If you are lucky enough to meet Herb Karlitz, organizer of bold food festivals and events, odds are one day a plastic container of his homemade chopped liver will arrive at your home.
It’s arrived at the homes, offices or hotel rooms of Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud, multiple-James Beard Award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson, celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern, Top Chef judge Gail Simmons and artisan bread guru Nancy Silverton.
These, among other big machers in the food world, Karlitz said, all love the classic Ashkenazi Jewish dish he always makes for Passover and the Jewish New Year. Karlitz, the man responsible for organizing such events as New York City Food and Wine Festival, Flavor of Napa Valley and Harlem Eat Up, inherited the recipe from his mother, Vivian. He enhanced it, elevated it and turned it into the best chopped liver I’ve ever had.
Yes, I received a container too. I met Karlitz, a 62-year-old Demarest resident and father of two, at a dinner at the Alpine Country Club. and a week later was heaping spoonfuls of his chopped liver onto crackers, bread, pita chips, bagels or, sometimes, the hell with the formalities, I just devoured it au naturel. It’s that good!
Don’t take my word for it. Here Andrew Zimmern’s: “I admire his generous use of schmaltz, I like his insanely toasty crisp, almost to the point of being burnt onions he uses on top of his chopped liver too. And best of all, magically, it always appears when I need it most. It’s a miracle.”
Ariane Duarte, chef and owner of Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona, is a big fan too. Duarte was one of some 18 chefs, food writers and food and wine professionals who went to Israel this January on a trip that Karlitz organized, called Celebrity Chef Birthright.
“I never eat chicken liver,” Duarte said. “But his is delicious. Amazing. I can’t wait to have it again.”
The key to chopped liver is to use chicken liver, Karlitz said (not beef or calf liver or any other animal’s liver; they don’t have the same consistency, he maintained). And lots of schmaltz, aka chicken fat. “You need it to be moist,” he said.
While his mom’s chicken liver was well loved — “The relatives all looked forward to it on the holidays” — it had only four ingredients: liver, onion, eggs and chicken fat, plus two spices, salt and pepper. After she died in 1998, Karlitz decided to make it as a way to honor her. But he couldn’t leave the recipe as is.
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Herb Karlitz of Celebrity Chef Marketing shows how to make his mother’s recipe of chopped liver at his home in Demarest on April 9, 2019.
North Jersey Record
“My mom was no Lidia Bastianich,” he said. “She made good chopped liver and good kreplach.”
Karlitz however can go chef’s knife to chef’s knife with Lidia.
“Some people can build, some people can fix things. I can’t do any of that. I can cook.” He added, “I grew up watching cooking shows — Julia Child, Jacques Pepin. While other kids got Sports Illustrated, I got Gourmet magazine.”
As a result, Vivian’s Chopped Liver today doesn’t only also have garlic and crisp, caramelized, blackened leeks (a brilliant addition that brings depth and texture to the heady creamy, earthy, working-class liver pate) but three types of black pepper and two different paprikas plus Za’atar.
And while big shots in the food world love it — count Gourmet magazine’s star editor Ruth Reichl, renowned food writer Joan Nathan and Black Seed Bagel co-owner Noah Bernamoff in — not everyone is a fan.
“My mother’s cousin, who is in her late 80s, every year asks me the same question: ‘Why do you screw up your mother’s chopped liver with all the stuff you put in it?’”
Vivian’s Chopped Liver
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6 pounds Maui onions (or another sweet onion), peeled and sliced thin
2 bunches leeks, rough chopped from the tips to the beginning of where it turns dark green
1 garlic bulb, peeled
4 (7-ounce) containers kosher chicken fat (found in the frozen food case of many supermarkets)
4 one-pound containers kosher chicken livers (non-kosher will do as well), rinsed in a colander
16 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
½ tablespoon white pepper
½ tablespoon Aleppo pepper
1½ tablespoons Maldon or gray salt
½ teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Za’atar
Garlic powder, if desired
Sweat onions on medium heat in a stockpot with two (7-ounce) containters of chicken fat for 4 hours. Turn them over every 30 minutes or so.
While the onions are cooking, coat the garlic cloves in chicken fat, cover in aluminum foil and roast in a toaster ovenfor 45 minutes at 375 degrees.
In a frying pan, slowly sauté the leeks in the third container of chicken fat on medium heat for about one hour until very crispy.
Pat dry the livers, then fry in the fourth can of chicken fat on medium-high for 20-25 minutes until livers are cooked through and brown on all sides.
Once livers and onions have cooled, combine in a large metal bowl with all juices and rendered chicken fat. Chop roasted garlic cloves and add to mixture. Add eggs and seasonings. Mix and start hand chopping. No food processors; it will make the mixture too smooth. You want a rough chop. After chopping, stir the liver with a large spoon to make sure it’s well mixed.
Adjust seasonings to taste with more salt, pepper, and garlic powder if necessary. Also add more liquidized chicken fat (the 4th can) to ensure moistness.
Transfer chopped liver onto a serving tray and liberally top with frizzled chopped leeks.Serve with matzo crackers.
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