chicken liver pâté

I started hosting Passover seder four years ago. My dad had just passed away and my mother, who usually hosts, appreciated the relief. I don’t usually host holidays — well, they let me have Hanukkah — because our space is so small and the traffic, so terrible, but I must have done too good of a job because I haven’t stopped since. This means I have a secret archive of Passover recipes I’ve been keeping from you, and it’s rather rude. Here is one.

Wait, I forgot to tell you that the second year we hosted, we had 27 people. Our table, fully extended, holds 8 officially but 10 if you like each other, and it takes up a large chunk of our living room. I have no idea how we added enough card tables and chairs to do this, but I do know that my mother in-law and sister in-law spent an hour and a half just setting the table(s). You’re supposed to drink four glasses of wine at the Seder. I think we went through the better part of three cases. I should have taken pictures but I was too busy cooking for three dozen (drowning in leftovers is part of the holiday) in a kitchen not equipped for the job. I regret nothing. I remember much less.

chicken liver pate-1chicken liver pate-2chicken liver pate-3chicken liver pate-4

Most of my friends are self-titled Jewish Food Enthusiasts and never has gefilte fish (my mother in-law makes it) been eaten with such fervor. But it was this chicken liver pate that stole the show — every last schmear was scraped clean of the dish. The secret? Are you ready? I’ve got five:

1. Onions. So many onions that it will seem wrong. They’re cooked until mostly caramelized then intentionally browned and deglazed with madeira and some sherry vinegar so that they’re sweet and tangy, dark mahogany ribbons of abundant flavor.
2. The second secret is (mom, don’t read this part) (my mother is a retired microbiologist) is that you really want your livers cooked on the rare side of medium. If they’re not a little pink inside, it’s going to be dry.
3. The third thing I feel insistent about is that we do not put hard-boiled eggs in our chopped liver; I don’t like the texture it imparts. I like it sieved or grated on top, as garnish, and (3b) I like a lot of garnishes — extra madeira onions, pickled shallots, bits of crispy salted chicken skin or crispy shallots, chives, pickles.
4. My next strong preference is that I like to blend it absolutely smooth and a little whipped, the way you might get it at a restaurant or wine bar.
5. Finally, you’re going to need more salt and fat than you want to think too hard about. Just do it. A long line of bubbes and zaydes are nodding in approval.

chicken liver pate-7

See also: Not into chicken livers? You will probably enjoy this Wild Mushroom Pâté

A shoutout to my two other favorite chicken livers: 1. Sammy Roumanian Steakhouse-Style. This recipe is in Smitten Kitchen Every Day and I know it’s very niche, but it’s so good — craggy, busy, chaotic. Sammy’s closed over the pandemic, a shonda as we’d always planned to host at least one child’s Bar Mitzvah there, and I’m not over it. 2. The chicken liver toasts [cibreo toscana] at Via Carota. With a big green salad and a glass of wine, you’re in for bliss.



6 months ago: Old-School Dinner Rolls
1 year ago: Sheet Pan Chow Mein
2 years ago: Crispy Crumbled Potatoes
3 years ago: Essential French Onion Soup
4 years ago: Asparagus and Egg Salad with Walnuts and Mint
5 years ago: Cornbread Waffles and Mushroom Tartines
6 years ago: Sesame Soba and Ribboned Omelet Salad and Apricot Hazelnut Brown Butter Hamantaschen
7 years ago: The Consolation Prize (A Mocktail) and Baked Chickpeas with Pita Chips and Yogurt
8 years ago: Whole-Grain Cinnamon Swirl Bread
9 years ago: Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini
10 years ago: Soft Eggs with Buttery Herb-Gruyere Toast Soldiers
11 years ago: Spaetzle
12 years ago: Irish Soda Bread Scones and Spinach and Chickpeas
13 years ago: Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Strawberry Sauce and Bialys
14 years ago: Caramel Walnut Banana Upside Down Cake and Swiss Easter Rice Tart
15 years ago: Mixed Berry Pavlova

