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23 June 2009

Chopped liver

American slang has it that the term 'chopped liver' is an insignficant thing, a nothing.

And the ingredients to make the dish itself could easily give the impression that this is something really rather insignificant.  It's a bit of offal, a few eggs and bit of onion.  So, what's all the fuss?

The fuss comes when these things are combined to create a dish of sublime beauty, subtlety and deliciousness.  I accept my association maybe Proustian, but nonetheless it is good.

It would be wrong to think that it is a kosher version of chicken liver pate - or any other pate for that matter.  The ingredient list is short, the methodology straightforward.  It is simply chopped liver.  That's it.  We shouldn't be ashamed of its simplicity and we don't want to masquerade it as something it isn't. 

I like to eat it with new green cucumbers.  You can make your own (I'll post a recipe shortly) or I rather like Snowcrest's - not a statement you'll see me write about anything else Snowcrest makes.

A note on fat: For this recipe I advocate schmaltz - rendered chicken fat.  I know it's not healthy, but as my grandmother said "everything in moderation".  As a crack addict, she was speaking from experience.

If you don't use schmaltz then use a relatively neutrally flavoured oil like vegetable or peanut.  Both have a relatively high smoking point - unlike olive oil - and will allow a better flavour.

Schmaltz has the added advantage of gribenes - a chef's treat if ever there was one.

I made the chopped liver most recently for Simon Majumdar and I'm pleased to see he enjoyed it - shame about his balls.

Below is my mother's recipe that was passed down from her mother and no doubt her mother and so on into Jewish grandmother lore. 

I've adapted my mother's recipe because I use schmaltz, my mother doesn't. Turns out however that in the dim distant past my grandma did.  Although my mum's is excellent, seriously, you should go for the schmaltz.  And if you do, you might want to think carefully about dessert.

Serves 6 as a starter

  • 450g / 1lb chicken livers - not frozen
  • 5 medium onions - diced
  • 8 hard boiled eggs
  • 250g chicken fat to make schmaltz

Clean the livers.  This involves de-veining them and removing anything that is darker than the rest of the organ.  Simply slice it out.

If you keep kosher, the livers need to be koshered.  Simon in the comments below gives a pretty good method although this is a bit more detailed. (For clarity, I should say that I've amended this bit on koshering the livers because what I had in the first place wasn't correct and it was my original methodology that Simon refers to.)

Hard boil the eggs and separate the egg from the yolk of 7 of the eggs, keep the eighth egg whole and set aside with the 7 whites.

Grate or blitz in the magimix the 7 egg yolks and set aside for garnish.

Fry the onions in the schmaltz until they are a deep brown - it can take about 20 mins.  Towards the end of the cooking try not to let them burn, you want them soft not crispy, ideally.  Some argue a bit of crispiness is ok.  Set aside about 10% of the onions for garnish.

Make sure the livers are as dry as possible - vigorous dabbing with kitchen roll works well - and fry them in the same pan as the onions, on a high heat.  You don't want to clean the pan before you fry them - you want the schmaltzy onion remains in there.

Cook the livers for about 4 minutes - or until they are thoroughly cooked through but before they're dry.  I like them to be a bit pink on the inside with a decent amount of brown caramelisation on the outside.

If you were my grandma you would then combine the livers, the 90% of onions not destined for the garnish, the egg whites and 1 whole egg into a hand grinder.  If you're me or my mother, you'd chuck it in the magimix.  I blitz it until it's the grainy side of smooth - it's totally personal preference.  In his excellent book Yiddish Recipes Revisited, Arthur Schwartz suggests adding gribenes to this mixture.  I haven't tried it.  It sounds naughty, but very nice indeed.

Add the remaining onions and stir in - you don't want them blitzed.

You will need to take a view at this stage whether it is sufficiently moist or too dry.  Tasting is the best way to make this call.  If you think it needs to be a bit moister, then add some schmaltz or oil, but do so carefully.  It can very quickly go from being dry to an oil slick.

Let it cool in the fridge.  Remember those warnings about the dangers of allowing chicken to cool too slowly.  This is chicken offal, so in the fridge as quickly as possible please.

Once completely cool - a couple of hours should do - remove from the fridge and allow it some time to stand and get close to room temperature and taste it.  It will need to be seasoned again because up to now, you've seasoned it and tasted it as a hot dish.  As a cool one, the flavours will be muted so it needs pepping up.  I usually find it needs more pepper than salt.

When serving, my mother sprinkles the previously set-aside egg yolks on top.  Personally I don't, I leave them in a bowl for people to add themselves.


If for any reason I edit a comment, I explicitly say so. I only edit comments if they are rude, abusive etc. I reserve the right to delete comments if I think they're unduly offensive or constitute spam.

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Sounds delicious! I'm a little confused - are the quantities for the onions and the eggs in the ingredients list the wrong way round?

Lizzie, a vital spot, thanks for that. I've now amended so that they're the right way round. Thanks!

Sounds beautiful. I'd never heard the word 'schmaltz' before, but I'm going to delight in using it from now on.

Ollie, sorry for taking so long to reply. Never heard of schmaltz? If this blog has achieved nothing else, then the fact I've introduced you to this elixir means my job is done.

Koshering a liver is a different process to that which you describe. Essentially you need to cook the liver over a heat source to allow juices to drip off and not collect, the liver needs to be cooked well done. Using a BBQ will do the trick. The theory is that the bloody juices drip out. Sadly, needs to be well done and I prefer a perfect medium liver personally.

Excellent blog btw.

Simon, thanks for the nice words - and you're right of course, full details here: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/82815/jewish/Koshering-Liver.htm

Brilliant article, check this out for more Jewish recipes


Joe, I'm fairly sure you're comment is spam, but not entirely sure so will let it stand. Thanks for posting!

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