Monday, July 23, 2018

Schmaltz: or, The chicken fat you never knew you (maybe) needed in life

We at A Book of Cookrye present the biggest cooking change in our lives that cooking school has wrought: Chicken fat! As aforementioned, we had to learn how to cut up a raw chicken. Feeling bad about how much skin and bones we were throwing away, we dumped them in a slow cooker full of water to make stock. We then found a lot of chicken fat had floated to the top of the pot as it cooked, and we have too many Jewish friends to throw it away. And so, we at A Book of Cookrye, with more enthusiasm than we would ever have expected, present how to do your own chicken fat!
Now, a lot of people will separately render off the chicken fat, but we at A Book of Cookrye think that is more bother than it should be. After all, if you just drop your chicken scraps and skins and bones into the stockpot, the fat will float to the surface on its own anyway.

Granted, seeing the fat floating atop the bowl of cold chicken stock may not be the most enticing way to sell it. So let's have a look at it when you've separated it out!

Seeing a picture of what looks like dirty sludge may not be the best sell ever. But various Eastern European amd Jewish cookbooks will emphatically swear that chicken fat should be in every kitchen. Apparently chicken fat (or schmaltz) is everything you liked about butter only even better.
Now, a lot of the instructions online will say that it keeps a week or so at most in the refrigerator, but I would posit that it's because it still has little pieces of chicken meat and other perishables in it. Most other fats have long shelf lives. Butter can stay in the refrigerator for an astoundingly long time. Shortening can live forgotten in the back of your cabinet for about 1.25 eons.
Operating under the theory that it's various little bits of chicken meat and other detritus suspended in the fat that expire and make the whole thing taste rotten, we at A Book of Cookrye postulated that if one can thoroughly remove them, the remaining fat should last quite a long time in the refrigerator. And so, bumbling in our own I'm-too-lazy-to-look-this-up way, we have figure out how to get all the tiny little food particles out of the fat! You just wash it. Yes, really. What you do is dump a pretty good amount of boiling water on the chicken fat and stir til it's melted. All the impurities will dissolve into the water, leaving the clean fat to float to the top. Do this a few times until the water's clear, and presto! All the little food bits that would have expired and turned smelly while embedded in the fat are washed away.

See how cloudy the water is? That's all the random meat pieces and other stuff that would have otherwise stayed suspended in the schmaltz. But that's just the first time we've mixed it with water. After a night in the refrigerator, you can lift the fat out of the water and mix more boiling water with The water will be.... well, not clear, but closer to it than before. But after a few times you will find the water remains as clear as when it came out of the faucet.

Now, it is true that there seems to be some sediment that just sticks right under the fat. As you can see with this batch, right after stirring in the hot water it looks like all the sediment has been removed.

But after settling on the counter for a few minutes, a lot of stuff kinda sinks down between the fat and water to form this barrier. It kind of reminds me of centrifuged blood (I have a surprising number of friends in nursing).

But the scum is very easy to get rid of. See how we deliberately put the container is upside-down? Well, that means that the next day we can just dump out the water and wipe the crud right off. Granted, that does mean you'll have to open the jar and see... this.
Oh, yum.

But worry not, you're only a paper towel away from perfection!

Admittedly, that's not all of the stuff that could have been wiped off. Some of it got pushed down into the fat instead of getting wiped away. So let's dump yet another round of boiling water into the container and do it again.

As a brief note, if you're going to store the container upside-down for easier sediment removal, fill it with cold water, hold it upside-down, and shake it first. A lot of food storage container lids are not as watertight as you might have otherwise thought. You don't want to discover this when you flip the container upside-down and then find boiling-hot water and grease running down your hand. But if the container is not watertight, you can just lift the entire hockey-puck of fat right off the top and wipe it with paper towels. It's not as easy, and you have to do it really fast because chicken fat melts really easily, but it'll work.
The essence of good cooking starts with a wad of fat on the counter.

All of this looks like hard work, but really all you're doing is putting a little jar in the refrigerator and putting a fresh change of hot water in it every day or two. After that, it'll keep for quite a long time in the refrigerator.
Now, you may be wondering what the heck you'd do with chicken fat. Like, why bother? Well, we're going to start with one of the easiest things you can do:

It will make some fan-damn-tastic grilled cheese! Perhaps because it has a lower melting point than butter, the grilled cheese will come out deliriously crispy.

Closely related to grilled cheese, schmaltz instead of butter will make some amazing garlic bread. The slight chicken flavor, when mixed with the garlic and salt, turns into something divoon. Honestly, it adds a really nice flavor to all manner of things. Vegetables cooked in a spoonful of schmaltz instead of oil have a marvelous richness to them. Really, you can use it instead of butter in a lot of recipes and be amazed. Or at least pleasantly surprised. Lastly, borrowing a line out of a Czech cookbook, try using schmaltz in bread recipes instead of whatever fat the recipe calls for.


  1. I never learned of the true culinary meaning of "schmaltz" until I started reading cooking blogs, and even the people I know who love to cook (like my in-laws) had never heard of it until I brought it up. However, I was very familiar with it in its colloquial meaning of "overly-emotional, ridiculous fiction" for a long time, so I can't help but picture it here. "Use old episodes of The Brady Bunch to make delicious garlic bread! A touch of fantasy romance novel makes your vegetables really rich! Use Rod Stewart's 'Forever Young' in your bread!"

    (And for the record, yes, I unironically love all three of those things.)

    1. It does seem to be a very Eastern European/Jewish ingredient. No one outside of those cultures seems to use it. Which does kind of surprise me that schmaltz didn't at least spill over into other cultures in New York. Also, as it happens, I usually either have shmaltzy music or 1920s jazz playing when I'm cooking. We don't need to think about the culinary misfire that happened when I had weird obscure 1960s stuff playing...