Chicken Liver Pâté

  • Servings: Makes 1 1/2 cups
  • Source: Smitten Kitchen
  • Print

  • A lot of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 to 5 medium-large yellow onions [see Note], halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 pound fresh chicken livers, drained
  • 1/4 cup dry madeira, marsala, or sherry
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) or vegetable oil
  • Matzo crackers, to serve
  • Fixings of you choice: Pickled and/or fried shallots, chopped chives, hard-boiled eggs, chopped cornichon or other pickles

Cook the onions: Heat a large frying pan with a lid to medium-high heat. Once hot, add 3 tablespoons of schmaltz. Once it has heat, add the onions and toss them in the fat to evenly coat, cooking them for one minute. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low (or a low on a robust stove) and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes, checking in every 5 minutes to give them a stir. They otherwise don’t need your attention.

Uncover the pan, raise the heat to medium and stir in salt — I start with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, for another 15 minutes. They will not be fully caramelized at this point; it is not what we are going for. Increase heat to medium-high and cook onions until browned at the edges and utterly delicious. Add madeira and vinegar and scrape up any onion bits stuck to the pan. Cook, stirring, until both liquids disappear and the onions are dark. Transfer onions to a large bowl. If you’d like to save a little for garnish, you can set aside a couple tablespoons of them now.

Cook the livers: Add 3 more tablespoons schmaltz to the empty pan and heat over medium-high. Add the livers in one layer and season very well with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes, until lightly browned underneath and flip the livers, seasoning again with salt and pepper, and browning them on the second side, about 2 minutes.

Add the livers to the bowl with the onions, pour the last 1 to 2 tablespoons of schmaltz over, and let everything cool completely. If you’re getting an advance on the liver, I vote for fully chilling them in the fridge overnight. I find that pate blends much more smoothly and light when everything is cold.

To finish and serve: In a food processor, blend the liver and onions until absolutely smooth and as whipped as you can get it. Taste for seasoning; I almost always need more salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl. If you’ve reserved cook onions, you can scatter them on top. If not, a drizzle of oil and some herbs works too. Serve with crackers and garnishes of your choice.

Do ahead: Leftover prepared liver keeps in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. I often make it up to a week before I need it and freeze it. Defrost in the fridge for 24. If you’ve got time, I sometimes re-blend it for a lighter texture once defrosted.

A few onion tips: Use the yellow onions with brown skins if you can get them. If you’re in doubt whether it’s big enough, add another. I used a sweeter Spanish-ish variety for one batch and I’m always bummed the onion flavor isn’t as present and that they’re sometimes so wet, it feels like they turn to mush instead of caramelizing. I always start with an onion or two more than I need, because due to the vagaries of buying onions from grocery stores in the middle of winter, I never know when I’ll get one kind of banged up inside, except reliably any time I don’t buy extras.

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93 comments on chicken liver pâté

  1. Sara

    Deb- what’s your best source for schmaltz? I have a hell of a time finding it anywhere these days. Do you render your own?

      1. Elizabeth

        Loved the nod to your dad at the beginning. It sounds like he was a wonderful guy. I have only been to one Passover seder in my life (sadly), but I remember it was delicious. Off to find the schmaltz!

      1. Rachel

        Paisano’s in Cobble Hill is pretty reliable for duck fat (and I remember getting chicken fat there one year). Highly recommend for all meat needs!

    1. FJ Hughes

      I am in San Francisco Bay Area, not a big Jewish food mecca, but hey we have some of the best Mexican and Chinese food. I find schmaltz in the freezer case at a local small chain supermarket. You might check the freezer section. Tried making my own, but hard to find chickens with enough fat… I think I ended up with a couple of tablespoons and had used the fat from like 5 chickens!

      1. Bentley

        Samin’s conveyor chicken recipe from Salt Fat Acid Heat always renders at least a half cup of fat, it’s a delightful byproduct that makes it worth scrubbing my stove!

