Chopped Liver with Hazelnuts, Pomegranate Molasses, and Dill
Chopped liver is divisive. Liver, itself, is divisive. I think the aversion that most people have to liver most often comes from their having eaten terribly cooked versions of it.
Liver, when overcooked can be powdery, metallic, utterly disconsoling.
But when cooked well—and there are many ways to do this—liver can be profound, its metallic edge alchemically turned mellow.
Like anything else, cooking liver just requires a basic understanding of the peripheries of its abilities. Liver is not a pork shoulder, so don’t cook it long and slow and expect its texture to improve. It’s also not a finely seasoned sausage, so don’t drown it in a cooking liquid and be surprised when it tastes waterlogged and stringy when you’re done with it.
There’s no need to get into the full litany of ways to cook liver here. I think it’s sufficient to start with one good way to cook liver and things will just flow naturally from there. Prompted by the delicacy and surprise of well-cooked liver you’ll just naturally seek out other and various ways to get your liver fix.
This recipe is exceedingly simple and relies mainly on balancing the ferrous, earthy flavor and frankly uncanny texture of the liver with complementary notes (acid, herbs, some sherry, black pepper) and textures (nuts, caramelized onions, butter).
Here’s the other thing with this recipe. It’s called chopped liver for a reason—I really do recommend chopping all the ingredients by hand. It’s true that you could throw all the ingredients in a food processor and end up with something quite serviceable, but there’s something satisfying about the rough texture of a hand-chopped pâté that really is essential to the success of this dish. Do with that advice as you will—not everyone has the time (or the patience) to hand chop all that liver, onion, nuts, and herbs but if it’s any help, maybe start with a smaller batch and see how the labor and the results suit you before embarking on a larger quantity.
A note on pomegranate molasses: The pomegranate molasses here has to act as the acid element that balances out the earthy taste of the liver, so make sure that the brand you use lists nothing other than pomegranate as an ingredient. Many brands of pomegranate molasses use added sweeteners. As a result, they don’t have the bracing acidity that this dish needs. If you can’t find a pomegranate molasses that will serve this purpose, just use the best quality vinegar you can get your hands on.
CHOPPED LIVER WITH HAZELNUTS, POMEGRANATE MOLASSES, AND DILL
1 lb chicken livers, patted dry with paper towels
3 tbsp amontillado sherry
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp ghee
1 large onion, peeled and cut into thick slices through the root
¼ cup green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
¼ cup toasted and peeled hazelnuts, roughly chopped
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
4 tbsp softened unsalted butter
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
In a large bowl, marinate the chicken livers with the sherry, black pepper, and sea salt. Set aside in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the ghee to the pan and when it begins to shimmer, add the livers, making sure not to crowd them or they will steam rather than brown.
Leave the livers undisturbed in the hot pan for at least 3 minutes, allowing them to get brown and crusty on one side before flipping them over and cooking them another 3–4 minutes on the other side.
Remove one of the livers from the pan and slice into it to check for doneness. You want the interior of the liver to look firm and not at all squishy, but with a gentle
rosebud pinkness to it.
Remove the livers to a large chopping board. Without wiping the pan clean, add the sliced onions and a pinch of salt to the hot pan and stir vigorously to scrape up the bits of caramelized liver juices from the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook for 5–7 minutes or until the onion is well caramelized but not too limp.
Tip the onions out onto the chopping board along with the liver.
Using a large chef’s knife, chop the liver and onions to the consistency of a rough pâté and then scrape into a mixing bowl.
Add the chopped olives, hazelnuts, butter, and pomegranate molasses, and stir well to combine and allow the butter to melt into the mixture.
Check for seasoning and adjust salt, pepper, and pomegranate molasses to your taste. If you feel like it needs it you can even add an additional splash of sherry at this point.
Once the pâté has cooled, add the chopped dill and stir to combine.
Scrape into a nonreactive container and store in the refrigerator for at least a day before eating. This will last for at least a week refrigerated. Enjoy with crackers, crudités, spread on crostini, or some buckwheat knekkebrød.