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Soaking liver in milk is said to be a common technique that supposedly helps to remove impurities, softens flavour, and tenderises the liver.

I tried it, and the liver turned out alright, but it got me wondering: how does this work? What's the chemistry behind it? Exactly what's happening between the milk and the liver?

Is it the acid in the milk tenderising the liver? That would mean I could soak liver in a marinade based on lemon juice or vinegar? (It doesn't seem like a terrific idea)

Or is there something else involved? I searched around, but nothing I found seemed terribly exact.

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

My knowledge about the phenomenon itself is limited but I did see it mentioned in "Modernist Cuisine" (Nathan Myhrvold, p. 147)

Many recipes for foie gras, liver, sweetbreads, and other offal include a soaking step before cooking. For kidneys, this step serves a very simple purpose: to remove any trace of the animal's bodily fluids. Recipes often call for soaking foie gras, liver, and sweetbreads in milk. It is often said that milk improves the taste, purges blood, lightens the color, or affects some other property of the meat. We were skeptical, so we tried several experiments. With a mild-flavored organ meat like foie gras, we could taste a difference, but, frankly, in our tests, we prefer the taste of water-soaked to milk-soaked foie gras. With stronger-flavored organ meats, there is even less of a difference than with foie gras. So our suggestion is to simply soak the meat in water.

So, there you have it.

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The milk has caeisin wich pulls out blood and impurties as well as some metallic elements. Same stands for tapia as it pulls out some of the muddy and overpowering stony elements. I have put in 12 years in kitchens and have seen milk used in many soaking applications mostly for cleansing methods.

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As a child my mother would soak liver in a bowl of milk for a day and a half regularly replacing the milk and washing the liver before cooking it. What I noticed is that the blood from the liver would seep out into the milk and the liver would have absorbed some of the milk. I can't remember what she said about the milk treatment but it had something to do with the acids in the milk detoxifying the organ and helping remove the acidic bitterness of the liver. I think the acids break down the toxins and the absorption of the milk into the organ helps it retain moisture whilst at the same time flushes out the bitter tasting blood with all the toxins.

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My mother said the milk helped neutralize the liver. Blood (liver) being slight basic and milk being being slightly acidic together became neutral.

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But since it has properties of buffer solution, it can be used to bring pH of other solutions (e.g. that in our stomach) closer to neutral even when strong acids or bases are present. I am curious in this case which is the desired reaction? – Adrian Hum Nov 11 '15 at 22:04
Why would we want that? We don't neutralize other meats. I don't know if the assumption that meat and blood have the same pH is true, but if it were, why does it have to be neutralized? – rumtscho Nov 12 '15 at 19:40

I have done the milk thing and never noticed any real difference in either the texture or the flavor. Maybe its just me. What I did notice is "how" you cook the liver. A Hot pan so when the liver hits it it shrinks right now. Flip it and cook the other side a short time then out and into an already prepared bacon and onion mix to simmer for awhile followed by beef gravy and serve. Mashed potatoes and a vegetable go great and boy is that ever good. While I was a prisoner (NOT a convict) in a South American lock up my cell mate made this our Sunday night special. The Two cane Kid

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