Back in the day 1950ish, milk was delivered to an insulated container at your backdoor – and yes, the cream did rise to the top. My dad scooped it off and placed it in a stainless container in the refrigerator for his morning coffee – unless I got to it first. Butter and eggs were delivered as well. Butter was kept in a covered butter dish and never refrigerated. Bacon fat was rendered through cheese cloth and had a prominent place on the countertop ready to use for just about anything. Then there was the wonderfully delicious schmaltz.
In the days before store bought chicken bouillon and chicken stock – there was schmaltz. The term "schmaltz" came from the Ashkenazi Jews who used it to refer to kosher poultry fat; the word schmaltz is the Yiddish word for rendered chicken fat. Schmaltz is a noun derived from the verb schmelzen, meaning "to melt".
What does schmaltz taste like? Imagine the gentlest of butters infused with the taste of fried chicken, but with a lightness that melts in the mouth.
Simply put, Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat, made by simmering chunks of skin-on, bone-in chicken parts, and chopped onion, in a pan over low heat over a long amount of time. The heat turns the chicken fat from solid to liquid, and it eventually melts out of the chicken and into the pan, a process called “rendering.”
Frying chicken skin in a skillet is much like frying bacon, Jewish bacon known as “gribines”, can add a Yiddish a delicacy to your schmaltz. This process is one of many techniques Jews have developed for working around the rules of Kashrut or eating Kosher.
Your body needs fat to function properly and certain fats can reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems. Chicken is rich in healthy fats and lower in unhealthy fats than red meat.
Schmaltz is used in many traditional Jewish dishes. It is added to latkes, stirred into chopped liver, and is a key by-product of making gribenes—salty, addictively crispy chicken cracklings.
Schmaltz will last for up to six months in the freezer. The best way to obtain chicken skin and fat is to collect trimmings in the freezer every time you buy a whole bird.
- Melt it and use it to make mayonnaise or salad dressings.
- Use it to crisp up potato latkes or caramelize onions on the stovetop.
- Toss it with potatoes and root vegetables add extra flavor to roasted vegetables.
- Use schmaltz instead of butter or oil in cornbread, biscuits, or tortillas.
EQUIPMENT: 5-quart stockpot
PREPARTATION TIME: 1 hour fifteen minutes
- 1-pound chicken skin and fat, cut into narrow 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 medium onion, sliced into thin 1/4-inch pieces
In a medium saucepan, combine chicken fat and skin with just enough water to barely cover. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat 350ᵒF, then lower heat to medium-low 225ᵒF and continue to simmer, stirring frequently until water has cooked off and the fat is rendered. Chicken skin and fat should be small and browned by this time and starting to crisp, about 50 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Strain rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) through fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Reserve crisped chicken skin, fat, and onion (called gribenes in Yiddish), they can be eaten as a snack with salt, or stirred into chopped liver.