Some people call it schmaltz, others rendered chicken fat, but one could argue that the correct term should actually be liquid gold. Chicken schmaltz is an integral part of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. It forms the basis of many traditional recipes (such as chopped liver and matzo balls), and tastes equally delicious when used to cook root vegetables or even popcorn. Read on to find out how to make your own!
It might sound a bit over the top to save chicken fat, but the origin of this practice (like most of our favorite foods) had more to do with frugality than flavor. Chicken used to be an expensive meat, so when it was purchased, every part of the chicken was used, including the fat and skin. Thus, making chicken schmaltz was a way to save parts of the chicken that would have ended up in the waste bin.
The schmaltz itself is made by slowly simmering offcuts of chicken fat and skin, until it begins to break down into liquid. Often times onions are added, which adds to the flavor. You can buy chicken fat from butchers, but you can just as easily make your own!
You first need to start saving chicken fat and offcuts whenever you butcher or trim chicken pieces. Save these scraps and store them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. Once you have enough, let them thaw, and start making your schmaltz!
In a large saucepan, add about 1 pound of chicken fat (and skins) and just enough water to cover it. Simmer (stirring frequently) until most of the fat has rendered – the water will be cooked off and the pieces of fat will start to brown and crisp up. This will take about an hour. It’s important that the fat melts, so the heat shouldn’t be so high that it ends up burning the pieces. Add 1 medium onion (chopped) and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Season with kosher salt, then strain the rendered chicken fat through a fine mesh strainer. The leftover onion and crispy fat (also called “Jewish bacon” or gribenes) can reused in another dish or eaten as a snack. The schmaltz can be kept in the fridge for about a week, or in the freezer for longer.
Chicken schmaltz can basically be used anywhere you would normally use oil. It has a medium to high smoke point (higher than butter), so is suitable for caramelizing onions. Some even say that it can be used instead of butter when making choux pastry!