What am I, Chopped Liver?

January 21, 2005 | By | COMMENTS

A sore throat, a runny nose, even a repetetive sneeze will spray me south two stops on the NR and then two Avenues east, past the trendy people in the East Village, to that bastion of restorative medicine: The 2nd Ave. Deli, home of the city’s most mystically curative chicken soup.

I’ve lived here since August. In that time, I’ve gone to the 2nd Ave. Deli three times for three separate bowls of chicken noodle soup which means I’ve had three colds since I moved here. Maybe it’s the germs on the subway or all the people I make out with. In any case, The 2nd Ave. Deli always succeeds in making me feel better (although it costs a pretty penny). Today I decided to be economical and order soup and half a sandwich (as opposed to a whole sandwich).

Which brings us to the title of this post. This post isn’t about soup. It’s about my sandwich. What was on my sandwich? The Jewish foie gras: Chopped Liver.

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When I told the waiter what I wanted on my sandwich he smiled. In that smile we communed for a moment. “Ah, chopped liver,” he projected, “You’re a real Jew, aren’t you? Who else would order that? I’m impressed. Shalom! Long live Israel!” (He was a long-winded projector.)

There are some Jewish foods I’ve seen my non-Jewish friends eat. Matzoh ball soup, for example. Bagels, of course. Lox even. Maybe a hamentaschen here and there. But never, never ever ever have I seen a non-Jewish friend eat Chopped Liver. I imagine that given the prospect most of them would go: “Blech!”

Are you going “blech” right now? Why are you grossed out? Is it because it’s liver? Is it because it’s chopped? ARE YOU AN ANTI-SEMITE?

Chopped liver was a simple standard of my childhood. It’d be mounded (as it is in the above picture) at family functions and Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, usually with chopped hard-boiled eggs and raw onions. We’d eat it when we’d go to the deli or the bagel store. That is until my grandmother interceded and told us: “DON’T ORDER CHOPPED LIVER. IT’S AN ORGAN MEAT!”

That’s one of the trigger responses chopped liver has for me now. You say “chopped liver,” I hear my grandmother say: “It’s an organ meat!” Meaning, it’s horrible for you. Don’t eat it.

And I haven’t really eaten it in the latter half of my life. It’s been a while. Until today. Today I ordered chopped liver with my soup. The waiter smiled. Jews nodded in approval.

Then it was brought and I bit in and—blech? Not quite. It just took some getting used to. The chopped liver I remember from my childhood had a sweetness to it, perhaps from carmelized onions that get chopped up with it. Maybe this was low on the onions? The texture here was also unpleasant: it was dense and sludgy. Perhaps it was sophisticated. Perhaps this is what real Jews ate when they came over from Russia or Hungary or wherever it is they came from when they brought chopped liver across the ocean. Shall we defer to Joan Nathan’s “Jewish Cooking in America”?

Joan Nathan offers little. She talks about chopped liver sculptures at Jewish weddings. Can you imagine being paid to sculpt chopped liver? There’s also a recipe for vegetarian chopped liver, which my grandmother buys religiously from Whole Foods in Boca, and which I made once for a Passover seder (it involves plenty of onions and then green beans and walnuts to act as “liver”). But as to the history of chopped liver, little is written.

Although it’s not that hard to figure out. When you are poor, what do you do? Use every part of the animal. So as not to waste precious chickens, I’m sure converting the liver into something edible and even enjoyable was a necessity. (Much like the pork uterus that we laugh at in my Chinatown video may have been first cooked out of necessity). Necessity is the mother of invention, no? Such is the way with food.

On the way out of the 2nd Ave. Deli, an old Jewish woman stopped me. “It’s a regular slip joint they’re running here,” she said.

I gave her a look that said: “Hmmm?”

“A rip-off,” she continued, “I go in there and ask for half a pound of turkey, some chopped liver, and pastrami and do you know what they want to charge me? $26!”

I shook my head.

“Look,” she said, “These are my people. I’m happy to shop here. But c’mon!”

I gave her a look that said: “What are you gonna do?”

She shrugged and said: “I’ll go to Katz’s.”

Tradition keeps Jews on roofs and compels us to pay exorbitant prices to eat foods our ancestors ate out of necessity. It’s a nurture thing. Cultural comfort food. Could we afford to eat chopped liver every day? Of course not. And besides…it’s an organ meat!

Categories: Essays

  • Hande

    I am not jewish and love chopped liver! Yummy.

  • sarah

    Can I be an ignorant Brit and ask what chopped liver is? Is it the same as pate? It sounds as though it is.

