French Fridays with Dorie
Despite having a rather simple ingredient list I would have to imagine that chopped liver and onions is one of those emotionally connected dishes that will not only taste significantly different depending on who is making it, but also depending on who is eating it. Even the most subtle seasoning variances will have wildly different reactions on the palette correlating to early associations of the eater. And by this I mean, “because this doesn’t tastes like how my grandmother made it, I don’t like it as much.”
Well, perhaps not that extreme but you get the idea.
I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that everyone’s first bit of chopped liver and onions probably tasted exactly the same. Maybe a bit muddy despite the onions. Newbie to chopped liver taste buds are much too busy frantically trying to decide if that first spoonful tastes like the liver we remember forced on us as children to pick up on any nuance of variation a change of seasoning or preparation will impart. Even after its mixed with the universally beloved appeal of fried onions our panic of the moment isn’t going let us be open to the secondary flavors.
We just want to know if we are going to gag or not.
With time and through repeated exposures we begin to trust that we are not going to gag while trying to eat it and we can slowly come to understand that liver and onions prepared this way has little resemblance the frightful scraps of liver our parents may have attempted to force feed us as children.
“Eat your liver, its good for you!”
It never really mattered how good that piece of fried organ meat on my plate was for me I wasn’t going to eat it. And if I was truly forced to eat it under the threat of not being able to watch television that night I would eat it in such a manner as it would never actually have to touch my tongue. By cutting it up in small pieces you can get it all down by swallowing them whole with the assistance of a large glass of water — as if they were pills or vitamins.
“Oh honey, don’t do that.”
Her admonition would always be too late as I’d have my “pills” swallowed faster than you could say “Neely O’hara”. Threatening to cut off my tv privileges would always get the desired response. You could make me eat it, but you couldn’t force me to taste it.
Once you trust that liver when cooked as it is here, mixed with copious amounts of deliciously fried onions and a dusting of well chosen seasonings isn’t going to have you retching, you can allow yourself the luxury of settling in on its secondary characteristics. That is, those attributes that while subtle, seem to make all the difference in the world to a chopped liver and onions aficionado.
Is the hard-boiled egg mixed in or do you prefer it only on top (or on the side)? Gribenes? What about thyme leaves? Does the chopped liver and onions you were first exposed to make use of schmaltz or did your grandmother make it with a dollop or two of mayo? How finely is it chopped? Do you prefer it flavored with madeira wine?
I’m guessing that if you have eaten a lot of chopped liver and onions in your lifetime then these things really do make a difference to you. You are like the many friends I’ve quizzed on this dish since seeing it in our French Friday’s with Dorie lineup who have an emotional connection to these small little details of seemingly great import.
Whats more I am guessing at all of this as truthfully, I don’t know much of anything about this dish at all. Except for the simple fact that despite my complete childhood distaste for liver, I really do like it prepared this way now.
Chopped Liver and Onions by Mme. Maman
When you think of it, if you can’t recall ever having eaten chopped chicken liver before it makes it quite difficult to have any kind of emotional connection to how it should be prepared, right? This leaves me then completely agnostic to Dorie’s version here, which was lovely. I not have had it prepared any other way but I now know that this is how I like it now. No, THIS is how it SHOULD be prepared.
Dorie names the recipe after her friend Sonia Maman and not after her grandmother as you might have expected given its title. This was a huge relief to me when I first read this because I was imagining that while it would be one thing to admit not liking Dorie’s recipe but another thing entirely to publically diss her grandmother’s!
Luckily all worry was for naught and I found myself to be quite a fan of this dish. She has it featured in the appetizer section of her book as it is traditionally not the main course (“what am I? Chopped liver?) but I have to agree with Dorie’s husband that it makes for one incredible sandwich filling. Give this one a try. You might just like it. I know this much, you won’t gag.
Dorie's recipe calls for ""quatre épices" which, surprise, is a spice mix comprised of 4 things: ground pepper (white, black, or both), cloves, nutmeg and ginger. It is used mainly in France but also a lot in Middle Eastern dishes. Mix up a small bit in a jar using 4 parts white pepper to 1 part of the remaining ingredients.
This is what you will need:
- 1/2 cup peanut oil (or other high-heat oil, like grapeseed)
- 2 large onions, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound chicken livers, veins and any fat or green spots removed, halved and patted dry
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon quatre-epices or 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)
- 1-2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped (optional)
- Chicken fat or mayonnaise, for finishing (optional)
This is how you make it:
- Pour the oil into a large skillet and put the skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook, stirring, until they're well-browned. Season with salt and pepper, stir again, and take the skillet off the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a strainer set over a heatproof bowl, leaving whatever oil drips through the slots in the skillet.
- Return the oil that's drained from the onions to the skillet and put the skillet back over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken livers and cook, nudging them occasionally to make sure they're not sticking to the skillet, until browned, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and turn the livers over to cook until brown on the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more, just until rosy in the middle. With a slotted spoon, transfer the livers to a cutting board; reserve the oil.
- Let the livers cool for about 5 minutes. Either coarsely chop them or cut them into small pieces.
- Scrape the onions into a bowl, add the chopped liver, and stir with a fork to mix. Taste for salt and pepper - the liver should be generously seasoned. Add the quatre-epices or allspice, if you're using it, and, if you'd like, the hard-boiled eggs. If the mixture seems dry, you can add a little more oil from the skillet, some chicken fat, if you've got it, or a tad of mayonnaise, which is what my husband likes in his chopped liver.
- Pack the chopped liver into a container or a small terrine, cover well, and chill for a few hours before serving.
This chopped liver and onions dish was an assignment for French Friday’s with Dorie, a cooking group working its way through Dorie Greenspan’s culinary tome “ Around My French Table” . We generally avoid including the recipes in our posts. However, wherever there has been a significant adaptation by me or where the recipe has already been publicly posted by Ms. Greenspan or her publishers or by hundreds of other bloggers, or it is, in fact, not much of a recipe at all, I will either include it here (adapted) or provide a direct link to it. Please feel free to contact me via the link provided on my page if you need any assistance finding a French Friday with Dorie Recipe. You should buy the book though.
It will change your life as it has mine.