“If you are Jewish, this is the spirit that speaks to you. Drink enough and it speaks for you.” - Edward Serotta, regarding slivovitz
The eight-day festival of Passover presents a few challenges to those of us Red Sea Pedestrians who happen to enjoy the occasional (or frequent) Whisky-Drink... mainly because products made from grain, with the exception of matzoh, are verboten. That means that whisky - Scotch, bourbon, rye, and their happy cousins - is not on the drink card. It also eliminates most white spirits as well as beer. (Potato vodka is OK, as is rum... at least in theory.)
That unhappy gap is filled perfectly by slivovitz, an eau-de-vie distilled from Damson plums. It’s a popular item in eastern Europe as well as the Balkans, and many brands are officially certified to be kosher for Passover use. Perfect!
Well, maybe not perfect. There’s plenty of inferior slivovitz out there, and the bad stuff bears a remarkable resemblance, taste-wise, to Ronsonol lighter fluid. Also, it’s powerful. Most of the brands I’ve seen are bottled at or around 100 proof, not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, there are excellent versions available if you’re willing to look around. Right now we’re working our way through a bottle of R. Jelinek’s Silver Slivovitz, a higher-end Czech product that is competitive with any of the finer eaux-de vie. Kirschwasser, meet slivovitz. Sliv, kirsch.
Gee, I'll bet it’s dandy with a bit of my homemade grenadine and a squirt of lemon. Hmmm.
Now: What to eat while you’re swilling sliv? Why, chopped liver, of course! Gehackte leber, as we might call it in Yiddish. The high-test character of slivovitz is perfect for cutting through the unctuousness of fine chopped liver.
You say you’re not a chopped liver fan? Well, it’s not for everyone... and neither are oysters, Champagne, and caviar. (OK, chopped liver is somewhat, ahhh, earthier than these other examples, but you can call it pâté de foie de volaille if you want it to sound classy.) If you don’t like liver, or if you have a loathing for organ meats in general, then chopped liver may not be for you.And that’s OK: More for me.
Although you can find perfectly decent chopped liver in your supermarket’s kosher section, this year I made my own. It’s easy enough.
Start with about a pound of chicken livers. (If you prefer, use beef liver. Weirdo.) Remove any connective tissue and cut into medium chunks. Melt about a tablespoon of chicken schmaltz in a large skillet and sauté the livers until cooked through. Set aside.
Now, hack up a couple of yellow onions: You should have about four cups of chopped onion. Melt four tablespoons of chicken schmaltz in that skillet and cook the onions over medium-low heat until very soft and just slightly brown. This may take half an hour, thereabouts - you want to do it low and slow to get the onions nice and soft and caramelized.
Onions cooking gently in schmaltz. Goose schmaltz. Yummy, yummy goose schmaltz.
Now, after the onions and livers have cooled down a bit, run them through the coarse plate of a meat grinder. Then run the mixture through again, this time through the fine plate. (Alternatively, chop them up well in a bowl with a hockmesser - the half-moon shaped chopper known to Italian cooks as the mezzaluna.) Season with plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and add some more schmaltz if it’s too dry. Presto! You have gehackte leber.
Some people like to add chopped egg to their livers. If you are this type of person, feel free to chop up one or two hard-boiled eggs and combine with the liver mixture. I elected to do without the egg, and I was extremely satisfied with the results.
Of course, I had a secret weapon. In lieu of chicken schmaltz, I used goose schmaltz, which is far richer and more flavorful. Having a goodly amount of goose schmaltz sitting in my freezer is a fringe benefit of my custom of roasting a goose once a year. (If you have no goose schmaltz near to hand, duck fat works beautifully.)
Yes, this batch of chopped liver was, dare I say, epic. (SWMBO might disagree, but then again, she does not partake of any sort of liver.) And, enjoyed with a shot of slivovitz - sliv ’n’ liv! - it was even better than epic: It was epicurean.