Confessions of a liver chopaholic

By David Robson, June 21, 2012
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To those of you who have been up to your elbows in it every week since forever, this will sound ridiculous but I have just discovered the joys of making chopped liver and it has done me the power of good. High cholesterol? We’ll leave that on the side of the plate.

I’m not new to eating chopped liver of course. I was introduced to it when Frankie Vaughan was in the hit parade. But it was something my grandmother and mother used to make.

I have started to make my own chopped liver because I had to. Why? Look no further than Claudia Roden’s The Book Of Jewish Food for the answer: “Whereas traditionalists may chop the ingredients by hand and put them through a meat grinder…now most use the food processor.” That’s a tragic sentence if I ever I saw one.

Call me a traditionalist, call me a fundamentalist if you like, but I want my chopped liver chopped. And, nowadays, that makes me a voice in the wilderness. Certainly, you can’t buy it and, if you’re invited to somebody’s house, chances are it will be a sort of mushy paste — consistently not the consistency I’m looking for.

In Claudia Roden’s book, there is an ancient postcard showing a woman attacking (or enhancing) liver with a chopper — not a machine but a fat blade you wield with one hand or two. It takes time and effort. Many Jewish mothers must have tired of it years ago. But that doesn’t make it wrong. Jewish mothers have tired of many things; some of them find being a Jewish mother very tiring.

Claudia says: “once the onion was used raw, now people divide between traditionalists who fry it until it is soft but not coloured and new stylers, who fry it until it is golden and sweet.”

Hard-boiled eggs we know about. Nobody says they’re not part of it though we have all come across “chopped liver” that is eggless, and therefore hopeless. But you get the onions wrong at your peril.

Fortunately, Jewish Food, a splendid volume by the American, Matthew Goodman, was to hand and in the matter of onions he displayed the wisdom of Solomon: most of the onions you cook slowly in oil till they are soft and brown, says Goodman, but in the final mix you add a small chopped up raw onion. Amen! Texture- and taste-wise it makes all the difference.

I probably wouldn’t be telling you all this if my chopped liver hadn’t caused an explosion of respect and joy among my friends: those who aren’t Jewish were overcome by a strange delight.

The Jews seemed to experience a puzzling sensation rather like A A Milne’s squeaky knight perplexed to meet another knight whose armour didn’t squeak: “Was this the same, or was it not? Something was different. But what?” The truth: it is different, it’s more work but it’s worth it. To those who remember, it brings back memories; to those who don’t it, brings sheer pleasure.

For some, the question: “What am I? Chopped liver?” is an expression of hurt at being undervalued. I don’t see it like that at all. For me it’s: “What am I? Chopped liver? If only… I should live so long!”

    Last updated: 4:09pm, June 21 2012