  2. Mandy

    Deb, ideas on where to find schmaltz in NYC? I’m striking out everywhere I look, and I don’t have the time for homemade….

    1. deb

      Ditto what I just mentioned to Sara; I ended up ordering it online when I photographed this last week. I do think that vegetable oil works fine. [I also once used ghee, so good, but that wasn’t for a Jewish holiday.] I wonder if you added, like, a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of chicken bouillon concentrate if it would have a more authentic flavor.

    2. Alexis

      Any kosher supermarket (and frankly many non-kosher supermarkets) should have Empire in the tubs. It’s often kept in frozen, rather than by the meat; that may be why you had trouble.

      I do prefer home rendered, which is actually very easy, and for Passover kosher meat markets often sell packs of unrendered fat.

  3. Stephani

    We love chicken liver pâté; my husband has made a smoked chicken liver pate for several years and it always gets gobbled up, even by the kids (we are deliberately vague about the ingredients- once they taste it, they don’t care ;). I look forward to trying your recipe, possibly for Easter!

    1. RachelVan

      I had duck shmaltz from a duck I had cooked previously and I used it to great success. My mom often used goose fat as the German butcher near us stocked it. Also delish.

  4. Nancy in CA

    This liver-loving shiksa wants to kiss you for this. My favorite pate is no longer available, and nothing I’ve found in the years since has enough pepper in it. I can scale this back to make a smaller portion, to boot, as I’ve a liver-loathing husband.

    When it isn’t Passover, pate from the night before is lovely on toast next morning.

    Chag Pesach Sameach!

  5. Peggy Smith

    As soon as I saw that you cook the gribnes in schmaltz and banned the inclusion of hard boiled eggs, I knew this was a keeper. I just wish I could convince my family to love and crave it as I do.

  6. Deanna

    I love pate so much. The onions really are the secret, but and if it doesn’t look like too much before you cook them, it’s not enough. If you have leftover pate, I highly recommend this recipe which is very rich, but pairs very well with a glass of champagne.

    (Anyone in London after a great liver dish, the pomegranate molasses livers at Yalla Yalla are (were?) amazing)

  7. Kathy Dowdell

    This is absolutely my favorite line of this whole post:
    “You’re supposed to drink four glasses of wine at the Seder. I think we went through the better part of three cases.”
    Sounds like the perfect gathering to me!

  8. Helen in CA

    Could you deconstruct the pate-on-crackers picture? Trying to identify all you’ve chosen to grace the pate with.

    1. deb

      Yes! So, first a schmear of the pâté. Some have hard-boiled egg pushed through a fine-mesh sieve. There are also chives, pickled red onions, and some chopped pickles.

  9. Nina A

    I’m sorry, i can’t get over the part where you were going to host a child’s Bar Mitzvah at a place with terrible rugelach? :) Have a wonderful Passover.

  10. Alexis

    I grew up with it chopped coarsely and the reminder that it is *not* pate! But it’s true: plenty of onions and schmaltz is what makes it good. Dry, unappetizing liver comes from being stingy with the schmaltz. I render my own so I can serve the gribenes with it. (I could eat those like popcorn if it didn’t make me nauseous.)

    My mother’s family is mostly Polish but part Romanian, so we always serve ikra also. (Romanian carp roe dip; a little like taramasalata, but not cured, and with vegetable oil and lots of lemon and a splash of seltzer so it’s much lighter and fluffier.)

    1. Northeastern food fanatic

      For chopped liver I always use schmaltz from chicken soup, made the day before with a chicken from a local poultry farm. This project demands D-Day-level planning! (I also freeze schmaltz from soup made without chopped liver, in case there isn’t enough.)

      The sherry vinegar and Madeira added layers of flavor.

      Refrigerating the cooked livers and onions overnight, as recommended–a step I had not done before and wouldn’t have thought of–worked well.

      Because there is a limit to the amount of chicken fat my G.I. system will accept, I didn’t add more at the end. It was fine.

      Happy with the tasty result. Thank you, Deb!

