The food you love to hate: Chopped Liver, the Jewish Lutefisk?
There are things we eat for various reasons. Fruit and veggies because they’re good for us. Wheat grass juice because we love to punish ourselves. Fried chicken because every now and again you just HAVE to. But the things we eat because of a deep family tradition seem to resonate the strongest – especially in a Jewish household.
We’ve talked about hamentashen. We’ve done cooking videos on brisket, kugel, stuffed cabbage and chicken soup. But nothing seems to garner the visceral response as…dum dum dum… chopped liver. Come on, you can tell us, did your nose crinkle or did you have warm thoughts of Bubbe’s version?
The onions are caramelized, the chicken livers are fresh, and the schmaltz is just that…schmaltz…rendered chicken fat. Throw in a chopped egg and you’ve got it. She uses an old meat grinder to make just the right fluffy coarse grind. Like lutefisk, chopped liver can be an acquired taste, but at least we don’t soak anything in deadly chemicals before we eat it.
And so I set out with my TC Jewfolk partner-in-crime, Jeff Mandell, to find the best chopped liver in town. We enlisted the help of our esteemed editor’s Bubbe and Zayde
(experts in the field for sure) to help judge. First we brought in samples from Cecil’s, Mort’s, and Crossroads. Then, we flew in a batch from the Lower East Side in New York City – Russ and Daughters has been selling their version of chopped liver since 1914. And finally, just to mix things up, we included a mock version that contained no animal products.
This was a blind tasting. Each sample was identified only by letter and eaten with a piece of bagel or marble rye. No accompaniments like capers, chopped eggs, chopped onions or mustard were used.
Here are some of the comments from our judges and the results:
“Too sweet” “Not enough seasoning” “Too smooth” “Not good” “Really good. Sweet, good spices” Too finely ground” “Nasty” “No onion or egg evident” “The most authentic” “Delicious!” “More complex” “You can see the eggs in this one” “The onions have to be caramelized just right.” So you see our judges were not only opinionated but well-educated in the fine art of chopped liver!
Now on to the results:
First place goes to Cecil’s Deli ($10.00 lb). Just the right texture. Smooth flavor, not too powerful. Nice addition of chopped eggs. According to our judges, what real Jewish chopped liver should taste like.
A very close second place goes to Russ and Daughters from NYC ($12.00 lb). Wonderfully carmelized onions. A little on the sweet side for our judges but complex and lively.
Third place (and probably only by default) goes to the homemade mock chopped liver. Our judges felt it lacked seasoning and didn’t have enough onions.
Fourth place goes to Crossroads Deli ($11.00 lb). Too smooth with no onion or egg evident. Very strong liver flavor (possibly the addition of inexpensive beef liver?!). Bad aftertaste. Not pleasant at all.
Fifth place goes to Mort’s Deli ($17.99 lb). Shockingly bad. So bad in fact, we all gagged and screamed for water. Too smooth with no onion or egg evident. Very strong liver flavor. Bad after taste. (Again, beef liver?) and at almost 18 bucks a pound, kind of an embarrassment.
So there you have it. The very first (and hopefully last) Chopped Liver Spread-a-Pa-Looza. Thanks again to Bubbe and Zayde. Stayed tuned for “Brisket: Best to Bad, we’ll be the judge”