she said. “And I get that, because it is an acquired taste, but I loved it at first bite. Mom believed that you needed liver due to its iron content and to keep your blood cells balanced. She was like June Cleaver, the mom in the television show, ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ in that we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time every day without fail.”
Aside from the liver dishes, Halili enjoyed a variety of home-cooked meals, she said.
“Mom was a great cook and we never, hardly ever ate out,” she said. “It was rare if we went to a restaurant, unless we were traveling, so home-cooked meals were a staple.”
The family meals had a lot of variety, she said.
“It was rare to eat the same thing twice during a four-week period,” she said. “Mom always came up with something new and different. She introduced us to several new things, created delicious casseroles and we never had leftovers.”
Although Halili was a big fan of the chicken livers, she also liked her mom’s smothered beef liver.
“Mom always mixed her seasonings together before she sprinkled them on anything, then she’d rub them thoroughly into the meat,” Halili said. “Mom said if you add seasonings separately, the flavors don’t blend well. She’d often let the beef liver marry with all the seasonings, and put them in the refrigerator before flouring them and browning them, along with onions. Then, she’d put it all in a glass baking dish, pour a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of beef broth over the whole thing and bake in the oven.”
Halili’s mother’s favorite cookbook was a tattered and torn Betty Crocker edition that her mother gave her years ago, but it was destroyed in a fire, she said.
“I’ve looked for a copy of that book all over the internet to no avail,” Halili said. “I don’t remember the version, but I recall what the cover looked like, so I’m still on a quest to find it.”
Because Prestige Oysters keeps her busy, Halili doesn’t have too much time for scratch cooking anymore. She also is helping her son, Raz, at their new restaurant Pier 6 underway in San Leon.
Yet, she always makes time to make chicken livers over rice for her husband, Johnny, as often as possible.
“He loves them,” Halili said. “If he had his way, I’d be making them weekly. He’s from Albania and never had them before he met me, and now he’s hooked.”
Halili continues to search antique and resale shops for that Betty Crocker cookbook. In the meantime, she treasures the memories of her mother’s simmering pots on the stove.
“Chicken livers and rice are comfort food for me,” she said. “They remind me of home.”
Chicken Livers Over Rice
For the rice:
1 cup Uncle Ben’s long grain white rice
½ teaspoon Land O Lakes Butter with Olive Oil & Sea Salt
2¼ cups water
For the chicken livers:
1½-2 pounds frozen or fresh chicken livers (If frozen, thaw overnight in refrigerator, wash and drain in cool water. Do not microwave.)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper seasoning
1 teaspoon Lawry’s All Purpose Seasoning
1 onion sliced thin
2 tablespoons Land O Lakes Butter with Olive Oil & Sea Salt
Brown rice in butter/olive oil. Add water, cover with lid and cook over medium heat 25 minutes. Set aside.
Combine garlic salt, crushed red pepper and seasoning together and sprinkle generously over the livers. Mix thoroughly till all liver pieces are seasoned and set aside.
Sauté the sliced onions in 1 tablespoon of the butter/olive oil mixture in a large skillet. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Melt the other tablespoon of butter/olive oil mixture in the same skillet until hot. Add livers, turning over to brown. Cook to desired doneness. Add more seasonings if needed.
Mix onions and liver together and serve over rice.