    2. Northeastern food fanatic

      I think it greatly improves the finished product. Do it before cooking. It doesn’t take that long.

    3. Connie

      While also wondering the same thing, since Deb said to only rinse the livers. I love chicken livers, always have; BUT, I do not love picking them over to remove the membrane/connective tissues. So, after rinsing and draining I baked them very low for 5 – 10 minutes just enough to make working with them palatable. I removed every ounce of membrane and connective tissue and used only the remaining big beautiful liver. They were very very rare (but dry and easy to handle) and I continued on with the directions above. Have fun!
      Also, I do not have a food processor so I am planning to use my immersion blender. It should get them extremely mousse-like and not liquify them, hopefully. P.S. Any suggestions on what wine to pair? Kosher, yes, at the Holiday. What about at other times? White? Dry? Red? Sweet? Thanks!

  11. Stu Borken

    I always have a supply of schmaltz and schmaltz fried onions in the freezer. I buy the containers of Empire Kosher Rendered Chicken Fat. I put 5 into a pot and add 3-4 coarsely chopped onions and boil/fry the onions for 45 minutes until they are pale brown then strain them out and freeze them and put the flavored schmaltz in pint Ball or Kerr Jars in the freezer for when I need it for seasoning potatoes for knishes or for chopped liver or to sauté sliced potatoes or for grimzel (fried mashed potato patty).

  12. Helene

    Please share more of your secret archive of Passover recipes. I too have taken on Passover hosting responsibilities in my family. I’m always looking for new recipes to add to our table.

        1. SP

          I don’t have madeira, marsala, or sherry; and no sherry vinegar either. Are there acceptable replacements or should I go buy these things? ( I do have white vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, and balsamic vinegar). Thank you!

          1. Connie

            I think using any of the vinegar you mention would ruin your pate. I have none of the listed liquors or sherry vinegar; so I am heading down the road to my local liquor store. After all of this prep, I’m not taking any catastrophic shortcuts or making any vital errors which I believe using balsamic or red wine vinegar would cause.
            Pate without Madeira is like chicken parm with no parm.

  13. Mimi

    Hello Deb, do I have to clean the livers somehow? Cut something off?

    And would it work with livers that I buy frozen, and then defrost?
    Thank you :)

  14. MN

    You just gave me a huge surge of confidence! I’m hosting my first Seder, and what started as 5 guests has now turned into 21. Adding this recipe to our table this year, along with your brisket and potato kugel. Chag sameach, Deb!

    1. Connie

      Funny! The livers need to be kashered before they will be kosher’d.

      Interestingly, after I broiled my livers in order to handle them with ease, it resulted in a great amount of red liquid in my sheet pan. I kashered my livers without realizing it.

  15. Marianne Porter

    I’m a retired microbiologist, too. Nothing wrong with nice fresh properly handled and stored chicken livers seared good and hot and a little pink inside.

  16. Chris

    Hi, the last time I made chicken liver pâté was the first time I got food poisoning (Campylobacter). It (the pâté) was delicious, but not worth it! Any suggestions for cooking the livers properly without accruing a hospital bill?

  17. Bridgit

    I have a beef liver in my freezer. I have never cooked liver, and to the best of my knowledge I have never eaten it. (I did make David Lebovitz is vegetarian walnut mushroom pate and it was delicious). Can I maybe cut the beef liver into chicken sized liver pieces and treat it the same way? Or maybe some reader has some great beef liver recipe I should try?

    1. Elisheva Urbas

      My grandmother made chopped liver from calf’s liver, and similarly used it in the filling for her kreplach (meat-filled dumplings). Calf liver definitely has a much stronger flavor than chicken liver, and beef liver much stronger again, so consider how into that offal flavor you are. I did try with beef liver once but it was poorly received by my eaters.

  18. Savannagal

    I’m a little confuse about the onions. When they are done are they supposed to be crispy? You said you weren’t going for carmelized. Thanks for any clarification.

