Has there ever been a Jewish food more maligned? Last time, we heard how traditional chopped liver became the perennial punchline. Today, it’s time to show chopped liver a little love.
“Every ethnic cuisine has at least one dish which produces either nostalgia or nausea, depending on who it’s placed in front of,” so we are told at Judaism for Dummies. “Ashkenazi Jews have gehakte leber, or ‘chopped liver.’ Chopped liver—a dense mixture of chicken liver, onions, and hard-boiled egg—is a heart attack waiting to happen. Nonetheless, just thinking about chopped liver makes our mouths water and reminds us of our childhoods. For those of us who grew up with it, chopped liver is nostalgia food.”
Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan
Is it possible to overcome a fear of liver? Read on for someone with an open mind – and palette. “A few days ago, I overcame whatever residues of German guilt and uneasiness had been holding me back, and tried out a kosher restaurant for the first time in my life. My appetizer was chopped liver, my main course gefilte fish, my dessert cheesecake and some bland brewage misleadingly called ‘kosher cappuccino’…
“To my surprise, the high point of my dinner turned out to be the chopped liver. I loved everything about it: the taste of the liver itself; its refinement by just the right amounts of onion and parsley; its texture … So, to avoid misunderstandings in the future, if I ever say to you, ‘you are chopped liver to me’, I am making you a big compliment by comparing you to one of my new favourite foods. If, on the other hand, I wish to inform you that there’s no love lost between us … my parting words shall be, ‘you’re kosher cappuccino to me.’ Because that’s exactly how I feel about kosher cappuccino.”
Chopped Liver joke
The nostalgia oozes out of Stacey’s chopped liver, especially when she thinks about her Grandma Dorothy’s dish. “She served it as a first course during Jewish holidays on a bed of iceberg lettuce (does anyone buy iceberg lettuce anymore?), and scooped it out with an ice cream scoop! She had an old-fashioned meat grinder which she would use to grind the calves liver after broiling. I make this delicacy for Passover only, and it brings back a lot of good memories.”
Although there are countless references to chopped liver as “Heart-Attack-on-a-Plate,” is its association as a killer dish really fair? Could it even be good for you? Chopped liver has a defender in Joanna Blythman who writes in the Guardian that chicken livers are high in protein and iron as well as certain B vitamins, most notably folate and B12. “This nutritional profile makes them a good choice for anyone prone to anemia. Chicken livers are also one of the top sources of vitamin A, which helps eye health.” And in a “so there!” moment to its oh-so-sophisticated cousin Blythman writes that it’s, “replete with iron and vitamins – and good for so much more than processed pâté.”
In his Elegy for Chopped Liver, Jules Cohn bemoans the fate of a food with such lofty origins. “Modernity is merciless; it knows no limits. American chefs and chopped liver conglomerators have had their way with it. What began as a culinary concept steeped in piety and the laws of kashrut, as a solution to a religious, ethical and legal problem, is deracinated, a dish alienated from its cultural origins, even as many of its contemporary consumers have been cut off from theirs.”
How to Cook Kosher Liver – Rabbi Shlomo Cohen
And oh what work it is! Unless you pick up a ready-to-eat tub at the supermarket or a sandwich at the deli, making your own kosher chopped liver is quite a chore. If you’d like to prepare some from scratch – and want to keep you kitchen kosher at the same time – you need to do some reading first. That raw liver you have just purchased may be kosher but still requires “koshering” before you can cook with it.
Because the liver produces blood and is full of blood – and blood is forbidden to be eaten – a more elaborate procedure than is required for the rest of a kosher animal. This COR site provides an 11-step guide to kashering liver, which includes making crisscross incisions, washing, grating, salting, broiling, more washing and checking it.
Now that you’ve kashered your livers – or purchased kashered livers from your butcher – you are ready to go.
Next time, let’s get cooking.