    If so, you can’t beat chicken liver pate and toast with red onion chutney, mmmm.

  • http://amyscoop.com Amy

    If you really want to see non-Jews squirm, give ‘em a plate of derma and tell ‘em there’s LUNG in it.

    (Chopped liver is exactly what it sounds like, and it is goo-ooo-oood.)

  • http://www.cathykooy.typepad.com Cathy Kooy

    I ate liver every week when I was pregnant with my daughter because I was going to have the perfect child, and the health food books said I should eat liver. She’s very pretty, but she can get cranky. I haven’t eaten liver since.

  • http://orangette.blogspot.com Molly

    Oooh, I LOVE chopped liver. And I’m only barely a half-Jew–my dad was Jewish, so I suppose it doesn’t count? At any rate, last summer I was in Paris for a few weeks with some friends (one a Jew, the other no), and we put away our share of chopped liver in the various Jewish delis on the rue des Rosiers. The best was topped with caramelized onions, and I’ve got to say that it was miiiighty fine with Champagne on Bastille Day.

  • Plk

    Is chopped liver the same as liverwurst? Because I lurves me some liverwurst. A nice liverwurst sandwich where the bread is generously slathered with Miracle Whip reminds me of my kidhood. Note: as a kid, I also made peanut butter and cheddar cheese sandwiches, so perhaps my tastes were not exactly the norm.

  • Carolm

    Going along with my theory one of my great grandmothers was Jewish and that they were kidnapped by Irish Gypsies. I adore chopped liver,and derma isn’t half bad either. For the chopped liver of the god’s get thee to Zabar’s.

  • bea

    I love chopped liver too, but I know 2nd avenue deli, their sandwiches are huge! I don’t know if I could handle THAT MUCH chopped liver.

    I’ve never been to Katz’s. Is it as good? Is it kosher like 2nd Ave? I think Katz’s had some issues with cleanliness the last I heard, although that could be a myth.

  • Emily!

    I went to Katz’s for the first time the other day and almost cried, it was so good. The pastrami sandwich was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, truly the nectar of the gods.

  • SLOLindsay

    It’s all about texture for me. I just can’t dig the texture.

    I am curious though, what does NR stand for? I’m assuming it has to do with mass-transit.

  • A Big Fan of the AG

    During my formative years, Jolene was my best friend. Her family was Jewish Orthodox and her mother made the absolute BEST chopped liver I ever ate. It was made with egg, onion and mayo on fresh challah or with crackers (saltines). I have NEVER had any chopped liver even come close to that divine experience. Nectar of the gods, indeed.

  • savina

    Typical Roman cuisine involves all kinds of what your grandma would call organ meat: liver, kidneys, the final bit of the bowels (ehm) of an exclusively milk-fed calf (watch out for this if you are ever in Rome and try it if you dare, it’s pajata in Italian), brains and even bulls’ balls (yes). It’s also called the ‘cuisine of the fifth quarter’, referring to the four quarters into which a butchered animal is divided. The fifth quarter is all that remains after the butchering proper. At the end of the poverty chain came those dishes masquerading eggs as meat, ‘sixth quarter cuisine’, of course. It’s also worth noting that true Roman cuisine is essentially Jewish, the Jews beeing just about the only true ancient Romans left, having been brought there by Titus around the year 70 AC after the conquest of Jerusalem

  • John in Austin

    Very interesting postings today!

  • http://www.freshair.typepad.com Kimberley

    Adam,

    It’s all in the eggs and the amount of good quality olive oil you use. I converted prior to marrying my husband, and was an avid cook before, during and after these life-enhancing events. Mix Scandinavian and Russian/Polish heritage and you get plenty of chopped liver, and herring too! I’ll be happy to send you the recipe that guaranteed me MOT status within my newly acquired family. Conversly – if you want some Scandinavian fare – please see my posting on the Dark Side of Krumkake at http://www.freshair.typepad.com.

  • http://www.theviewfromhere.net harry

    It’s all about the shmaltz. And I’m not talking about Adam’s videos, I’m talking about chicken fat. Next to the liver, shmaltz is the next most important ingredient.

  • Robyn

    I might be wrong, but don’t carnivorous animals usually go for the organ meats and not muscle meat? So it would make sense to eat organs. They’re probably more nurtitous than muscle although maybe more toxic if they’re filtering junk out of the system.

    …uh, yum! I’d try the 2nd Ave Deli if I liked meat or sandwiches in particular (I walked by it and the menu scared me). Maybe someday I’ll try chopped liver. But probably not pig uterus.