    1. deb

      Not crispy but classically caramelized onions — the French way — are a 60 to 90 minute process, at least, and get more golden brown over this time. We’re not going for that. We are hurrying it along.

  19. KC

    The recipe sounds good, the pics make them look yum. But what’s the cracker they’re served on? Brand name? Never seen perfectly square toasted ones like that.

    1. deb

      It’s Yehuda brand and they’re actually gluten-free. I didn’t realize it when I bought them, but I’d argue that they taste no better/worse than regular ones. They’re a bit more crunchy, not a bad thing here. Oh, but they taste kind of unsalted, which isn’t great. They’re also tiny. I love it; it’s a perfect single-bite (no mess). I know you didn’t ask for a full review but here we are. :)

  20. Joolz

    We’re headed to the bf’s ancestral pile for Seder and we’re bringing this with us. I want to suggest another topping for the pate – salt cured egg yolks. Noms!

    1. Carol in Boulder

      Yes. I make turkey liver pate every Thanksgiving. I render the fat that is next to the cavity, saute a bunch of onions, throw in a mushroom or two, some garlic, then the liver. I let it cool, and give it a trip in the food processer with salt, pepper, a touch of hot pepper, and lemon juice. It is one of our Thanksgiving favorites.

  21. Judylilly

    Hi Deb – this is the first year I’ve been permitted to help cook for Seder! Thank you for being my recipe guide :-)) Might you be able to share a little more detail about the amount of onions you use? I sliced and cooked 5 onions that I’d call “medium-large”, but even cooked they look like a ton of onions – a lot more than what I see in your frying pan photo above… Each of my onions weighed about 10 ounces and was about 10″ around. Maybe they are actually monster huge California onions? Cooked, they equal about 1&1/2 cups. Maybe I should only use half? Thank you!

  22. Mary

    Made the first part yesterday. I even rendered my own chicken fat! Whipped it up today and OH BOY! SO TASTY! Bringing it to an Easter brunch, I hope it lasts that long.
    Just so you know, I’ve been plant based for the last few years and only have meat treats once or twice a month. I really have to think about what I want to splurge on and this was it!! Thank you, Deb!!

  23. Angela

    Making this tomorrow, so reading all the comments. I found chicken fat (Epic brand) in the oil and vinegar aisle of my local Whole Foods in suburban MD. They had duck fat, beef tallow, and wayyyy in the back of the shelf, chicken fat (I guess it’s the most popular?). If you have a local butcher, I bet they’d have it too? Also, I wish I’d read the whole article before I went to Whole Foods… I’m afraid I don’t have enough onions!!

  24. I was entirely unsuccessful at finding schmaltz in Northern Virginia yesterday (I even went to the huge Asian grocery store! They had every other part of the chicken including boneless feet but not rendered fat!), so I will be making my pate with duck fat. I’m also planning to eat it on Wheat Thins rather than matzo, so I guess breaking another dietary law is relative.

  25. Terry Kretzmer

    Would you think this would work and taste ok, not the same as liver of course, if you substituted mushrooms, like a king trumpet for the liver?
    Just made you twice baked potatoes with kale. Everyone loved it! Leftovers were perfect.

  26. Janet A

    Okay…so that didn’t work out well! What I wrote before was that, during the pandemic’s beginning, when grocery shopping was iffy and lots of things were out of stock, I started rendering chicken fat with each chicken religiously and freezing it in case fats became hard to get. Well, it never came to that, but it did remind me that schmaltz is a resource that shouldn’t be squandered. So chicken livers in schmaltz became a thing–even though a shocking number of chickens came without liver in the giblet bag, and an even more appalling number arrived with two necks instead! Not a liver substitute, in my opinion!

    I have played around with chopped liver frequently over the years, straying into the ‘bacon fat would be a good idea’ came, and more frequently concluding that ‘a little ruby port would make those metallic notes seem more savory.’ I am planning a liver pate extravaganza based on your recipe just as soon as I stop procrastinating over doing my taxes!

