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8 posts from June 2009

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.


Never has the dichotomy of good food and bad health been greater than in the case of schmaltz - rendered chicken fat.

To me, it is the very essence of bad good food.  You know it's not healthy, but you also know that an ingredient that adds this much flavour to whatever it touches has to be very good indeed.

And so it is.  Let it near an onion and it will be the sweetest onion you've ever tasted.  It can turn a chicken liver into the consistency of cream and the oi, we shouldn't talk of the things it can do to chicken skin to make the delight of gribenes.

As an aside: do non-kosher butchers charge for chicken fat?  Kosher ones do and I've an inkling non-kosher don't.  Now that my friends is a chutzpah.  As a further aside, can I point out that being spelled with a ch- chutzpah is pronounced as though it is an h.  Please stop saying chootzpar, as in choo-choo, and start saying hootspah, with a slightly guttural 'h' at the start. 

Returning to the matters at hand.  It couldn't be easier to make schmaltz and I'm not sure if this even counts as a recipe.  But here goes enough to make chopped liver for 6.

  • 250g chicken fat

Put the chicken fat into a pan with a tight fitting lid.  Turn on the heat relatively low and let it melt away until you are left with liquid.  You need the lid because it spits insanely and getting burned with chicken fat is not a pleasant experience - nor is cleaning it up from your ceiling.

It could take 20 minutes or so to fully render. 

You can then store the liquid, ideally frozen as it is chicken remember, or preferably use straight away.

If you're very lucky, there will be bits of skin left in the fat - they won't melt - that will have turned golden brown.  Best eaten quickly with a cold beer and smug grin.

22 June 2009


I've never eaten pork scratchings and have long wondered why I've heard so many people speak about them akin to an orgasm.  What is so appealing about a bit of deep fried, hairy pig skin.

And then I made schmaltz and discovered that sitting within the boiling vat of fat was some deep fried chicken skin.  And lo, I ate in wonderment and amazement at these brown scraps in front of me.

Food doesn't get much unhealthier, nor does it get much better.

I have seen recipes that recommend adding onions, which I imagine would make it very good indeed but when I made them, admittedly by accident, there wasn't any onion.

Similarly I've seen recipes recommending you add salt.  If you're using kosher chickens I really don't think it's necessary and would make them too salty.  Kosher chickens are salted as part of the koshering process and until I made gribenes I hadn't appreciated just how much salt is retained in the skin - but it is tasty:

  • 250g chicken fat
  • As much chicken skin as desired

Put the skin into the pan as you are rendering it down for shmaltz.

Once the schmaltz is ready so are the chicken skins.  Dab on kitchen roll to get rid of excess fat and eat immediately.

I strongly advise you don't bother sharing these with others.  You've worked hard, you deserve it.  They don't.

16 June 2009

Taste Fringe, sod Taste of London

If you're thinking of going to Taste of London this weekend, don't. Go to Taste of London Fringe instead.

Organised by Susan Smillie, editor of the Guardian's always excellent Word of Mouth blog - they have some top flight writers don't you know - this is the alternative to the oh-so-corporate Taste of London.

For the last few years Taste of London has been rather mediocre. This year, they have also done a very efficient job of putting my and other bloggers' noses out of joint.  I've heard that a number of real, professional journalists are similarly miffed - well done ToL!

It all started when ToL approached me and others asking if they could put banner 'ads' on our sites. Except they didn't want ads in the traditional, sense. They didn't want to pay. I'm not precious, I know the pecking order of SoF in the greater scheme of things.  But I also know that there is some value to ads on my website and I wasn't about to give it away for free.  Taste of London seemed shocked that I wasn't bowing and scraping at their Tasty feet. It is what is known in the trade as a PR Fail.

So, it's a rubbish event, hosted by people who don't give a toss about those of us who are passionate about our food - sounds like a compelling combination.

