What??? Living in Lancaster Ain’t Chopped Liver
I’m honoring it, with one of my favorite recipes of all time. I made it at the Epicure in Miami Beach, usually 120 pounds a week. They sell a lot of chopped liver in Miami Beach–at least they did when I was there. Of course, Miami Beach wasn’t then what it is now; it was full of people who ate chopped liver and died young (young in Miami Beach back then was defined as 88). But we made chopped liver. Legend had it it was my grandmother’s recipe. I can’t say for sure; she never made it for me, and my father used to say that the rumors of her cooking skills were greatly exaggerated. She was, after all, a working woman from the time she arrived in the US at Providence, R.I. back at the turn of the twentieth century until she had her first heart attack at the age of sixty-something. Grandma Jenny was the greatest. Big, full of life, typical of the American Jewish grandmother but with none of the passive-aggressiveness. Nothing passive about Jenny. Her aggressiveness was right there in your face. Ask Uncle Sidney. But she was very kind.
But a cook? I think not so much. But she used to make me a mean saucer full of hot water with lemon.
Anyway here’s our chopped liver recipe, scaled down from the 120-pound recipe to a more manageable quantity. You might think this is a lot of chopped liver–who needs this much anyway??–but resist the temptation to halve the recipe. This will lose almost half its weight in water during the cooking process. Make at least this much, maybe even double it. This recipe will serve six nicely as an appetizer.
Jenny’s (?) Chopped Liver
2 pounds fresh chicken livers
2 pounds sweet Vidalia (or large yellow) onions, halved, then thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons rendered chicken fat* (see note below)
8 hard-cooked eggs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fine-ground white pepper
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons Maggi Seasoning (available at many good specialty grocery stores, and at my local Asian market)
Heat 1/4 cup chicken fat or vegetable shortening until shimmering in each of two large saute pans. Don’t go short here. Hey! This ain’t health food!
In one pan place the chicken livers and saute at medium heat until there is no more pink in the middle and they just begin to crisp up. A little crispiness in the liver is good. A lot is bad Be careful here.. Drain and cool to room temperature in a colander over the sink.
In the other pan saute the onions with paprika, salt, and pepper, over medium-low heat until they caramelize. Cook them slowly–don’t let them burn. Caramelizing onions is a skill a cook needs to learn, then use often. It takes patience. Patience is extremely important. Real caramelized onions are one of the world’s finest treats; they get so sweet you could die. Use them here. After they are caramelized, set them aside to cool completely. Don’t rush this process. The onions and livers need to be completely cooled to room temperature or the final product will be mushy. And nobody likes mushy chopped liver!
When cooled, mix the onions and livers in a bowl, tossing them with your hands to mix well. Use your hands. That’s the way real cooks cook. Then cut the eggs in half and toss them in with the rest of the mess and toss well to combine.
Then run the whole mess through a food grinder attachment to a stand mixer using the largest holes. Alternately, chop the mess up with a pastry cutter in a wooden bowl, but don’t cut the stuff up too fine. There really needs to be a bit of bite to the finished product. This isn’t pate.
Add the honey and Maggi seasoning and mix well. If the chopped liver is too dry, melt the remaining two tablespoons of fat and add it to the bowl a little at a time and mix until it reaches the consistency of tight peanut butter. Just don’t overmix here. You don’t want to chop the stuff up more in the mixing process.
Taste as you mix, adding a bit more salt and white pepper if necessary. Use just a bit more white pepper than you think you need. Chopped liver is soooo much better when it’s just slightly peppery (resist the temptation to use black pepper. It’s the wrong product. Fine-ground white pepper here, please. It should be a staple condiment in your kitchen.
Finally, coat a serving dish with a wee bit of the chicken fat or shortening and put the finished product in the bowl and chill in the fridge for at least six hours. It will be really tempting to eat it all freshly made, but don’t. Let it set up in fridge for a while. It gets better.
Serve the chopped liver with toasted bagel chips, available in bags at the deli counter at most grocery stores. It’s the best way. You’ll thank me later. Melba toast rounds or cocktail rye or pump slices are okay too, but not nearly as good. If you use rye or pump slices, toast them lightly before serving.
* To render chicken fat, place 1 cup raw chicken fat, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and (optionally) half a thinly sliced small onion in a heavy-bottom pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is liquified and the cracklings are golden brown. Strain over a Mason jar, toss the solids, cover and refrigerate until you need it.