Chosen Eats: Eating My Way to Jewish Adulthood
I’ve accomplished many of the “adult” milestones of a Jewish woman. I had a bat mitzvah, I completed my temple’s confirmation classes when I was in high school, and I’ve traveled to Israel to visit some of our religion’s holiest sites. But two years ago, I did something that truly made me feel like a Jewish adult: I hosted a Passover seder.
At the time, I was living in a house with three other roommates, two of whom were Jewish. None of us was able to make it home to be with our families, so we decided to invite a bunch of friends over and hold our own celebration. We gathered the components of a seder plate, scrounged up a bunch of Haggadahs, and managed to find a yarmulke for every person.
By the end of the night, we’d heard the Four Questions read by a 22-year-old Irish Catholic guy and watched about a dozen twentysomethings scramble around the apartment in search of the afikomen. Each guest had also taken turns reading from a history of Passover document I had printed out—with one editorial change. In my version, no horses were harmed when the Red Sea crashed back onto the Egyptians. (I knew the non-Jewish animal lovers who were hearing the story for the first time just wouldn’t be able to handle it.)
The evening was a great success, and the best part was the food. This was many of our guests’ first seder, so we knew we had to make it memorable. We put together an impressive spread: my grandmother’s brisket, matzoh ball soup, noodle kugel, and my favorite, chicken liver. But instead of doing the traditional chopped liver that I’d always made at home with my mom—the night was about starting new traditions, after all—I made an old Food & Wine magazine recipe for chicken-liver terrine with shallots.
For people who have never eaten it before, anything with the word “liver” in it can seem a bit scary. But this recipe—which I made after trying it at a friend’s house—quickly won everyone over with its super smooth texture and sweet richness, thanks to the generous amount of shallots. It also freezes really well, so I was able to make it several days before the seder and just defrost it in the fridge a day or two before the big night. That also means I was able to snack on defrosted blocks of the stuff long after the night of the seder had come and gone.
This year, I’m going to my parents’ seder at their house, and I’m excited to bring my new terrine tradition with me.
Chicken-Liver Terrine with Shallots
From Food & Wine, July 2000
Makes one 4-cup terrine
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
10 medium shallots, coarsely chopped
5 tablespoons Cognac
3 sticks (3/4 pound) plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into tablespoons (you can also substitute sticks of margarine or even schmaltz, if you have it)
2 pounds chicken livers, cleaned
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1. In medium saucepan, combine the sugar with the water and simmer over moderate heat, without stirring, until an amber caramel forms, about 8 minutes. Add the shallots and stir well, then add the Cognac. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel dissolves and the shallots are soft, about 10 minutes. Spread the mixture in a large dish and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
2. In a large skillet, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the chicken livers and season with salt and pepper. Cook over high head until firm on both sides and deep pink in the center, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the livers and their juices to a shallow dish and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the livers for 20 minutes.
3. In a food processor, combine the livers with the shallot mixture and process until pureed. With the machine on, gradually add the remaining 3 sticks of butter until thoroughly incorporated. Strain the puree through a fine sieve set over a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Line a 4-cup terrine or loaf pan with sheets of plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhang all around. Scrape the puree into the terrine and cover tightly with the overhanging plastic wrap. Refrigerate until very firm, at least overnight and for up to 5 days. Unwrap the terrine and turn it out on a platter. Serve chilled.
Not into meat? Get the vegetarian mock chopped liver recipe here.