Classic chopped liver

Chopped liver may be the butt of jokes, but set it out on a buffet table and this Ashkenazi specialty often disappears before everything else.

chopped liver 88 (photo credit: )
chopped liver 88
(photo credit: )
Chopped liver may be the butt of jokes, but set it out on a buffet table and this Ashkenazi specialty often disappears before everything else. Sephardim may not be enticed by gefilte fish, but Jews of every origin love chopped liver. A recipe for chopped liver appears in Rashelika - Aromas of the Traditional Jerusalem Sephardi Kitchen (in Hebrew) in which the chopped liver is seasoned with brandy. There are several theories regarding the history of chopped liver. Sherry Ansky, author of The Food of Israel, provides this practical explanation: "As chickens produce only a single liver, hard-boiled eggs and fried onions were added to make that single liver feed more people." Mitchell Davis, author of The Mensch Chef, feels that "the predecessor to modern-day chopped liver may well be the French delicacy foie gras. Historians believe that it was medieval Jewish goose farmers who fattened geese for schmaltz, who carried on and spread the tradition of foie gras production in Europe." I've long considered this staple of the Shabbat menu easy to make. Among my family and friends, I've encountered only slight variations of the basic recipe. Some cooks may prefer more onions, others more eggs or none at all. Some may grind it in a meat grinder, others might puree the mixture in a food processor. The spread might be more or less highly seasoned with salt and pepper. But on the whole it comes out fine and usually I like most homemade versions. Even if you tweak the recipe a little to make it more healthful, you can have good results. An Iraqi-born friend in Israel puts finely chopped grilled eggplant in her chopped liver, and it tastes very good. Another friend adds pureed cooked lentils and this result is tasty too. I've added pureed cooked chickpeas - sort of humous meets chopped liver - and found the spread delicious. Legumes and eggplant work well because their earthy flavors complement but don't overpower the liver. They give the spread a slightly lighter texture but it's still rich and satisfying. In short, I thought that this recipe was foolproof. But I was wrong. Recently I sampled chopped liver from a popular deli at a party and I didn't like it at all. Instead of the usual luscious texture, it was light and almost frothy, and its color was rather pale. Worst of all, instead of being savory, the chopped liver was sweet. I guess the onions were the culprit. That batch of chopped liver tasted like it contained lots of boiled onions. Tasty chopped liver needs plenty of tender, well browned, almost caramelized onions. Browning the onions takes time and patience and a fairly slow flame. If you use high heat to speed up the process, the onions stay somewhat raw and crunchy and mar the spread's smoothness. For the onions to brown properly and become tender, they need to be spread out in the pan. If your pan is too small and the onion layer is too thick, they may simmer instead of turning brown. This may have happened to the cooks in the deli, who perhaps used too large a quantity of onions for the pan and didn't give them time to brown properly. Keep this in mind if you want to make a large quantity of chopped liver; if necessary, use several frying pans. Ask a chef how he or she makes chopped liver, and many will respond "like my mother did." This is the kind of dish in which everyone seems to try to capture their childhood memories. For many, reproducing their mothers' or grandmothers' version, is the deal, rather than creating new variations. Chicken livers are the most popular, but some people use beef or calf's liver, or mix it with chicken livers. Most cooks grill or broil the livers, a procedure required for koshering livers. The European tradition was to saute the onions in chicken fat or goose fat, but many now use vegetable oil and some even opt for olive oil. To make it ultra-rich, a few cooks still add grivenes (chicken skin cracklings). Davis insists that chopping the liver in an old-fashioned chopping bowl gives the best result. Some cooks object to using the food processor because the liver becomes too smooth, but others, including me, feel it can be used if you stop it often and leave a few small chunks. Marlena Spieler, author of The Jewish Heritage Cookbook, flavors chopped liver the Hungarian way, with deeply browned chopped onion, a little raw onion and a handful of thinly sliced green onion. Davis notes that grated raw onion adds a sharpness that helps cut through the fat. However, he advises, if you add raw onion more than a few hours before serving, it will turn bitter. For extra pungency, a friend of his flavors chopped liver with horseradish and dry mustard. Since chopped liver often is served on Shabbat, many eat it with halla, but I prefer rye bread. Chopped liver is also good scooped onto a bed of lettuce garnished with cherry tomatoes, small radishes, cucumber slices and pickles. At delis chopped liver is sometimes combined with pastrami in sandwiches, but putting those two rich fillings together in a single sandwich, for my taste, detracts from both. CLASSIC CHOPPED LIVER Grate the hard-boiled eggs with the large holes of a grater or chop them with a knife. You can keep chopped liver in a covered container for two days in the refrigerator. For lighter variations, see the notes following the recipe. 350 gr. to 450 gr. chicken livers 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil or chicken fat 2 onions, chopped 1 or 2 hard-boiled eggs, grated salt and freshly ground pepper Lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes (for serving) Preheat broiler with rack about 7.5 cm. from flame. Rinse livers and pat dry on paper towels; cut off any green spots. Put livers on foil in broiler and sprinkle with salt. Broil three minutes or until top is light brown. Turn livers over, sprinkle second side with salt, and broil three or four more minutes or until cooked through and color is no longer pink; cut to check. Discard juices from foil. Cool livers slightly. Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until tender and deep golden brown but not burned. Chop the liver in a food processor with on/off pulses so a few chunks remain. Add onions and chop with on/off pulses until blended in. Transfer to bowl and lightly mix in egg. Season well with salt and pepper. Serve cold, in scoops on lettuce leaves. Garnish with tomato slices. Makes 4 to 6 appetizer servings. LIGHTER CHOPPED LIVER: CHOPPED LIVER WITH LENTILS: Use only 225-gr. liver. Cook 3⁄4 cup brown lentils in 11⁄2 cups chicken broth until tender. Drain and grind in food processor. Mix with the other ingredients. CHOPPED LIVER WITH CHICKPEAS: Drain a 400-gr. can chickpeas and grind in food processor. Mix with the other ingredients. Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.