Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chopped Liver

The Jewish Holiday Passover, Pesach, arrives this year at sundown on Monday, April 18.  I say ‘this year’ because no Jewish holiday starts on the same date from one year to the next, let’s say December 25, for example. 
Whenever, like most Jewish holidays, food will play centre field. Food is a particular focus on Passover because the holiday begins with a seder, a huge ceremonial meal. 

While each family has their own opinion on what foods should grace their seder table, one thing they all have in common. There will be no bread. Jews eat symbolic matzo on Passover, a form on unleavened bread. It's to remind us of the hasty departure made during their exodus from Egypt, allowing no time to allow their bread to rise. Five thousand years later, we’re still eating matzo. You'd think it tasted good.
Other traditional seder dinner stand-bys include: chicken soup, chopped liver, gefilte fish, brisket, roast chicken, potato kugel and mile-high sponge cakes.
In honour of these traditional foods, I’m devoting this blog to one of my favourites from that list: chopped liver.  This much-maligned delicacy (am I the first person to use the words chopped liver and delicacy in the same line?) has special meaning to me. 

I’m going to share an excerpt from a chapter from a memoir I’m working on to explain why:

My childhood rabbi called us ‘Chopped Liver Jews.’ “You think all you have to do is eat a little chopped liver, go to shule on Yom Kippur and you can call yourselves Jews?” he asked. No way. It wasn’t good enough to keep the religion alive, he told us. The warning signs were already there in the 1950s. Intermarriage was looming.
Both chopped liver and chicken soup did play more significant roles in our home than Jewish law or theology.  Perhaps my mother used comforting Jewish foods as metaphors for “I love you,” words I don’t remember her ever saying. 

Instead, she offered affection through soup and liver – one a soothing broth, clear as a fresh-brewed tea, shimmering like golden honey. And the other – lumpy, coarse, brown-gray sludge that sticks to the roof of your mouth?
I wasn’t more than five when my mother introduced me to the secret of making a great, as opposed to good, chopped liver.
I watched in disgust as she unwrapped the slimy, blood-red chicken livers from the waxy pink butcher paper and slide them onto a glass plate. “How can you even touch them?” I asked, repelled as she rummaged through, removing errant veins.
She then pulled out a lidded metal container perched on the middle shelf in our fridge sitting next to the much-loved bright orange Velveeta cheese. 

“This is the secret,” my mother announced, whisking off the lid of a metal container, proudly displaying the contents as if a rabbit conjured from a top hat. 

“Don’t let anyone tell you different,“ she continued, slopping a big glob of gooey yellow grease into her copper-bottomed frying pan. Shmaltz

When the rendered chicken fat crackled, she added chopped onions, frying them into heavenly sweetness.  “You don’t get this with Mazola.” 

After the livers were browned and the ambrosial onion smell only a memory, my mother let me ‘chop’ the liver in her hand-cranked grinder attached to the turquoise formica counter. 

She put liver pieces in as I whirled the wooden handle round and round, watching them ooze onto a plate in long, unappetizing strands. “You’ll inherit this grinder one day,” my mother told me, “so remember what I said about the shmaltz.” 

It was one of the few pieces of advice she ever gave other than ‘cut your bangs,’ ‘get your hair off your face’ and ‘never marry a man who can’t dance.’ My father couldn’...

I know. This excerpt from my book doesn't exactly paint a pretty picture about chopped liver, or for that matter, my parents' marriage. I cover more on the latter elsewhere in the book.

As for chopped liver, here's:

The Best Chopped Liver Ever

  • 2 pounds chicken livers
  • 1 cup rendered chicken fat (shmaltz)
  • 2 cups medium-diced yellow onion (2 onions)
  • 4 extra-large eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and cut up
  • 2 teaspoons  kosher or coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Drain the livers and saute them in 2 batches in 2 tablespoons of the chicken fat over medium-high heat, turning once, for about 5 minutes, or until just barely pink inside. Don't overcook the livers or they will be dry. Transfer them to a large bowl.

In the same pan, saute the onions in 3 tablespoons of the chicken fat over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until browned. Mix with livers, making sure to scrape out all the good stuff from the pan.

Add the eggs salt, black pepper, cayenne, and the remaining chicken fat to the bowl. Toss quickly to combine. If you have a grinder, now is the time to use it. Put the mixture in in batches, and grind into a large bowl. M ash with a fork until you get the right consistency.

No grinder? Transfer half the mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Pulse 6 to 8 times, until coarsely chopped (do not turn into a smooth paste!).  Repeat with the remaining mixture. Season, to taste (you'll find chopped liver needs a lot of salt. See if you need more than the recommended two teaspoons.)

Chill. Serve on crackers or matzo. Enjoy!


  1. Sounds delicious. Where do you get schmaltz in Charlevoix? We will be alone for Passover this year for the first time.

  2. Having recently enjoyed this culinary delight - on matzo, natch - I can honestly say "Trust her, you'll like it!".