Issa Moussa

Chef Issa Moussa

My affinity for liver and onions ranks right up there with anchovies and fruitcake, and I’m well aware that I stick out like a sore thumb when I order these foods in public places.

That I enjoy dishes which have evoked responses of repulsion from some of my friends is my burden to bear. Encouragingly, though, and somewhat surprisingly, I experienced something a couple of weeks ago that gave me comfort that I no longer have to bear it alone.

My wife and I had joined two other couples for dinner at Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club. I ordered the liver and onions, which our server respectfully noted as she circled around the table for the balance of orders. To my amazement, three other liver lovers revealed their identity in real time, resulting in four orders of liver and onions served to a table of six.

Astonished by that ratio, and curious to know how this old school dish remains relevant today, I sat down with the Club’s chef to get his perspective in the countdown to National Liver and Onions Day on May 10.

“Liver and onions is one of those classic comfort foods, like beef stew, fried chicken, and meatloaf, which has a way of connecting people with their past,” said Issa Moussa, executive chef of Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club, 6200 N. Clubhouse Lane. “Our members who ate it growing up tell me that it brings back childhood memories, and that’s why it’s important for us to preserve the tradition.”

Moussa’s version starts with two sizeable slices of beef liver that he dips in corn meal and seasoned flour. He then transfers the fully dusted organ to a flattop grill, cooks it to the preferred temperature, and plates it with a red wine and mushroom sauce, caramelized onions, bacon, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.

“The saltiness from the bacon, the sweetness of the sauteed onions, the savory aspect of the mushrooms and red wine sauce, all these flavors are amazing when you put them all together,” he said.

Moussa’s first experience with liver was at the age of 9. His family only ate meat on Sundays, and he remembers his father bringing home these choice innards from freshly harvested calves at the week’s end. His love of food and respect for family tradition ultimately put him on a career track which led him to the Culinary Institute of America in New York with subsequent stints at their satellite location in Napa Valley. And wherever his career took him after that, from California to Florida to Arizona, he took his liver along. 

“I can never take liver and onions off our menu at the Club, we sell quite a bit, and there have even been times when I worried that we were going to run out of it,” he said.

Just think about that for a minute. Genuinely worrying about the potential undersupply of liver and onions. This is a chef who knows his audience.

While Moussa’s cuisine may be reason enough to join Ventana Canyon Golf & Racquet Club, those craving liver and onions can find it at a few public eateries around town, including Jonathan’s Cork, Old Times Kafe, and Gus Balon’s.

If you didn’t grow up eating liver, or if there was a skipped generation among your liver-loving ancestors, Moussa has some advice.

“You won’t know how good it is unless you try it, and trust me, you’ll be surprised by its greatness,” he concluded.

Yes, chef!  

Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.