chicken liver pâté

I started hosting Passover seder four years ago. My dad had just passed away and my mother, who usually hosts, appreciated the relief. I don’t usually host holidays — well, they let me have Hanukkah — because our space is so small and the traffic, so terrible, but I must have done too good of a job because I haven’t stopped since. This means I have a secret archive of Passover recipes I’ve been keeping from you, and it’s rather rude. Here is one.

Wait, I forgot to tell you that the second year we hosted, we had 27 people. Our table, fully extended, holds 8 officially but 10 if you like each other, and it takes up a large chunk of our living room. I have no idea how we added enough card tables and chairs to do this, but I do know that my mother in-law and sister in-law spent an hour and a half just setting the table(s). You’re supposed to drink four glasses of wine at the Seder. I think we went through the better part of three cases. I should have taken pictures but I was too busy cooking for three dozen (drowning in leftovers is part of the holiday) in a kitchen not equipped for the job. I regret nothing. I remember much less.

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Most of my friends are self-titled Jewish Food Enthusiasts and never has gefilte fish (my mother in-law makes it) been eaten with such fervor. But it was this chicken liver pate that stole the show — every last schmear was scraped clean of the dish. The secret? Are you ready? I’ve got five:

1. Onions. So many onions that it will seem wrong. They’re cooked until mostly caramelized then intentionally browned and deglazed with madeira and some sherry vinegar so that they’re sweet and tangy, dark mahogany ribbons of abundant flavor.
2. The second secret is (mom, don’t read this part) (my mother is a retired microbiologist) is that you really want your livers cooked on the rare side of medium. If they’re not a little pink inside, it’s going to be dry.
3. The third thing I feel insistent about is that we do not put hard-boiled eggs in our chopped liver; I don’t like the texture it imparts. I like it sieved or grated on top, as garnish, and (3b) I like a lot of garnishes — extra madeira onions, pickled shallots, bits of crispy salted chicken skin or crispy shallots, chives, pickles.
4. My next strong preference is that I like to blend it absolutely smooth and a little whipped, the way you might get it at a restaurant or wine bar.
5. Finally, you’re going to need more salt and fat than you want to think too hard about. Just do it. A long line of bubbes and zaydes are nodding in approval.

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See also: Not into chicken livers? You will probably enjoy this Wild Mushroom Pâté

A shoutout to my two other favorite chicken livers: 1. Sammy Roumanian Steakhouse-Style. This recipe is in Smitten Kitchen Every Day and I know it’s very niche, but it’s so good — craggy, busy, chaotic. Sammy’s closed over the pandemic, a shonda as we’d always planned to host at least one child’s Bar Mitzvah there, and I’m not over it. 2. The chicken liver toasts [cibreo toscana] at Via Carota. With a big green salad and a glass of wine, you’re in for bliss.


6 months ago: Old-School Dinner Rolls
1 year ago: Sheet Pan Chow Mein
2 years ago: Crispy Crumbled Potatoes
3 years ago: Essential French Onion Soup
4 years ago: Asparagus and Egg Salad with Walnuts and Mint
5 years ago: Cornbread Waffles and Mushroom Tartines
6 years ago: Sesame Soba and Ribboned Omelet Salad and Apricot Hazelnut Brown Butter Hamantaschen
7 years ago: The Consolation Prize (A Mocktail) and Baked Chickpeas with Pita Chips and Yogurt
8 years ago: Whole-Grain Cinnamon Swirl Bread
9 years ago: Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini
10 years ago: Soft Eggs with Buttery Herb-Gruyere Toast Soldiers
11 years ago: Spaetzle
12 years ago: Irish Soda Bread Scones and Spinach and Chickpeas
13 years ago: Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Strawberry Sauce and Bialys
14 years ago: Caramel Walnut Banana Upside Down Cake and Swiss Easter Rice Tart
15 years ago: Mixed Berry Pavlova

Chicken Liver Pâté

  • A lot of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 to 5 medium-large yellow onions [see Note], halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 pound fresh chicken livers, drained
  • 1/4 cup dry madeira, marsala, or sherry
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) or vegetable oil
  • Matzo crackers, to serve
  • Fixings of you choice: Pickled and/or fried shallots, chopped chives, hard-boiled eggs, chopped cornichon or other pickles
Cook the onions: Heat a large frying pan with a lid to medium-high heat. Once hot, add 3 tablespoons of schmaltz. Once it has heat, add the onions and toss them in the fat to evenly coat, cooking them for one minute. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low (or a low on a robust stove) and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes, checking in every 5 minutes to give them a stir. They otherwise don’t need your attention.

Uncover the pan, raise the heat to medium and stir in salt — I start with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, for another 15 minutes. They will not be fully caramelized at this point; it is not what we are going for. Increase heat to medium-high and cook onions until browned at the edges and utterly delicious. Add madeira and vinegar and scrape up any onion bits stuck to the pan. Cook, stirring, until both liquids disappear and the onions are dark. Transfer onions to a large bowl. If you’d like to save a little for garnish, you can set aside a couple tablespoons of them now.

Cook the livers: Add 3 more tablespoons schmaltz to the empty pan and heat over medium-high. Add the livers in one layer and season very well with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes, until lightly browned underneath and flip the livers, seasoning again with salt and pepper, and browning them on the second side, about 2 minutes.

Add the livers to the bowl with the onions, pour the last 1 to 2 tablespoons of schmaltz over, and let everything cool completely. If you’re getting an advance on the liver, I vote for fully chilling them in the fridge overnight. I find that pate blends much more smoothly and light when everything is cold.

To finish and serve: In a food processor, blend the liver and onions until absolutely smooth and as whipped as you can get it. Taste for seasoning; I almost always need more salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl. If you’ve reserved cook onions, you can scatter them on top. If not, a drizzle of oil and some herbs works too. Serve with crackers and garnishes of your choice.

Do ahead: Leftover prepared liver keeps in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. I often make it up to a week before I need it and freeze it. Defrost in the fridge for 24. If you’ve got time, I sometimes re-blend it for a lighter texture once defrosted.

A few onion tips: Use the yellow onions with brown skins if you can get them. If you’re in doubt whether it’s big enough, add another. I used a sweeter Spanish-ish variety for one batch and I’m always bummed the onion flavor isn’t as present and that they’re sometimes so wet, it feels like they turn to mush instead of caramelizing. I always start with an onion or two more than I need, because due to the vagaries of buying onions from grocery stores in the middle of winter, I never know when I’ll get one kind of banged up inside, except reliably any time I don’t buy extras.