How Chopped Liver Became A Jewish Deli Staple

Chopped liver sandwich
Chopped liver sandwich - Radu Sebastian/Shutterstock

For New York City foodies, Jewish delis are sacred institutions among folks of all walks and creeds. In the city that never sleeps, longstanding beacons like Barney Greengrass, Russ & Daughters, Gottlieb's, Frankel's, and Shelsky's never sleep, either. The family-run Katz's Deli has been serving Manhattan diners since 1888 and, today, it serves thousands of visitors from around the globe every single week. But, it's not all about pastrami. Each week, Sarge's Deli in Murray Hill, NYC cranks out hundreds of pounds of chopped liver.

If the words "liver and onions" don't inspire mouth-watering, rapturous awe, forget everything you know about chopped liver. The rich, savory, meaty dish totes an earthy, umami-forward flavor that's nothing short of luxurious despite coming from a thrifty cut of meat. Its unique flavor comes in part from its distinctive preparation method. As opposed to the French style of rare-cooked chicken liver mousse, the livers are typically broiled until all of the blood is gone in Jewish delis, a crucial step for kashrut to keep it kosher.

According to the Jewish non-profit publication Forward, chopped liver first made its way into the Jewish diet when the Ashkenazi Jews of Alsace-Lorraine in 11th-century Medieval France started making pâte out of fried livers, onion, and hard-boiled eggs. The resulting mixture was dense yet spreadable, not to mention highly craveable.

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Centuries Of Foodies Can't Be Wrong

Customer at deli counter
Customer at deli counter - Izusek/Getty Images

Like other offal origin stories, it's theorized that chopped liver's creation was inspired by necessity. The Ashkenazi Jews might have first started eating goose liver as an economical exercise in minimizing food waste, which led to the inadvertent transformation of a perhaps unappetizing ingredient into a culinary masterpiece. Today, modern foodies are flocking to Jewish delis for chopped liver not because they have to, but because they desperately want to.

It's no mystery why chopped liver has accrued such a wide fanbase over the years, but, to many fans, the dish is more than just tasty. This Jewish deli favorite is often tied to powerful family memories and centuries of tradition. Rob Clement, the chef and owner of Charlotte-based Jewish deli Meshugganah, told the Jewish Food Society that he remembers his own grandmother broiling livers, grinding them by hand, and cooking onions in a small tub of schmaltz kept perpetually in the freezer.

Chopped liver is commonly served on rye bread as a standalone sandwich. It's also a key ingredient in Matzo sandwiches alongside caramelized onions and shallots, hard-boiled eggs, and other customized ingredients like fresh parsley or sharp horseradish. Chopped liver sans bread is also a popular dish on Jewish holiday tables, such as for Passover Seder. In fact, the old saying "What am I, chopped liver?" is a reference to the fact that chopped liver has historically been served as a side dish rather than as a main course.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.