Citizens, it is with no small amount of trepidation that I – the Yuvraj of Yiddishkeit, the Archduke of the Ashkenazim – contemplate sharing this next recipe. As I am Jewish, born in Brooklyn and an aficionado of all Eastern European heirloom Jewish recipes, the mantle of five thousand, seven hundred and eighty years of Jewish history weighs heavily upon my shoulders.
In other words, if I give you anything less than the best recipe for this quintessentially Jewish comfort food, I will be publicly and justifiably excoriated in a most visceral display of Hebrew hazing.
Many, if not most, recipes online for so-called ‘chopped liver’ range from ‘meh’ to ‘abomination’ (can you say olive oil in your chopped liver?!) – this cannot stand, and I shall act with purpose and conviction to at last share my meticulously correct version!
Chopped liver (Yiddish: געהאַקטע לעבער, gehakte leber) is a liver pâté popular in Ashkenazic cuisine. This dish is a common menu item in kosher Jewish delicatessens in Britain, Canada, South Africa, and the United States.
The dish is often made by sautéing or broiling liver and onions, adding hard-boiled eggs, salt and pepper, and grinding that mixture. The liver used in the recipe is chicken – using beef liver is a hideous travesty and spitting in the face of Almighty God. Just don’t do it.
The quintessential fat used is schmaltz, aka chicken fat. Again, resist the siren song of using any other fat – or God forbid, oil – to befoul your divine creation. Only chicken fat may anoint this holy offering to a beneficent deity.
Chopped liver is often served on matzo, or with rye bread as sandwiches.
Since eating chopped liver may not be appreciated by everyone, the Jewish English expression “What am I, chopped liver?”, signifies frustration or anger at being ignored on a social level.
An explanation of the expression is that chopped liver was traditionally served as a side dish rather than a main course. The phrase therefore may have originally expressed a feeling of being overlooked, as a “side dish”.
The origin of the expression is difficult to trace, with many spoken references in older television, comedy and cinema not written down. It is used in the 1949 book The Curtain Never Falls by comedian Joey Adams.
Allow me to quote from a great write-up on the woeful state of chopped liver in The Forward, the oldest Jewish newspaper in the United States:
This is an elegy for chopped liver, a common appetizer with a distinguished pedigree. Its origins have been traced to 11th-century Alsace-Lorraine, where it was foie gras, made from the livers and fat of force-fed geese, plus a dash of Armagnac or Madeira, to add moisture as well as flavor, and salt.
In France to this day, foie gras is officially a part of the “protected cultural and gastronomical heritage” of the nation.
But no one protects chopped liver. Its historical essence has been lost. It was an Ashkenazi adaptation of foie gras, created in part to meet the requirements of kashrut.
Because some rabbonim questioned the force-feeding of geese on ethical and halachic grounds, and because chickens were already a basic component of the Jewish diet, the livers used by Alsatian Jews came to be those of chickens. Instead of goose schmaltz, chicken fat was used to add moisture.
Eventually the chopped liver of the Ashkenazim became known in Eastern Europe, where feinschmeckers added gribenes — chicken skins and onions fried in the chicken fat, providing a robust, crunchy quality.
I learned how to make proper chopped liver by watching my 93 year old great grandmother Dora make it before our Passover seders (ritual meal). She always made it in a wooden bowl, always used an Italian mezzaluna knife (known as a hochmesser in Yiddish) so as to get the proper rocking motion as she minced everything together into a coarse mixture resembling mortar.
…It was delicious.
I am proud to say that my version rivals hers – and dare I say it, may even be better. First, you need to use the best chicken livers you can find – fresh, never frozen, from organic and free range birds. Some say you should use beef liver – these are poor deluded souls more to be pitied for their lack of understanding than verbally abused, so I shall be magnanimous and refrain.
Jews who keep kosher always broil their livers to avoid any blood, a huge issue for liver lovers, as broiling enough to make the livers well-done turns them into shoe leather. Instead, I pan sauté my livers for more control over the cooking – if you’re keeping kosher, try your best not to overcook the livers.
As to the egg, I diverge slightly from traditional recipes by calling for free range duck eggs, which are larger and richer than chicken eggs with a bigger yolk. If you can’t find them, just use regular top-quality eggs from free-range birds.
You want to cook the eggs first just to the hard-boil stage, where the yolk is just turning from jammy to solid and the whites are tender, not rubbery.
The onion is less orthodox (pun intended) as to how it’s cooked. Some throw it in practically raw – don’t do it, it’s just wrong in this recipe. You want the onions cooked to translucent, golden and just starting to brown on the edges – do not take them past this point!
As to the fat used to bind the mixture – if you use anything but rendered chicken fat, I will personally hunt you down so as to pass and execute immediate and merciless judgment. Once again – stick to the old-school wisdom here and all will be well.
I add even more flavor to my schmaltz by heating it up with a sprig of fresh thyme and a bay leaf – both are discarded after imparting their flavorful essence to the fat. Frying the onions in the same fat adds even more flavorful nuances to this liquid gold!
Some people add gribenes, crunchy bits of rendered chicken skin into their chopped liver. I happily ascribe to this gospel and urge you to do the same. You can make it very easily from chicken skin, so try not to skip this ingredient if you can.
Lastly, I have tweaked the standard salt and pepper to become a true seasoning salt with a bit of herb and spice. Don’t worry, they are just background notes on the palate. My genius addition? A bit of ground chicken bouillon cube that is basically salt with chicken flavor. It really amps up the dish, but feel free to replace it with kosher salt if you so prefer.
To make chopped liver like a true O.G., buy a top-quality wooden chopping bowl and mezzaluna combo! to make it the way our ancestors did when they first emigrated to the United States in the late 19th century. You’ll thank me. You want the end result of your chopping to look like mortar, a sort of coarse paste. If you put this in a food processor, the texture will be totally ruined. Again – stay the course and go old-school!
Alternatively, you could buy a mezzaluna (or an Eskimo ulu knife, if you prefer that handle style) and a wooden cutting board separately, if you so prefer and already have the correct bowl/board/knife.
Citizens, this is the best recipe for authentic chopped liver you will ever find – please do sample some of it soon, ideally on a piece of matzo or pletzel, or on crackers or as part of a sandwich. Give it a try, you won’t regret your decision! If you really want to unleash your inner Jew, make some of my homemade gefilte fish as the fish course as part of a true Jewish feast!
Battle on – the Generalissimo
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