If you want fun and frolics and even a bit of aquatic action, then The Taste Fringe it is.  Follow either Word of Mouth, Susan's Twitter updates, or the Twitter hashtag #tastefringe (you don't need to be registered on Twitter to do either of the last two) to learn more about where and what is going on this weekend.  I'll close by wishing well all those who sail on the good ship Finale.

UPDATE: This post has generated a bit of heat.  See Bea in the comments below.  I fully accept her argument here and on Twitter that there are people exhibiting who really do care and the I shouldn't chuck them in the same bucket as the PR department.  Whilst she is right, I don't think I did bunch them all together. But if that was the interpretation then I am sorry.  If you read it the way it was intended, then carry on, nothing to see here.

15 June 2009

Hot sauce

For a while I've been trying to get to the bottom of hot sauce.  Not bottom as in ring of fire bottom, although that is an issue.  But bottom as in, which is the best?

I haven't really been all that interested in flavour, I wanted blow your socks off heat.  I know some people can wax lyrical about the nuances brought by different chillis cooked in different ways, I just wanted lustful heat.

Tabasco has been a stalwart for years but I figured there must be something more out there.  The more I read, the more I saw references to the mind-blowing properties of Frank's RedHot. Mind-blowing?  It's pathetic, hardly any taste at all, let alone spice.  So I reverted to Tabasco.

Resigned to the perfectly good Tabasco for live, I forgot about my mission until yesterday when I came across Rummanco's Hot Chilli Sauce. This stuff was revelatory and it twigged that this is the type of thing worth getting excited about.  It's got that nuance - and I understand why it's important - and it's got flavour.  Hot, but also zesty thanks to dollops of lime and lemon.

As for the ring of fire, well that's an inevitable opportunity cost.

10 June 2009

Casa Brindisa

While lunch was all shades of bad, dinner at Casa Brindisa was a revelation.  The meal was organised as part of the Dine with... series that the Dos Hermanos boys have been organising.  I'm going to leave it to Simon to explain in large part about the meal and how good it was, go read his write-up and see Jon's photos.

The one thing I'd add to Simon's write-up is that being the only non-pork-eater I had a bit of a different experience to everyone else.  Or at least, I had different dishes.  One was seabass in a paprika sauce, that was very good.  But the truly exceptional dish was a fried egg, some grilled asparagus, three slices of hard, manchego like cheese, and drizzled with truffle oil.

I know the last ingredient is sine qua non of verboten ingredients for us gastrosexuals, but this was a worthy addition to an extraordinary dish.  I'm disappointed to say that I felt compelled to offer it up to others on the table to try as it was so good.  I was even more disappointed at just how much they enjoyed it.

Google Maps

Casa Brindisa, 7-9 Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2HQ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7590 0008

What others think

AA Gill, The Sunday Times - None of it was terribly expensive, but then it’s not very nice. But that’s not what’s wrong with it. Tapas is meant to be bar food...
Londonist - It's not novel food but everything was delicious and well cooked and no one batted an eyelid when we ordered tap water to keep costs down.

08 June 2009

Why open kitchens in crap restaurants are a terrible idea

I had lunch at Cantina Vinopolis today and I saw:

  1. a cook rubbing a nasty looking zit
  2. another cook drop a piece of fish on the floor, wash it and then cook it
  3. several cooks 'surreptiously' stuffing their faces with food that was lying around

I know that all of these and far worse go on in normal kitchens - #3 hardly being the crime of the century.  But the whole point of an open kitchen is that the chefs are on show to add some theatre.  What I saw today is not the kind of theatre most sane diners want to see.

To add to the agony I was enduring, the food was appalling.  My tortelloni were thick, leathery, dry dumplings, in a vomit-hued 'tomato-pesto' sauce (I was reminded of my stag night and my attempts at re-floweing a bush following a very good dinner of penne arrabiata).  Pesto, is pesto is pesto.  It hasn't got tomatoes in it.  Also, a note to the kitchen: balsamic reductions were 'out' before they ever came 'in'.

Normally, I end my posts about restaurants with contact details and a little summary of what others have written.  In my role as a public service blogger, I'll spare you.