So what am I?
Savannah, Georgia. August 16, 2017: It’s hot as hell and humid as a steam bath outdoors, but cooking is my sole comfort in these maddening times. It’s as though we — the majority of Americans — have been slighted by our newly elected officials who do not represent us or our profoundly patriotic values. So what are we, chopped liver?
I have been out of town and have not been shopping. I look in the refrigerator and freezer and find leftover (cooked) country ham. There’s cream and butter and duck fat. And there are chanterelles I foraged. I have a full liquor cabinet and plenty of wine on hand, but little else. I run to the store and buy essentials — eggs, onions, garlic. And a package of beautiful chicken livers.
My sister Sue has always said that I am best in the kitchen when I just cook. Spontaneously conjuring a meal out of whatever is on hand. I remember little of what I may have once known. I have always managed to live in the moment, so I am actually more Zen than some of my Buddhist friends. I lamented to one of them once that I could never meditate, as he encouraged me to. “You do it all the time,” he said. “I have seen you cooking.”
I have chopped liver on my mind, so I go to my cookbooks. Amazingly, almost none of the hundreds of authors offer a recipe. Granted, I have no Ashkenazi books on hand, but still. Not in the works of the classic American writers Lee Bailey or Roy Finamore or Bert Greene or Jimmy Villas. And no mention in The Cook’s Illustrated [so-called] Complete Book of Poultry. The Joy of Cooking calls their version “pâté de foie gras” (as if!) and includes hard boiled eggs. I don’t really expect to find it in my vast collection of southern or Italian books, but still. I’m pretty sure there’s a recipe in Charleston Receipts, but I’m also pretty sure that it’s a typically ’50s version, with overcooked livers and Worcestershire sauce (which my kitchen has never had). I don’t really need a recipe, but still, I’d like to think that I could serve it to my Jewish friends with pride. To at least honor tradition if not repeat it. I know that I don’t have any schmaltz, but I do have duck fat. And I’ve got that salty, savory country ham. Talk about umami!
I put about a half a stick of Irish butter in my biggest sauté pan with 1-3/4 pounds of cleaned chicken livers and half pound of cleaned and chopped chanterelles. I let them cook for awhile and added a couple of cloves of garlic, the bitter green shoots removed and the cloves slivered. I sprinkled a mere soupçon of cayenne and a hefty pinch of sea salt onto the mixture as it simmered. I added 1/2 pound of chopped, cooked country ham to the mix and tossed the mixture around until it was evenly warmed through. I stopped the cooking when all the livers were firmed with pale pink centers.
I added 1/2 cup Amontillado sherry and about a teaspoon of freshly ground white pepper, then transferred the mixture to a blender. I pureed it, tasted, and added a bit of duck fat until the texture was right. I shelled some pistachios (about 1/4 cup) and added them, then packed the “chopped liver” into jars (the yield was about 5 cups, which I divided among three jars), then poured melted duck fat on top to seal. I then chilled it overnight.
I gotta say, this stuff is delicious! It’s perfect picnic fare, though Mikel and I had it on crackers last night at home with a 2010 Saint-Émilion and it, along with some fruit and a bit of cheese, made for a lovely supper.