Archetypal Ashkenazi Chopped Liver

You’ve read the chopped liver elegy and cringed over the results of the taste test. Isn’t it time you made your own? Here’s how.

  • 2 pounds kosher chicken livers
  • 2-3 tablespoons chicken fat, rendered into schmaltz by melting the fat slowly in a hot skillet
  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut into very thin slices. (The thinness of the slices is essential to a true Ashkenazi chopped liver; the thinness adds a subtle sweetness.) Sauté the thin slices in the chicken fat, move them around in the skillet in a friendly way: you want their sweetness.
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, shelled and roughly chopped into generous bite-sized pieces (not crumbled or ground down to little beads; the Alsatian Ashkenazim were a robust and hearty people). They liked their onions thin and their boiled eggs rough and significant-looking.
  • A small amount of salt

For gribenes (optional):

  • ¼ cup schmaltz
  • Chicken skins in pieces

1) Wash the livers. Attentively arrange them on large torn, moistening pieces of brown paper bags, and place them under the broiler in a hot oven. After 3-4 minutes, remove the sheets of livers, and with a small fork turn each liver gently before returning the sheets to the broiler for the final browning (and kashering). In another few minutes the livers will be ready for the next step; examine them respectfully as you remove and separate them from the bloodied paper; they should all be toasty looking and easily combined with the eggs, the schmaltz, the sautéed onion and, if it is your choice, with the gribenes.

2) For the gribenes (an optional step): Sauté the chicken skins in the schmaltz, adding small amounts of water from time to time as the skins begin to brown and crackle. Nurse these cracklings, watch over them carefully, safeguarding against burning or charring. Your goal is to achieve harmoniously browned and crisp cracklings. Your gribenes will be an added-on pleasure, probably unknown to the 11th-century Alsatians. In place of uncompromising authenticity you will have an extra taste treat. But consider carefully: Do you want to cross the boundary between the real thing and latter-day emendations?

3) The final step is the combining and chopping. Combining is the formal procedure, in which you introduce your ingredients to one another. It must be done by hand, preferably with a wooden spoon, always gentler than steel or plastic or silver. What’s called for is a sturdy stirring, lasting only a few minutes. Then the chopping. By hand! No blender, Cuisinart or KitchenAid machine can chop the ingredients with the care, discretion and understanding brought by your own touch. Chop lightly, your goal is to do no harm to the ingredients assembled so scrupulously. Chop rhythmically, for at the right rhythm the eggs, the schmaltz, the thin onion slices will respond to you and one another in tune. With luck, you’ll feel a connection across centuries of Jewish history to our forbears, who endowed us with this indigenous, modest, simple appetizer.

Jules Cohn is a longtime preparer of chopped liver. His chopping skills were developed in small town New Jersey, in the post-WWII decades. His tutor was his grandmother; her batterie de cuisine: a worn wooden bowl and a steel chopping blade, attached to a wooden handle.

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