Mom Food Basics: Schmaltz

Golden, pure, liquid bliss: schmaltz.

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Because I am my mother’s daughter, very little food goes to waste around here. Bones are made into soup; leftovers are cooked into casseroles or omelets; and chicken skin is hoarded like the golden treasure it is.

Chicken skin, rendered for its fat, makes two staples of the Jewish-Italian cooking tradition of my mother:

Schmaltz

cold schmaltz

and gribenes.

Schmaltz, the clear, golden, rendered fat of a chicken, usually with onion, is essential to making mom’s knaedlach (matzoh-ball) soup, and is wonderful on toast. James used to tease me about how weird it is to put chicken fat on toast until he remembered that butter is just cow fat. Take THAT, food provincialists!

Gribenes are the little cracklings of chicken skin that result when you make schmaltz. They’re good snacking, and we jokingly call them “chicken bacon” around here.

Today, when I was cleaning out my freezer, I saw that I have SEVEN bags of chicken skin in the freezer. Every time I do something with chicken that doesn’t require the skin, I save it, and I think it’s time to clean it out. Coincidentally, when I talked to my mother this morning (as I do every morning and evening, long may she live to continue this tradition), I found out she’s making schmaltz today, too! She’s staying with my Aunt Sandy, who just had surgery, and mom wants to make sure there’s plenty of schmaltz in her house, of course. It’s what we do.

To make the schmaltz, pull the skin and as much of the under-skin fat (yellowish stuff) as you can off of some chicken. Save it up in the freezer if you don’t have a lot at one time. Then cook it on medium low until it starts to brown slightly and is swimming in golden oil. Then add a sliced onion and keep cooking, stirring every once in a while, until the onion is dark brown and the gribenes are crisped.

schmaltz

Strain the schmaltz through cheesecloth or a coffee filter. You’ll get a clear, golden, delicious liquid that will keep in the fridge for-freaking-ever. (As you can see in the first photo, the golden liquid turns to an off-white solid when refrigerated. It’s a bit softer than butter when it’s cold.) It’s great on toast, or as the basis for fried potatoes. My mom and I love it on matzoh, with onion powder and salt. Yum!

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Author: Serene

I run The Mom Food Project, which was born out of love for my mom and a desire to preserve the recipes of my childhood, which didn't actually exist in written form until I quizzed my mom and wrote the recipes down.

6 thoughts on “Mom Food Basics: Schmaltz”

  1. I have never heard of schmaltz…it has such a lovely color! I know my husband would love it!

    Serene, I have tagged you over at my blog. :)

  2. Butter is not cow fat. Butter is the fat content that comes from Milk, not exactly the same thing as spreading the fat from chicken flesh on toast!!!

    1. Milk comes from cows. It’s their bodily fluids (and isn’t extracted without cruelty, if that’s your point here). Around here, we accept that since we’re no longer vegan, we’re eating animal products. We’re just smart-asses about it.

  3. Lovely family tradition, I on the other hand had any fatty substance slapped cleanly out of my hand…and was in Weight Watchers at 7 years old–

    This is NOT fat from chicken flesh but rendered from the skin much like lard which people have been eating for a long long time

    1. Yeah, it’s from the skin, but I think vegetarians would say skin is part of the “flesh”/meat. Either way, we’re clear in this house that we’re no longer vegetarians, so we don’t have much of a problem with consuming flesh. Just think of us as your friendly neighborhood necrotizing fasciitis. ;-)

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