When I was a teenager and first learning to cook, “Jewish Cooking in America” by Joan Nathan had just been published, and I cooked my way through it (my mother had a copy). I don’t know if many teenagers would contemplate cooking chopped chicken liver, but way back when, I tried her recipe, and fell in love.
Much later in life, and right around Thanksgiving one year, I made a pâté similar to Nathan’s but with turkey liver and a splash of cognac. However, something about using turkey livers felt off.
My own deep association with turkey is through its role as part of a secular American holiday. It simply doesn’t feel that Jewish. Not that I don’t have fond memories of Thanksgivukkah back in 2013, when Thanksgiving fell on the second night of Hanukkah. That was a glorious year, filled with cranberry-stuffed sufganiyot and mashed-potato latkes.
This year though, I’m going full throttle on a Jewish Thanksgiving. Turkey brine accentuated with Middle Eastern spices? Bring it. But turkey chopped liver? Nope. There is something about classic chicken liver that I just can’t forgo.
Chopped Chicken Liver
Inspired by a Joan Nathan recipe
4 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 cups onion, diced
¼ green pepper, diced
1 lb. fresh chicken livers
1 Tbs. cognac
4 hard-boiled eggs
1 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper
Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet. Sauté onions and green pepper over a high heat for about 5 minutes, until onions start turning brown. Add chicken livers to the sauté and cook, tossing livers occasionally for 3 minutes. Add cognac. Cook for 1-2 more minutes, but don’t let the livers become tough. In a food processor, pulse together the sautéed ingredients with hard-boiled eggs, and season with salt and pepper.
Middle Eastern Turkey Roast
5 quarts water
1¼ cups kosher salt
4 bay leaves
2 Tbs. whole cumin seeds
2 Tbs. black peppercorns
1 Tbs. whole caraway seeds
1 Tbs. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. sumac
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
3 cups dry white wine
8 garlic cloves, crushed
3 cups onions, sliced
1 fresh whole turkey (14-16 lbs.)
One day before you cook your turkey, bring 1 quart water, salt, bay leaves and spices to a simmer, stirring until salt has dissolved. Let cool for 5 minutes. Mix with remaining 4 quarts water, wine, garlic and onion in super large bucket lined with a clean, unscented trash bag. Add turkey to bag.
Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight, flipping once. Remove turkey from brine 1 hour before roasting. Drain the onions, garlic and some of the spices and set aside. Pat turkey dry inside and out. Let stand for up to 1 hour so turkey comes closer to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place turkey breast side up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan. Turn wings back to hold neck skin in place. Brush turkey with oil. Baste after an hour. Cook 30 more minutes.
Add reserved onions and garlic to pan. Baste and cook another hour. Loosely cover breast and top of drumsticks with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking. Cook 1½ additional hours (total cooking time of 3-3½ hours). Turkey is done when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 180 degrees in thigh and 165 degrees in breast.