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Taste Kitchen

A side dish served with matzo and memories

A chopped liver platter from Barry’s Village Deli in Newton. A chopped liver platter from Barry’s Village Deli in Newton. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Debra Samuels
Globe Correspondent / April 13, 2011

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‘I had hoped to be greeted by the taste of schmaltz,’’ announces one in the group, using the Yiddish word for rendered chicken fat. Her octogenarian husband arrives with his mother’s well-worn wooden bowl and single-blade chopper. When he was a boy, he says, “Every Sunday my job was to chop the liver. My father yelled at me, ‘Help your mother.’ ’’

Chopped liver brings out the inevitable jokes — and memories. Another taster turns slightly shrill mimicking her mother. “It isn’t chopped liver unless it’s put through the meat grinder,’’ she says. Then, much to the horror of other tasters, she reveals her mother’s secret ingredient: Miracle Whip. (My grandmother, Bess, also used it; her liver was delicious.)

An Eastern European Jewish specialty often served at the holidays with crackers or bread, chopped liver is accompanied by matzo at Passover. It is usually made with a mixture of chicken livers, hard-cooked eggs, and onions (some cooks use the same formula with beef liver). Because it’s perishable, call ahead to make sure that the purveyor has it in stock and buy it within a day of being made (or defrosted); eat it within two days.

Our tasters grew up eating chopped liver, and everyone had a story. Most used to make their own; few still do. They sampled some from six delis; all but one made in house: S&S Restaurant in Cambridge purchases it frozen and defrosts it to sell. “It’s better than my mother’s,’’ an employee told me. Freezing didn’t seem to hurt the quality.

Despite calling to make sure all the delis had chopped liver on hand, Maxie’s Deli in Stoughton and Larry Levine’s Kosher Meats & Deli in Peabody (see Page 9) were out of fresh chopped liver when we did the shopping. Roche Bros. carries defrosted chopped liver in the deli section, but none was available that day.

There was no single winner. Barry’s Village Deli, the Butcherie, and S&S Restaurant shared the honors. Zaftig’s was least favorite. Everyone noted that all the entries should have been salted more.

Our tasters were looking for a nostalgia. “You know, we don’t eat this very much these days,’’ said one. “It’s bad for cholesterol. But, still, we eat it so rarely that a little more chicken fat would have been nice.’’

Barry’s Village Deli

6 Windsor Road, Newton, 617-527-8244

$8.49 for 1 pound

When we asked for the ingredient list for this creamy chopped liver, an employee rattled it off. And one more, said the gentleman: “love.’’ This was a favorite of several. “The soft smooth texture is good, as is the appearance.’’ “This is the best — if salted.’’ Another: “It’s chunky. Lots of liver flavor.’’ A few thought it lacked taste. “No distinctive chicken liver flavor. Is there vinegar in here?’’ “Tastes like paste; not easy to spread.’’ “The taste of chopped liver is barely there.’’ “No sign of onions or eggs.’’ “Very bland, needs some seasoning.’’ One person complained of an “unpleasant after-taste, but the texture and appearance is good.’’

The Butcherie

428 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-731-9888

$5.99 for 1 pound

In the busy heart of Brookline’s kosher shops, bakeries, and Judaica stores, The Butcherie is a throw-back to old-time markets. The chopped liver is the least expensive here. Two chose it as a favorite. “Appearance is inviting and the odor is bright and clean. Texture is smoother. Just enough schmaltz taste.’’ (In fact, there is no schmaltz in this mixture.) “Good flavor. I would buy this.’’ “Color is nice, smells like chopped liver.’’ “Fresher tasting but bland. Light in color.’’ Two noted an “off-taste’’ and “after-taste.’’

Rubin’s Kosher Restaurant Delicatessen

500 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-731-8787

$9.99 for 1 pound

The smell of sour pickles and pastrami hits you immediately in Rubin’s. The chopped liver was the only entry made with beef liver, but no-one picked up on that. Several tasters noted a good oniony flavor. “Creamy texture with chunks of onion nicely caramelized.’’ “I can see caramelized onions, but it tastes bland.’’ “Where are the eggs? This is like pate.’’ One taster thought it had the “pleasant flavor of apple.’’ (None in this.)

S&S Restaurant

1334 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-354-0777

$8.99 for 1 pound

The chopped liver at S&S comes in frozen and is defrosted, which didn’t seem to affect the taste or texture. Two chose it as favorite. “Smells like chopped liver, flavorful. Nice color, more salty than others and more traditional taste.’’ “Light color, mild taste, and nice texture.’’ Several people remarked that it is “too sweet.’’ Many found the “light brown color’’ to be “nice and appealing.’’ One chose it as a least favorite: “tastes bitter.’’

Zaftig’s Delicatessen

335 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-975-0075

$7.99 for 1 pound

Zaftig’s chopped liver garnered the most votes for least favorite. “Too much onion and pieces are too big.’’ “Onions are undercooked.’’ A few detected an “off-flavor’’ and a “slight aftertaste.’’ But several liked the “liver smell.’’ “The smell is old-fashioned and schmaltzy.’’ (This time they were correct; the onions are cooked in oil with a little schmaltz.) One pointed to a small golden puddle on her plate and declared the mixture “very oily.’’ Oy!

Debra Samuels can be reached at debrasamuels@yahoo.com.