Stay with me for a minute before you freak out - all right? Schmaltz is fat. Period.
Now there are various kinds - the most widely known schmaltz is chicken fat, used widely in Jewish cuisine, but strictly speaking, all rendered or purified animal fats are also schmaltz. Southerners have long been familiar with the glories of bacon grease and lard, and rendered duck or goose fat has been used in traditional French and Italian cooking for centuries. Even McDonald's used beef lard to fry their french fries until health concerns caused them to swap to less heart attack inducing oils for frying.
Why? Why in the world would you want to eat that stuff? Well - because it's seriously delicious. How many of us have lamented that the fries don't taste like they used to at the Golden Arches? And the best pie crusts you've ever had were most likely made with lard or butter or both. The fats I described have all been worked with, to use as a replacement for butter or other cooking oils - to fry other foods or as a spread on various breads. Some are even used to further preserve foods, as in goose or duck confit.
You also have to realize that schmaltz is not simply fat - in all cases it's been treated, rendered, purified or worked with in some form or fashion, to make it more useable. Plain chicken fat is not much use for anything - but chicken fat that has been turned into schmatltz and gribenes is pure lovliness. It can be doled out in tiny, golden precious portions to add a one of a kind flavor to all kinds of dishes, just as pork, duck or beef schmaltz can be.
And none of them are used in large amounts. While it's true that with making confit you need to have more than a tablespoon or two, the end result - the confit itself and the flavored fat resulting - is then parceled out in tiny amounts. Most of the time these types of fats are 'hard' to get - it takes me weeks, if not months to get enough chicken fat to make schmaltz, and duck fat is usually a once a year treat around the holidays, at least at my house.
If you want to elevate some of your dishes - and we're talking put-them-on-a-pedestal elevation here, then try a touch of one of these. Start with chicken schmaltz - if you don't want to try to gather the materials yourself, chances are you can find a butcher who will give you his trimmings, and you can experiment. Try the gribenes on a good winter salad. Make a basic potato kugel with it. Try just a touch with a sprinkle of salt on crusty warm French bread....see what you think. I can almost promise you'll be hooked. And it will happen once in a blue moon - just enough to have you looking forward to the next time.
- Fat - a good bit. Try to have at least half a pound of chicken fat. I usually trim my own, breaking down whole chickens, and saving the bones for stock. When I do, I toss the skin and fat into freezer bags until I have enough to make schmatz. This works for duck too - check out the videos, where I've done both.
- If you make your own stocks, then you've already got a source for the fat. When skimming the stocks, simply run the fat you skim off through a strainer and toss the fat in the freezer as well. One benefit to this is that it tends to be 'cleaner' - lighter in color in taste, since the proteins and impurities have already been skimmed off and discarded with the skimming from the stockpot.
- When you're ready, you'll also need one thinly sliced onion. I use one small/medium onion per pound of fat or so. There's no strict ratio, but that's about right.
- Place the fat and onion over medium heat in a medium to large saucepan. Slice any skin you're using as well (which makes the gribenes - the little crispy bits), into thin slices, and throw those in as well.
- You'll see the fat almost immediately begin to melt and liquefy. The skin will also begin to render - poultry skin is rather fatty. In this case, you want the fat to render from the skin. What will remain for the gribenes will be a very small amount - but wil become crispy.
- That's it - for a long while. Keep the mixture at a nice simmer - it will depend on how much you're making and how much moisture is in with your raw ingredients. I've made it in an hour, and I've had batches take both less and more time. You want the schmatlz to quit steaming, and the entire thing will turn a beautiful golden brown. The gribenes will become a darker color.
- Strain the whole thing - separate the gribenes, and place the liquid schmaltz into a glass container. Cover tightly and store in the fridge. I've never had a batch last more than a couple of weeks, so I'm not sure how long it lasts. I do know duck confit can be stored this way for about a month, so keep that figure in mind.
Now - let me say this. This stuff is seriously disaster laden health wise. This is not a food that you wish to make part of your regular diet. We are talking pure animal fats here. But...beyond the fact that it is nearly as rare as hen's teeth and almost as hard to get, you don't need but a teaspoon drizzled over potatoes, or a few tablespoons baked into a casserole, or a bit with which to saute off green beans or a bit of chicken, veal or lean pork. I personally feel free to use the single cup of schmaltz or duck fat, all I'm able to produce every few months, with happy abandon on the three-four dishes I can make while it lasts. The rest of the time I behave, and wield my extra virgin olive oil. And wait...
- The Thrillbilly Gourmet
Combining classic technique with everyday food for spectacular results!
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