What Am I, Chopped Liver?
Everything you ever wanted to know about kosher chopped liver.
Many Jews love chopped liver. In fact, chopped liver is so popular that they also make a widely-available vegetarian version for the less carnivorous among us. That is rather astounding when you consider that few other meat dishes are routinely and widely sold in a vegetarian version. You do not often see vegetarian brisket, vegetarian roast beef or vegetarian helzel (stuffed chicken neck skin).
Chopped liver, in its meat form, normally consists of liver from a cow or chicken that has been broiled or sautéed with schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat). It is then mixed together with other ingredients – usually onions, eggs, salt and pepper – so that the consumer cannot actually tell that he or she is eating liver. Then again, it's sort of impossible to avoid that fact given the dish’s overt, in-your-face and completely unapologetic name: chopped liver. A compelling argument could be made that more people would eat chopped liver if it had a more appealing and appetizing name or at least a softer and subtler one. For example, instead of calling it chopped liver, we could refer to it as “Awesome Organ,” “Excellent Entrails,” “Incomparable Innards” or “Great Guts.”
Of course, an equally compelling argument could be made that a name that does not clearly refer to “liver” would be misleading and possibly false advertising, especially for an innards initiate or a guts greenhorn. Even if that were the case, however, there arguably are far better liver-based names than chopped liver. For example, the average consumer might prefer monikers such a “Loveable Liver,” “Luscious Liver,” or “Legendary Liver.”
Some purists might argue that it is equally important to convey that the liver has been chopped. Even if it is necessary to do so, isn’t there a less harsh way to describe the preparation? Couldn’t we call it something softer-sounding like “Minced Liver,” “Diced Liver” or “Refined Liver.” Aren’t all of these options better than the blatant and flagrant “chopped liver”?
For the record, chopped liver is not the only form of liver consumed around the world. Many liver-eaters also enjoy liver steaks and onions, sautéed chicken livers and liverwurst. No, the latter does not refer to the worst type of liver imaginable. Liverwurst refers to liver that comes in sausage form, often available either as a hard or soft delicacy. In fact, one could argue that when it comes to liver presentation, liverwurst is the best.
In the interest of completeness, we also must mention foie gras, a fancy French dish that involves liver of a specially fattened goose or duck. The strange thing is that foie gras and chopped liver have an awful lot in common yet only one of them is considered a luxury item. If foie gras is for the prince, then chopped liver is for the peasant. If foie gras is for the refined, chopped liver is for the rough. If foie gras is for the nouveau riche, chopped liver is for the nudnik.
Regardless of the form, liver must undergo a special process before it is deemed kosher. The liver must hail from a kosher animal that has been properly schechted (slaughtered), the gall bladder and all fats must be removed and all blood must be extracted. Thus, producing a kosher piece of liver is not so easy to de“liver.” As for the blood extraction, the typical soaking & salting method will not suffice because the liver contains higher levels of blood. As a result, it must be broiled to ensure that all blood is effectively cooked out. This must be done to every s“liver” of liver.
I know what you’re thinking. How did chopped liver find its way into one of the most confrontational and insecure retorts of all time, i.e., “What am I, chopped liver?” Some say that the expression is based on the fact that liver is not always the most sought-after and valued item. Others explain that chopped liver often is served as an appetizer or side dish and never as the main attraction. For these reasons and possibly others, chopped liver developed a rather pronounced insecurity, growing more self-conscious and self-loathing with every serving. Of course, there are many other things in life that sometimes feel slighted and thus a similar “What am I, . . .?” expression could apply to them too. For example:
When it comes to the High Holidays: “What am I, Chol Hamoed?”
When it comes to synagogue: “What am I, a past president?”
When it comes to Passover: “What am I, Pesach Sheini?”
When it comes to baked goods: “What am I, dietetic kichel?”
Final thought: What do you call a person who delivers chopped liver in his car? A livery driver.