To Mom and to me, cooking is like breathing. I know that cooking is a skill that has to be taught, but both of us have been cooking for so long that it feels like we’ve been doing it all our lives. So I understood what she meant when I walked in with my camera and notebook to learn to make chopped liver and she shook her head.
“People think making my own chopped liver is such a big deal, but it’s practically the easiest thing in the world to make.”
It never occurs to her how daunting a recipe with several steps, even easy steps, can seem to a non-cook, and before I started this blog in 2009, it really didn’t cross my mind much, either. For the blog’s sake, I take photos and jot down quantities, but I don’t remember when I learned how to tell how long to cook something or how much onion to use, and I don’t write those things down in my normal day-to-day life. Knowing how to achieve the taste and texture I want feels like a part of me, and that’s mainly because Mom has been letting me help with the cooking since I was able to stand on a stool in the kitchen.
When I was planning what to cook for my first recipe back after a long break from blogging, I looked over the list of Mom’s recipes, the ones I’ve already done here, and was surprised not to see chopped liver. I grew up on the stuff, and it’s one of those things that is never as good in a restaurant or store as it is homemade. I think many of us have those things that we only like done a certain way, and the livers are like that for me.
While we made these this morning, Mom told me about a time when a friend of a friend from Israel was visiting and Mom made chopped liver for her. The woman from Israel was so happy to have some food that reminded her of home, and today, I’m feeling that, too.
If you haven’t had chopped liver before, it may remind you of pâté. Pâté is delicious and fancy, but chopped liver is, well, chopped liver. It’s cheap and homey and casual and the perfect thing to eat on toast as an easy, quick meal. Mom likes it best on rye toast. I am more likely to use white toast or crackers (or just a spoon).
If you’re a novice cook and you like chopped liver, this really is a great starter recipe, and it’s something different to add to your hors d’oeuvres repertoire. There’s nothing difficult about it, and I’ll even help you with shortcuts and substitutions. Plus, the quantities are forgiving. Just make sure your livers are fresh and you’re good to go.
Either a meat/food grinder or a food processor
A frying pan (nonstick isn’t necessary)
A large bowl
1 pound of fresh chicken livers
1/3 cup schmaltz. If you don’t have schmaltz, you can use oil or butter. There’s also a mayo alternative — see note
1 large onion, chopped (the pieces should be small enough to fit into your grinder chute or processor bowl)
3 hard-boiled eggs (if you’re not sure how to boil an egg, Elise will help you out)
2 or 3 good-sized slices of white bread. We used home-baked today; if your bread is especially soft, you might want to use an extra slice.
salt to taste
If you’re using a meat grinder (also known as a food grinder), set it up with a coarse disk on it. If you’re using a food processor, a regular metal blade is what you want. If you have neither, this can absolutely be done by hand with just a knife, but expect it to take quite some time, and that’s really just a last resort.
Heat schmaltz in a frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken livers without draining. Cook and stir over medium heat until the livers are firm, around 5 minutes. Cut into one of the livers and make sure most or all of the pink color is gone. If not, cook a couple more minutes and test again until they’re cooked through. A tiny bit of pink is okay, but if the livers aren’t firm, they’ll end up soupy once they’re ground up.
Remove the livers from the heat and place all the ingredients near the grinder or food processor.
With a slotted spoon, remove the livers from the schmaltz and run through the grinder or pulse in the food processor until coarsely chopped.
Put the bread slices into the schmaltz to soak it up while you grind the onions and eggs.
Next, grind the rest of the items in this order: onions, eggs, soaked bread.
Mix everything together. Test the texture and salt to taste. I usually don’t need much salt, if any. Some people like it saltier. Remember that the livers will firm up in the fridge, so you want the texture to be a little thinner and looser than you’re hoping they’ll be when they’re cold. If the livers are too soft for your taste, add more bread. If they’re too dry, add a little schmaltz.
Note: In a pinch, you can skip the schmaltz and use a good brand of mayo. In this case, cook the livers in a small amount of oil or butter, process all the other ingredients in the grinder or food processor, and then mix the ground ingredients with 1/4 to 1/3 cup of mayo, to taste. The flavor is similar, but not as good as with schmaltz.