What The Heck Is Schmaltz?
One of my favorite aspects of homesteading is learning how to make good use of everything. Schmaltz is no exception. Maybe it’s the sense of empowerment from being able to create something wonderful from “nothing”. Or perhaps it’s the money saved or the trip to the store that I don’t have to make. I love the feeling of almost magically providing something more from what we already have.
And let’s face it, when I process my own chickens it really motivates me to make the very best of that creature’s life. Any waste feels disrespectful. I wash and save the feathers to make things like “mother hen” boxes to keep baby chicks warm at night. I make stock with the bones and after straining the liquid, I mash the bones and feed to the chickens to boost calcium rather than buying oyster shells. Although I haven’t done this yet, the entrails can be thrown in a bucket with holes drilled around to make a fly larvae machine to boost chickens protein sources. But until recently, I had never heard of people appreciating chicken fat until I discovered schmaltz!
I first learned that rendered chicken fat was a “thing” when I came across a jar of schmaltz while grocery shopping online. Turns out schmaltz is the German word for rendered chicken or goose fat. Usually onions have been added once the skin bits start to brown. It’s been said that schmaltz is to Jewish cuisine as olive oil is to the mediterranean diet. Mind. Blown. Not only is this fat held in high regard, but so are the crispy bits of skin that fry up into golden crunchy morsels called gribenes.
Healthy Or No?
Of all of the traditional fats, chicken fat has the highest polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) content. PUFAs are not bad in and of themselves in a diet of well-balanced fatty acids. Unfortunately most packaged foods and restaurant dishes contain oils that are not only high in PUFAs but those oils are highly processed and full of free radicals. If you’re not consuming foods made with high PUFA vegetable oils or other sources of high polyunsaturated fats on a regular basis, schmaltz is not only safe but nourishing(1). Goose schmaltz is a lower PUFA option.
Soy is shown to increase PUFAs in chicken (2). Making schmaltz from soy free birds is a wise idea, although soy free chicken fat is still plenty high in PUFAs. As with any animal fats, I buy and raise organic whenever possible, because some pesticides and herbicides bioaccumulate in fat tissues. In any case, always keep fats below the smoke point to avoid free-radicals!
Easy To Make
After roasting a bird with some onions (or not), strain and refrigerate drippings, and scoop off the rendered fat from the top. Skins can be eaten on the spot or chopped up and fried up in the fat until browned and crispy. Onions could be added at this point as opposed to being added to the initial roasting of the poultry. You won’t get much at all from one bird, but this is an easy way to make schmaltz, and it can be frozen to save it up.
Collect and freeze fat from several chickens before they are cooked, until you have about a pound. Chop it up in to small bits, toss in a pot with a little water added, and carefully simmer, adding chopped onions when chicken skins are just starting to brown. When they are browned and crispy, strain out liquid through a cotton cloth or coffee filter.
Ways To Use Schmaltz And Gribenes
- Cooking up liver in schmaltz and add gribenes
- Hash browns cooked in schmaltz with gribenes sprinkled on top
- Mashed potatoes with schmaltz and butter…and of course gribenes
- Spread schmaltz on bread like butter and top with gribenes
- Grilled cheese sandwich fried in schmaltz with gribenes added to the cheese
- Gribenes sprinkled on salad
- Gribenes sprinkled on macaroni and cheese (from scratch)
- Gribenes sprinkled on sautéed veggies such as green beans or kale
- Gribenes sprinkled in a taco or burrito
- Gribenes sprinkled on a bean or grain dish
As you can see there are numerous ways to enjoy yet another traditional food in your own kitchen, and quite likely without increasing your food bill! If you enjoyed this article please share the good news and comment below.
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