Josh Play Recipes Appetizer Chopped Chicken Liver

Steven Levine <steven@cray.com> posted the following recipe to soc.motss in February 1997.


The real and only key to good chopped liver is schmaltz. And this, I suppose, is one of those few family recipe things I inherited. It's hard for me to remember, but there was a time in the deep dark recesses of the past when my own mother used animal fat in her cooking! These days my mother would be horrified to know that I make chopped liver at all (because without using chicken fat there is no point — she knows this and she knows I know this).

My mother won't even *tell* me how she used to render chicken fat. I've had to remember back to childhood, to watching my mother in the kitchen, to recreate her technique. Just as if I were remembering something a long-dead elderly relative used to do.

And I know that my mother learned to make and use chicken fat from her own mother. As near as I can figure, in the shtetls of Eastern Europe (and even in the US) chicken was more of a luxury item than it has become in recent decades. The "chicken in every pot" campaign slogan (was that Coolidge?) was a promise of prosperity. Chicken was the Sabbath meal, the special meal of the week. Chicken fat was lovingly saved from many chickens until there was enough to melt down into schmaltz. And this schmaltz was like gold, a special magic ingredient.

We had chicken every Friday night in my house (chicken parts really). My mother would cut the fat off the chicken each week and add it to the store she collected in the freezer (I have no idea how they stored chicken fat in the shtetl). When she had enough, she would pull it out and cut it up into small pieces. She sauted this in a big pan with finely-chopped onion, a little salt, and some chopped apple. Yes, apple. I have never seen that mentioned in a published recipe (and I've looked), but my mother explained (and I find this to be true) that this little bit of apple adds a sort of sweetness to the schmaltz.

As the chicken fat melted, she poured it off the pan and strained it with a fine sieve, leaving a clear golden liquid. The best part was what remained in the strainer: the gribbines (that's my recollection of the word — I'm sure it's not quite right), or "cracklings". Chicken fat you cut yourself has bits of chicken skin clinging to it. The fat melts away, and the remaining skin fries up into these little crispy delicacies. Pork rinds should be ashamed. Even thirty years ago my mother wouldn't let me eat these ("It's like poison!"), although she extolled their tasty virtues as she fed them to the cats, who devoured them. I have tried these when I have rendered chicken fat myself, and yes they are tasty like no low-fat food can ever hope to be.

Me, I don't have a working freezer, so I buy my chicken fat frozen in the supermarket. My mother still cuts the fat off chicken when she cooks it, but she throws the fat and skin away. Presumably this is a health issue, but I think it is also an atavistic urge to return to the First Temple period, to the days of sacrifices.

Once you have the chicken fat you can look at it and admire its beauty for a while, and then you can make chopped liver. First you cook the chicken livers. My mother used to broil them, I've seen recipes that suggest you pan-fry them, but the easiest thing to do is simmer them in chicken broth for 12-15 minutes (then drain them and remove all the icky-looking stuff that sometimes surrounds chicken livers you buy in a supermarket). Then you just mash them with a fork, along with a generous amount of chicken fat and chopped onions and salt and pepper. Every recipe I've seen advises you to mash hard-boiled egg in. I've tried this — it isn't bad, but with good rich chicken fat it isn't necessary. Modern recipe books tell you to use a food processor, but that gives you the texture of baby-food, which I don't want. You can mash it pretty darned well with just a fork.

Get yourself some really good fresh rye bread, which might be a problem in North Carolina, I don't know.



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Last update Jul16/05 by Josh Simon (<jss@clock.org>).