Golden, pure, liquid bliss: schmaltz.
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, 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.
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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