Target Health Blog

A Seventeenth & Eighteenth Century Recipe - Forcemeat Pigeon Liver Balls

March 25, 2019

Target Healthy Eating

Last weekend we saw the highly rated film, The Favorite, the plot of which takes place in the royal court of Queen Anne, during the 17th and 18th Centuries. We checked out the historical facts and found that the movie presented history accurately. Prompted by this, we learned more about Great Britain during these baroque times. Queen Anne was a patron (she gave him 200 pounds a year) of the genius, G.F. Handel, one of our favorite composers; therefore, we include several of his most beautiful compositions, at the end of the recipe page. And eureka! We found two delicious recipes from a book created during the time of Queen Anne. We include one of them in the recipe section. The following recipe for Pigeon Liver Forcemeat Balls, has been adapted by me, because there's no way to get hold of pigeon liver. I had to substitute chicken livers. I could have made bread crumbs, but Panko was easier. What amazed me the most was that so many ingredients are used commonly today, like anchovies, nutmeg, oregano, parsley. The whole project of (Baroque England) for the newsletter, was a labor of love; stimulating and great fun! So-o, tip toe back in time with us. The resulting recipe of Liver Balls is a delicious appetizer, especially with a full-bodied cab, like Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon.
Everyone we serve these liver balls to, loves them. We haven't offered them as an entr?e, because they're such a hit as an appetizer with wine. Speaking of wine, because I had to adapt this recipe, anyway, I took the liberty of adding Madeira wine to it. The reason is, my own wonderful recipe for chopped chicken livers includes a mysterious ingredient. Madeira wine and only Madeira. There's no alcohol taste in the chicken liver or in these Pigeon Liver Balls; the Madeira wine gives a depth of flavor, that doesn't exist without it. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Queen Anne and her court would have eaten the Pigeon Liver Balls with a red wine from France or Italy. 17th and 18th Century England imported their wine primarily from France during good weather. England would get two shiploads of wine each year, from France. Many spices were used in winemaking those days, to add flavor and to keep the wine from spoiling. Last, spices were used to cover the flavor of spoiled wine. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.


1/2 cup unsalted butter

2 anchovy fillets ground in mortar & pestle with 2 garlic cloves

3 or 4 chicken livers, chopped (if you can't find fresh chicken livers anywhere, which is the first choice for this recipe, then buy 2 medium containers of chopped chicken liver at Zabar's and use 1 and 1/2 of the small size containers.

2 cups Panko

1 Tablespoon fresh parsley chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Zest of 1 lemon

1 pinch black pepper

2 pinches ground nutmeg

1 pinch chili flakes

3 or 4 Tablespoons Madeira wine (I used 4)

1 extra large or jumbo egg, beaten, for the liver mixture

1 egg for egg wash, (1 egg plus 1 teaspoon water, whisked together) brushed onto balls before baking & frying.

Have a little olive oil on hand. It's not in the original recipe, but the butter won't burn as easily if you add a drop of olive oil to it.

Here are the ingredients for the Pigeon Liver Balls. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.


1. Gather all ingredients together in one place. Do all cutting, chopping, slicing, measuring, first.

Chopping the parsley. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Every kitchen should have a mortar & pestle. This has been the most used cooking device for centuries and probably for millennia. Above you see, grinding the anchovies and the garlic. Btw, anchovies were in the original recipe. However, there is not the least bit of fishy-ness in this recipe. Today, in creating recipes, anchovies are one of my secret ingredients. Long before there was any talk of umami ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Original recipe called for homemade bread crumbs. I used Panko. You decide. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Above, all ingredients have been added to the mixing bowl except for the lemon zest. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Finally, adding the lemon zest. The original recipe used this but didn't call it “zest.“ ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Combine all ingredients well. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Just before you make the balls, the mixture should look like this. Btw, wet your hands a little (damp hands) before you roll the liver balls. This will make it easier. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Here is the egg wash. Rather than brush it on the liver balls, it's much easier to roll them in the egg wash one at a time. Remove with tongs. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Just starting to fry. Notice the combo of butter & olive oil. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Ready to remove from skillet and they smell delish! ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
After baking or frying, remove liver balls and let them drain on paper towel. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Going into oven. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
Just out of the oven. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc

1. Mix together all the ingredients and adjust the quantity of breadcrumbs if required to make a mixture which will cohere when squeezed. Roll into small balls, (smaller than golf balls) coat with egg wash and fry or bake until heated through.

2. Just before baking or frying, brush the meatballs with this egg wash - 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash

3. If you choose to bake these liver balls, preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 12 to 18 minutes. Keep your eye on the oven, after 12 minutes. When the meatballs turn a golden brown and crispy on the outside, take them out of oven. And drain on paper towel before serving.

4. To fry, use extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet, over medium heat. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes, using tongs, rolling them around so all surfaces are cooked. Remove from skillet when the liver balls are crispy on the outside.

Umami flavor at its best. Umami (from Japanese) or savory taste is one of the five basic tastes (together with sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness). It has been described as savory and is characteristic of broths and cooked meats. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.
This issue of the ON TARGET newsletter, has been a labor of love. Hope everyone enjoyed it. ©Joyce Hays, Target Health Inc.

Here are some of my favorite Handel pieces, for your listening pleasure. If you aren't familiar with Handel, go for baroque, and give them a try.

Stjepan Hauser is the gifted cellist from Croatia playing: The Largo from Handel's opera, Xerxes (Ombra mai fu)

Here is the great counter tenor, Franco Fagioli, singing Ombra mai fu, as it would have been sung on stage. This is one of the greatest opera arias ever written.

This is the gorgeous aria, Waft Her Angels, from the rarely done Handel opera, Jephtha

You don't have to be religious to love the music from Handel's great Oratorio, The Messiah. This aria is, I Know That My Redeemer Liveth sung by the Choir of New College, Oxford

Lascia Ch'io Pianga is the beautiful aria from Handel's opera, Rinaldo, sung in the Italian film depicting the life of Farinelli, the favorite castrato in all of Europe, singing at the time of Queen Anne of Great Britain.

Click on this link to see the original recipe

From Our Table to Yours

Have a Great Week Everyone!

Bon Appetit!

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