The chopped liver that honors a father who helped save 100,000 lives

Cammy’s parents in Israel in the 1970s.

Shared by Cammy Bourcier

This story orignally appeared on JewishFoodSociety.org

Recipe Roots: Uzhhorod, Czechoslovakia (present-day Ukraine) > Budapest > Greater Tel Aviv > Brooklyn > Hillsdale, NJ 

“Like many many other other Holocaust survivors… my parents felt that they had gotten a second chance and they were not going to dwell on the past,” says food writer Cammy Bourcier. Still, there were moments in her childhood when their past entered the present. Cammy recalls a trip to Canada when she was little. When police stopped her family at the border to inspect a trunk filled with clothes from her father’s job in the garment industry, he panicked. “That was a lasting scar,” says Cammy. 

Her father Herman, known as Zidy in the family, was part of an effort that helped save 100,000 Jews during the war. Cammy recalls another story from when she was a teen, perhaps even younger she says, when a woman approached her father on the subway and said she recognized him from Budapest. The woman told Herman that he had saved her life. 

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“My father left home in 1939,” she explains. He was the youngest of seven children in a family that lived in Uzhhorod, Czechoslovakia, which became Hungary in 1939 and today sits within Hungary’s borders. “He went to Prague with the intention of sailing to Palestine, but when he got to Prague, the Germans had made that impossible,” Cammy continues. Not sure where to turn, his mother, who had already lost two sons to Hungarian labor camps didn’t want him to return home. Herman instead headed south and east to Budapest where his brother Bela lived.

Through much of the war, Jews living in Hungary were subject to harsh anti-Jews laws but were not deported to concentration camps. “My dad kept a low profile,” working various jobs in Budapest, says Cammy. When Nazi forces occupied Hungary in March of 1944 and sent droves of Jews to concentration camps, Herman became deeply involved in a local chapter of the Zionist youth group B’nei Akiva. Working with friends, he helped provide Jews in Budapest with false papers, claiming they were Swiss citizens, and therefore protected from Nazi forces. 

In October of that year, Herman was caught on a tram with a briefcase of papers and was taken into custody and tortured by members of the Hungarian fasciast group the Arrow Cross Party. “They didn’t want my father. They knew my father was a little fish. They wanted the names of the big shots,” who were supplying him with false papers, Cammy says. “They beat him up to a pulp… but he didn’t give any names.” Herman was hospitalized for his injuries. And, when “his friends found out that he was in the hospital, they put on Nazi uniforms and they rescued him,” Cammy explains. 

After the war, Herman made his way to Israel where he met his wife, another survivor, and together, they moved to Brooklyn in 1957 following the Suez Crisis. In March of 2020, Herman passed away. As a way to honor his memory, Cammy continues to make his signature chopped liver, laced with mushrooms and caramelized onions. 

Cammy isn’t certain where he picked up the recipe — perhaps from his mother — but it was the dish he always brought to her home for large gatherings with friends. He would pick up rye bread to go with the liver for most of the year, and matzo for Passover. Last year, Cammy made it on Father’s Day and Thanksgiving, sharing some with a friend who loves Herman’s recipe so much she consumed it in the car with her fingers. She says: “When I’m making it I’m keeping his memory alive, for my friends as well.”

Chopped Liver with Mushrooms and Onions

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

1 pound chicken livers, deveined and cleaned

2 teaspoons kosher salt

4 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1 pound button mushrooms, divided

3 medium onions, divided

2 whole eggs

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to broil at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the livers onto a baking sheet in one layer and season with 1 teaspoon of salt on both sides.

2. Transfer the livers into the oven and broil for 3 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and flip the livers. Broil the livers for 3 more minutes until the color of the livers changes from pink to brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

3. Heat a tablespoon of canola oil in a saute pan over high heat and sauté the chicken livers until cooked through, about 5 minutes, working in separate batches if needed. Transfer to a bowl and let the livers rest for 5 minutes. Use a fork or masher to finely chop the livers. Set aside. 

4. Make the hard boiled eggs: Gently use a slotted spoon to place 2 eggs into a pot of boiling water. Cook the eggs on an active simmer for 12 minutes. Transfer the eggs and allow them to cool until easy to handle. Peel and finely chop the hard boiled eggs. Set aside.

5. Thinly slice half of the mushrooms (½ pound) crosswise. Place a saucepan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil. Once the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Season the mushrooms with ¼ teaspoon of salt and stir. Transfer the mushrooms out of the pan and set aside. Finely chop the remaining mushrooms. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil into the pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot add the finely chopped mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are cooked and the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add ¼ teaspoon of salt. Mix and transfer to a separate dish.

6. Thinly slice 1 ½ onions crosswise. Place a saucepan over medium low heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil into the pan. Once the oil is hot, add the onions into the pan with ¼ teaspoon of salt and saute until the onions are golden brown and tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer the sauteed sliced onions to the dish with the sauteed sliced mushrooms. Finely chop the remaining onions. Add 1 tablespoon to the same pan and place over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onions and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Saute the onions until they are browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the sauteed chopped onions to the bowl with the sauteed chopped mushrooms.

7. Add the chopped onions, chopped mushrooms and chopped eggs, and black pepper into the bowl with the chopped liver. Mix well and add 1 tablespoon of canola oil if needed to bind the mixture. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

8. Transfer the chopped liver into a serving bowl and sprinkle the sauteed sliced onions and mushrooms on top.

9. Serve with rye bread or with matzo.

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