Leberkäse

Liver Cheese in English. Which would explain it all if only it had liver or cheese in it, but confoundedly, it has neither. Does it make you smell of cheese and feel liverish? Not either. The etymology is fascinating to a language nerd like me. Laiba in old German means leftovers and käse is a corruption of kasten, box. Leftovers in a box? Great name! It is actually a grand meatloaf and quite possibly the best you will ever have eaten. Fantastic straight out of the oven, wonderful chilled and sliced thinly on your sandwich and even better (wait for it…) sliced thick, fried in butter and served with an egg on top. A heart attack never felt that good! Your no liver or cheese Livercheese will keep for two weeks in the chiller and give you and your cardiologist lots of pleasure.

It may seem daunting to make, but it’s actually very easy! And if you don’t have a meat grinder, you can cut it all into small cubes and put it into your food processor! If you don’t have one of those either, forget about it. Unless you have Popeye forearms, you shouldn’t attempt to chop this by hand.

Leberkäse – Meatloaf (if you must)

enough to fill one 1.45l terrine mould

  • 500g pork shoulder
  • 300g lean pork belly
  • 200g pork backfat (green fat)
  • 21g nitrate salt mix* (see note #2)
  • 5g white pepper
  • 2g garlic powder
  • 1g ginger powder
  • 1.5g cardamom powder
  • 2g coriander powder
  • 2g nutmeg
  • 40g onion
  • 220g cold water

Make sure that the meat, as well as the mince is really cold at every stage, so crank up your air-conditioning, if you are in the tropics and if necessary, spread the mince on a flat tray, cover it and put it into the freezer for half an hour for a little extra chilling, if that becomes necessary. The reason for this is not bacteria, which our nitrate salt will keep at bay, but protein. If the meat becomes too warm, the protein that we later need to bind our Leberkäse together will break down and we will end up with a crumbly loaf.

Before you start, butter your terrine or cake mould and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. You can line the long sides, but I find filling the thing is then more cumbersome that just running a knife around it after baking. Make sure that the mould you are using can hold water. The baking process generates a lot of juices that you don’t want to have making a mess of your oven.

Cut all the meats into strips that will fit into the mincer, dice the onion and then spread it all on a tray and chill overnight. The next day, put it all through the finest bald of the mincer. The fat will be the most difficult to process, so alternate a bit of fat with a bit of meat to give your grinder a little rest. Once this is done, roughly mix the mince and pass it through the finest blade one more time.

Putting minced meat through the mincer is a little troublesome, but if you form little balls or sausages that can be dropped down the feeder tube your life will be easier. Oh, and push the pusher all the way down before trying to pull it all out again. The minced meat tends to form a little vacuum in the feeder if you don’t. Feed all this mince into the bowl of your mixer.

This is the point at which you want to preheat your oven to 80ºC on a top and bottom heat setting, if possible.

Attach the bowl to your mixer and using the blade at a low speed, add the spices, salt and pepper. Once this is mixed reasonably well, slowly pour in the ice cold water. As soon as the water has been absorbed, you can increase the speed to the second setting and leave this to run for two minutes. Now check the internal temperature. You need this to be 12ºC, so if it is still too cold, leave it to mix a while longer. If it is a little warmer, don’t panic quite yet, as long as you are under 18ºC you should be fine. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you should still be able to gauge the temperature by touch. Warmer than a nice bottle of beer, but colder than running water from the tap. Unless you live in the Alps.

Fill the forcemeat (which is what your mince is called now) into the prepared mould, making sure there are no air pockets. Use a scraper or spatula to smooth the surface. This is easier if you wet the scraper. Last, add a nice diamond pattern to the top and you’re ready!

Bake it at 80ºC for 20 minutes. Increase the heat to 120ºC and bake for 1.5 – 2 hours until the internal temperature is 70ºC. I found that in my thin long terrine this was done within 1 hour and 20 minutes. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, this should be reached once the sides are bubbling furiously and the loaf is perfectly springy to the touch. Increase the heat to 200ºC and bake for another 5 minutes, just to get a nice, brown crust.

Here’s a repeat for those of you who have skipped straight to the recipe:
You can eat the Leberkäse straight from the oven, sliced into nice thick slices. Leave it to rest for ten minutes before cutting, though. You can also cool it completely and then eat it thinly sliced on well buttered bread, which is incredibly delicious. I pile a few slices on hot, buttered toast and believe me, life doesn’t get much better. Another heart-attack-provoking way of serving cold Leberkäse is slicing it thick, then frying it in lard and serving it on toast with a fried egg on top. That’s what my German grandmother used to do and we loved her for it.

NOTE:          If you are using one of those thermometers that you can just stick into the thing and put in the oven, do not remove it until the Leberkäse has cooled down at least a little, or quite a bit of the juice will come streaming out.

NOTE #2:     You can order nitrate salt online. Make sure this is a ready to use mix and not pure nitrate, because that would kill you. You can make this Leberkäse with plain salt, but it won’t be pink (which doesn’t really matter) and it will not keep as long. With nitrate and kept well chilled you can eat it for a week or more. As long as it smells good and isn’t slimy to the touch, it’s good to eat. I’m saying slimy, not oily, because it’s definitely oily. Without, I would try and eat it within 5 days if you make sure it stays chilled, so no taking it out to put on the table for an hour!

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