  27. Anita

    I’ve had chicken liver mousse in many restaurants and it’s often served with a sweet fruit jelly on top (usually with grilled bread). I totally love it- the sweet/salty/fatty/cold-spread-on-hot-toast vibe is addictive. Would topping this with a jelly work? Or are the onions in it already doing the job of the sweet jelly? (Liver novice here- didn’t grow up in an offal-eating culture)

  28. RachelVan

    So so so DELICIOUS!!! I used sweet onions as they were what I had. It was still amazing and I look forward to making it with regular onions. Those of us at the Seder who love chopped liver loved it a lot! It was the first thing I had the next day (yes there were leftovers because there were really only 4 of us eating it. Only took a few seconds before the first what am I chopped liver joke. Thanks for a great recipe.

  29. Nawana

    Hi Deb, I’m wondering if to save myself a trip to the liquor store if I were to use any red or white wine to deglaze the onions if that’s an acceptable substitute? Or would you say the sherry/Marsala/Madeira is worth getting?

    1. deb

      Absolutely. I really do like marsala and madeira here, they play off the onions and livers better than most, and a bottle of each in the fridge for eons, since I just use them for cooking, but understand not wanting to get stuck with something very specific.

  30. Marie-Andree Cloutier

    I have duck fat in the freezer, would that be a good idea instead of the chicken fat? It would taste more like duck liver pâté?

  31. every time i think of the saying “what am i, chopped liver?” i also think but i love chopped liver!

    what would happen to the taste if i used a bunch of shallots instead of a bunch of onions?

  32. Liz

    This looks delish !! Deb have you stopped creating videos for your Youtube channel? If you are taking requests, i vote for this recipe video. So is pickled shallots just sliced shallots in vinegar?

    1. Laura in Milwaukee

      I always eyeball these: shallots, whatever vinegar you have (maybe a tablespoon for each shallot?), a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a splash of water. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, but fine to do way ahead.

  33. Lacey

    Started making this last night and blitzed it up today for our (v late) seder with friends. I only had sweet onions so used what I had and was still very delish. I also may or may not have used keden grape juice instead of wine to deglaze the pan and didn’t notice and weird sweetness. Super delish and easily the best pate I’ve had. Will be a keeper!

  34. Vaughan

    Hi Deb. Would you show us how to make some good schmaltz?? And if you would, could we freeze it?
    Thanks and I love your food!

  35. If there wouldn’t be a big enough market or there might be some rights issues with putting out a Passover cooking collection, I for one, would definitely pay for an ebook! Signed, a not-Orthodox-but-traditional Jew (who owns both your print books and preordered the next!)

    1. deb

      Wow, thank you! I actually did think about doing an e-book and will think on it a bit before next year. I’d like, if I did it, for it to be at least in some part a fundraiser.

      1. Elisheva Urbas

        Re passover e-book as fundraiser: what a beautiful idea that is. There’s a strong tradition of giving charity before Passover for people to have food — in Hebrew “ma’ot hittin,” literally coins for wheat. We mostly give to Feeding America, or the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, or Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, or Masbia. But of course there are lots of people doing this work.

  36. I could say a lot of stuff about how my brother died unexpectedly and I inexplicably craved khao soi and chicken liver pate for two years. I ate so much of both that they both taste like grief but also like taking care of myself in a very important way? Mostly I’ll say that I have never made chicken livers before and I was nervous to do so. I used duck fat and followed the directions exactly and, holy shoot, it tastes exactly like my favorite restaurant’s pate! Do not be scared off by this recipe! It takes a while but it’s not hard. I’m planning on freezing most of it and treating myself when I want to feel nurtured. Thank you, Deb!

  37. Daisy

    We can only buy koshered chicken livers here in London UK. They are cooked through. So in your recipe should they still be fried?? Thank you

  38. nina

    Ok, OK, I’ll try your recipe, but only because of the shoutout to Sammy’s that lends this credibility (not to say your years of stellar recipe development don’t lend you cred, but the lack of hard boiled eggs gave me pause).