Schmaltz. You may not have ever heard of it before – I know I hadn’t. But it turns out, you want to know what schmaltz is, because it is amazing! I learned to appreciate schmaltz thanks to Michael Ruhlman’s Single, The Book of Schmaltz, available on the iPad in the iTunes store.
What is schmaltz? Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat, cooked with onion for flavor, that is used in many traditional Jewish dishes. For many centuries, cooking with animal fats was the norm, such as butter from cows and lard from pigs. Since the Jewish religion forbids eating anything porcine, they relied on poultry fat (schmaltz) for their cooking, and this characterizes the traditional Jewish cuisine. It isn’t limited to traditional Jewish dishes though – there are many amazing things you can do with schmaltz.
There is also a bonus to making schmaltz! Not only do you get schmaltz (the fat), but you are also left with the browned skin and onions, called gribenes – a delicious byproduct that you can use in a number of ways.
Mike is all about utilization cooking; when he breaks down a chicken to make chicken breasts for one meal, the legs for another, the bones are saved for making stock, and the fat & skin go in to the freezer (in a plastic container that he adds to when he has more) to make schmaltz. There is no waste when cooking food.
Don’t want to save up the skin & fat? Ask your butcher or the farmer who you get your chickens from if they will save it for you. Ruhlman also suggests that you can use the skin from packaged chicken thighs, and then use the skinless thighs for other things.
Random things I learned while we made this? The process of making schmaltz is a wet rendering process – you add water when you do it. According to some of the sources I’ve read since, wet rendering needs less monitoring and is more delicate on the fat.
If you want to learn more about making schmaltz and the many uses for it, I highly recommend Ruhlman’s book. (Actually, I highly recommend anything by Ruhlman.) He describes the steps in making schmaltz, and then has two dozen recipes that explore the various uses of schmaltz, including traditional recipes such as Classic Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls, Egg and Gribenes Spread, Potato Kugel, Knish, Kreplach, and contemporary recipes such as Vichyssoise with Gribenes and Chives (hmm… I’m thinking that some Cauliflower Leek soup might be enhanced with some gribenes too!), Four-Star Matzo Ball Soup, Schmaltz-roasted Potatoes with Onion and Rosemary (yes, please!), Chicken with Schmaltz Dumplings, Chicken Rillettes, and even Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries.
Ruhlman’s goal (and ours too) is to help you create your own variations of schmaltz so that you can add it to your arsenal of cooking tools.
UPDATE: Be sure to visit Mike’s blog for the Cook’s Notes on Schmaltz.
Cutting up the frozen chicken skins and fat to prepare for rendering.
Soon to be Schmaltz – all ready to put it on the stove for the wet rendering.
Starting the rendering process – look at the yummy goodness!
Rendering away – clear liquid
Onions added to make the Schmaltz
Schmaltz and gribenes – ready to be strained!
Gribenes – Chicken & Onion goodness to use on a variety of items.
Rendering animal fats is a powerful technique to know. Olive oil and butter are still my most common fats for cooking, but having some rendered bacon or chicken schmaltz are so useful to alter or boost the flavor of a dish.</p>
Like Christine said in the post, this is wet rendering. The fat is in a pot and basically starts off by melting into the water. When the water boils, the whole mixture is essentially held at 212F/100C until the water boils off – hot enough to melt the fat but not so hot that it cooks and develops off flavors.</p>
(Dry rendering, by contrast, involves simply cooking chunks of whatever in a skillet. I do this most often with bacon, over a medium-low heat – the fat in the bacon needs to render out before the bacon starts to burn. Wet rendering takes longer but is more forgiving about this, dry rendering requires a little more focus.)</p>
After the water boils off, the remaining liquid in the pot goes from cloudy to clear, and then you’re off to the races. Take care not to burn the fat or the cracklin’ in the pot – you want the skin to fry crisp and golden brown, but you don’t want to get to, or past, the smoke point of the fat in the pot.</p>
<p>If you do this with pork, you get rendered lard and cracklings.<br />
If you do this with chicken, as shown, you get schmaltz and gribenes.<br />
If you do this with duck, you get duck fat (swoon!) and … well, duck cracklings, I think.<br />
And so on.</p>
<p>As I mentioned above, this is a tool on your way to a finished dish. To get a sense of how to use these, buy some potatoes, dice them, dry them with a paper towel, and saute them in these different fats. You’ll find that it all tastes like golden brown delicious potato, but they have background flavors from the cooking fat.</p>
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Straining the Schmaltz from the Gribenes
Straining the Schmaltz for a second time for clarity
Schmaltz Recipe – Cooking with Mike…
- 1 pound chicken skin and fat (from about two chickens), finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- ½ C. water or as needed
- Chop the skin and fat well, which is easiest when it is frozen or partially frozen. The finer the chop, the more efficiently it will render.
- Put the chicken skin in a medium saucepan (nonstick, if you have one) with just enough water to cover. On high heat, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, and cook slowly to render fat. Stir occasionally. This will take anywhere from 90 minutes to several hours, depending on how much skin and fat you have and the heat of your burner. Stir to make sure it does not stick or burn.
- Do not let the fat get too hot and turn brown; you want a light, clear, clean schmaltz. Once the water and the moisture in the fat has cooked off, the fat temperature can rise above 212 F / 100 C and the browning can begin.
- When the chicken skin is golden brown and plenty of the fat has been rendered, add the chopped onions. Continue to cook until the skin and onions are well browned. Stir more frequently, as the protein will REALLY want to stick to the pot (some of that is unavoidable).
- Be careful not to overcook the fat; it should remain clear and yellow, not brown with an overly roasted flavor.
- The schmaltz is done when the fat is clear but not browned, the onion is cooked through and melted, and the chicken skin is dark golden brown. The gribenes should be crispy-chewy.
- Strain the schmaltz from the skin and onions through a fine mesh strainer. If you want very clear fat, line the strainer with a cheesecloth (or strain a second time as we did). Allow it to cool and then transfer to a container, cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. It is volatile and will diminish in flavor if left too long in the fridge; freeze any that you will not be using in a day or two.
- To freeze: store in a container with plastic wrap pressed down on to the surface, cover with a lid or a second layer of plastic wrap, and then wrap in foil if you plan to store it for a long time; this will prevent other flavors from infiltrating the schmaltz, and the foil will keep light from damaging it. Another option is to freeze in 1½ cup mason jars with rubber seals.
- Save the gribenes (the onions and skin) as well. Dry excess fat on a paper towl and store covered in the fridge for up to a week; these bits are great as a snack, on salad, on scrambled eggs, et cetera. You can also freeze the gribenes if you would like.
Recipe by Michael Tremoulet; Photography by Christine Tremoulet - http://SpoonAndKnife.com