  • http://www.geocities.com/radiorlg RisaG

    I agree it is all the schmaltz. My mother made the most incredible chopped liver, I have never tasted anything like it since. I had it as a child, and until a few years ago I had it every single Passover and any other holiday I could get it.

    My supermarket stopped selling the good frozen brand of it and I can’t find it anymore. If I want it, I have to go to a kosher deli in a supermarket 45 minutes from me to get some.

    I have pretty much, stopped eating deli in the first place. Doesn’t sit right in my tummy anymore. But I love chopped liver and whitefish salad and have to have them both at least once a year on a bagel!

    With red onion!

    To me it’s just not the same without the red onion slice on top.

    I think that it is outrageous what they charge for it. At Jack Cooper’s Deli in Edison, NJ they want upwards of $8 a pound – for the cheapest part of the animal! Geez…you can buy a pound of chicken livers at Shoprite for 69 cents a pound and yet a pound of chopped liver is $8 or more. What a rip-off! I have also found that it isn’t always made with chicken livers anymore – it is made with beef liver too. That is what the frozen stuff is made of.

    My mom used chicken livers, schmaltz, onions and I have no idea what else. Never watched her make it unfortunately. Now we haven’t talked in years so I haven’t eaten it in years (hers, that is).

    My grandmother made the best of all and she has been gone since 1973.

    Good luck finding really excellent chopped liver. Sorry that the 2nd Avenue Deli doesn’t make it as good anymore. That’s a shame. They have great Mushroom Barley Soup though! My husband used to swear by the stuff!

  • a

    ^ what a sad story.

  • http://www.culiblog.org Debra Solomon

    I agree with the other guest commentators – the cucess of this recipe is all in the schmalz and the carmelised onions.

    BUT

    I was always under the impression that chopped liver was BEEF liver – not chicken liver. Or at least calves’ liver. You can’t bathe a calf in its’ mother’s milk but you can eat its’ liver.

    Correct me if I’m wrong.

  • http://www.sweetblogomine.com Laren

    My favorite chicken liver in the city is at Sammy’s Roumanian — but I’m pretty sure you can’t just waltz in and order it a la carte — I’ve only been there for their Passover seders (which are incredibly fun), so it’s a fixed menu. Anyway — lots of onion, both fresh and caramelized, hardboiled eggs, schmaltz galore. it’s delish. You can find pictures of the whole meal here.

  • Jackie S.

    I’m not Jewish but love chopped liver. In fact not only have I eaten chicken liver, pig liver and sheep liver, I’ve also eaten almost all edible organs in the aforementioned animals, including lungs, kidneys, heart, uterus, bowel and such. This is not weird considering that I’m Chinese and we are known to eat strange food. My favorite animal part (as food) is cockscomb (on roosters). Liver is also good sliced and sauteed btw.

    Apologies to anyone who got grossed out by my comments.

  • Daniel L.Robert

    Retired in Aquitaine, France,non Jewish but having lived for quite a while in New York ,first in Queens,then on the upper East side as my income got better,( I was an airline pilot),and longing for a chopped liver sandwich ( no delis around here) I decided to chop my own.First I found the recipe on http://www.razzledazzle. Easy.. Good livers are two dollars per pound. For schmaltz goose fat was used, and I was more generous on the onions than was required originally.. Turned out great..but desesperatly looking for jewish rye bread.. I might order elizabar at Amazon.com, or call Mazol Tov in Bordeaux.. Expensive bread , mais c’est la vie …

  • Dave

    Another Brit wanting to know if chopped liver is like pate or foie gras.

    It just doesn’t sound very tasty, even though I love liver and pate. It sounds as if it’s raw.

  • Susan

    Personally, vegetarian chopped liver is my fave. More healthy.

    I’m English / Irish and many of my relatives on both sides ate plenty of organ meats. Kidney Stew?! Beef Stomach (TRIPE)?! and Hog Brains ?.

    And then there were the equally as gross squirrels, turtles and possums.

  • Larry

    I absolutely love chopped liver to death so I couldn’t understand the phrase “What am I, chopped liver? But I see many posters only know from chicken livers. Those people are in for a treat because beef liver is the tops. And so easy to make!

    1 lb. beef (steer liver)from the supermarket frozen food cabinets.

    3 hard boiled eggs

    1 large onion-choppped

    Vegetable oil

    1 slice matzo or handful of TAMTAMS.

    Salt/Pepper to taste

    Place slices of beef in broiling pan, sprinkle with Kosher salt. Turn when brown and finish cooking meat. Saute onion in oil(microwave or stovetop). Put all ingrediants in processor. If you over process you’ll have pate. Bon appetite. Adjust oil and salt to your own tastes.