We found a container of frozen chicken livers in our chest freezer. Susan thought that was an invitation to make chopped chicken liver to spread on toast for a light dinner during our current heat wave. That sounded like a good idea. We have several recipes, but I wanted to try something that was possibly more “authentic.”
I turned to Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook, which is an up-to-date, authoritative cookbook that has become a consistent go-to. She had a recipe for chopped chicken livers from Russ and Daughters on East Houston Street on the Lower Eastside. What could be more authentic than that?
Between them, our two girls lived in New York City for a number of years. Actually, for much of the time they lived close to Manhattan. Carol lived in Hoboken while it was “cheap”. Now the hipsters have moved in, and it is no longer cheap. Every day she rode the bus through the Lincoln Tunnel to the Port Authority close to her job at the McGraw-Hill building.
Sarah lived in Hoboken for a time, too. She took the PATH to the World Trade Center. Then she moved to a couple of places in Queens, including a walk-up in Long Island City. The apartment was directly over an auto body shop, but it had a definite advantage. If you crawled out of the kitchen window you could enjoy a “terrace” that was actually the roof of the auto shop. There were no guard rails, so there was danger of falling into the salvage yard behind the garage, protected by two snarling, leaping, unchained German shepherds (They’re called “junk yard dogs”). When you were out on the terrace, but only if you balanced on a chair, you could see the tallest spires of a bit of the Manhattan skyline. I think New York realtors call that a peek-a-boo view. I don’t think the neighborhood is in danger of gentrification.
Years later, I saw the movie, Julie and Julia. I am convinced that they used Sarah’s apartment for one of the sets for that movie.
Eventually, Sarah and Evan moved to the Red Square Apartments on East Houston on the Lower Eastside. To this day you can recognize the building by the clock with random numbers and the 18 foot statue of Lenin with his arms outstretched in the direction of Wall Street. This neighborhood has undergone gentrification. Sarah and Evan probably couldn’t afford to live there anymore. There are multiple high-rise condominium buildings along with a fancy new grocery store AND a giant Whole Foods.
This is a long-winded introduction to tell you about the culinary delights of East Houston. There is more than one Punjabi takeout for the taxi drivers. There are several tiny but well known restaurants with long lines for Sunday brunch. But the jewels of eating are on the south side of Houston. The most famous is undoubtedly Katz’s Delicatessen, saved from threatened destruction during the gentrification process. The place is not to be missed. Just remember to follow precisely the instructions for diners before you start the process, especially in keeping track of your bill. You will be rewarded by one of the largest, most delicious pastrami (or whatever meat you choose) sandwiches you have ever had.
Then there’s Yonah Schimmel for knishes. The place goes back more than a hundred years, and I think it has not been renovated in a hundred years. Honestly, I am not a big fan of knishes, but this is the real thing, and just like an IHOP pancake it will stick to your ribs all day long.
My favorite food stop, though, is Russ and Daughters, specializing in smoked fish, caviar, herring, and related delicacies. It, too, dates back to more than a hundred years ago. It looks like it was updated in the 1930s, with art deco signs and lettering, straight out of a black and white movie with Nick and Nora Charles. The phalanx of servers is intimidating and definitely no-nonsense, but they turn out to be friendly (as much as you can expect), fast, and efficient. Besides their lox, they are famous for their chopped chicken livers. Here’s an interpretation of their recipe:
Chopped Chicken Liver
I thawed one container of frozen chicken livers, about one pound. I rinsed them and blotted them dry. Then I fried them in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, about 3 minutes on each side, and set them aside on a plate. Using a sharp chef’s knife, I chopped them coarsely. (You can use a food processor, but then the delicate livers will turn to mush.)
I hard-boiled three eggs, chilled them, and peeled them. Using a fork, I mashed them coarsely.
I diced two large yellow onions. Then I caramelized them in a sauté pan in 2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, about 40 minutes.
Finally, I combined the sautéed chicken livers, mashed eggs, and caramelized onions. I adjusted seasoning with salt and pepper, and chilled in the refrigerator for an hour before serving with rye flat breads.
I’m not sure my recipe is authentic, but it turned out to be very tasty.