Schmaltz

Schmaltz is fat from a chicken. You don’t see it around much anymore, but once it was a very common thing in Germany and Austria, and among the peoples who emigrated from there, notably the Ashkenazi Jews. Though the word “schmaltz” can technically refer to beef, pork and even goose fat, it’s come to mean “chicken fat” among people who use it in the States. The cost common use for schmaltz was as a spread, which is to say it was used like butter on toast. However it makes a very nice general-purpose cooking fat as well, and is useful in baking as a tenderizer for doughs (I’ve used it in knish dough) and some crusts.

That’s where the utility of schmaltz mostly ends in the pastry kitchen because schmaltz isn’t terribly firm. Which means — yes you guessed right — that it’s lower in saturated fat than either pork or beef fat. And that makes it healthier in some peoples’ eyes. Schmaltz can be easily made at home by gently heating chopped pieces of chicken skin in a pan with a very small amount of water (some people add a few chopped raw onions to the pan to add flavor). After about an hour very, very low heat cooking, the fat melts and can be strained through cheese cloth or even paper towels into a refined fat. Once cooled you can use it for just about anything. In fact there was a soul food restaurant here in Louisville that used schmaltz instead of mayonnaise to make chicken salad. When that place closed I was depressed for a month.

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37 Responses to Schmaltz

  1. angela says:

    Whenever I make stock I always skim a bunch of chicken fat off at the end, and I always feel bad throwing it away. Do you have ideas outside of pastry for using it? I’ve always been too nervous to try sautéing vegetables in it, though I’m not sure why.

    • Nicole says:

      I save my chicken fat from stockmaking, too, and would also love to hear some other uses for it. I use it (in a 1/2 sausage fat, 1/4 chicken fat, 1/4 butter ratio) for making sausage gravy and biscuits and for part of the fat in dumplings for chicken and dumplings, but that’s all I’ve figured out to do with it. I think you could also confit stuff in it, but I’ve never done that.

      • joepastry says:

        Try the chicken salad thing since it’s amazing. But check around the web. Even though schmaltz is out of style right now, you can find recipes. It’s an excellent general purpose sauté fat, especially for things like potatoes. Wow…just thinking about it makes me hungry. Let me know if you discover any especially creative uses for it, Nicole. I’ll be curious!

        - Joe

        • Rachel says:

          Yes. My grandmother used to coat cut up potatoes with schmalz and roast them. Delicious brown crust with soft interior.

          • joepastry says:

            Ohhh…..

          • Frankly says:

            I will have to try this, it sounds wonderful!

            I save chicken fat to make chopped chicken liver, deli style. The stuff is probably not healthy but it is addicting

          • joepastry says:

            It’s healthier than any other animal fat you commonly find, at least if you go by the historical saturated fat doctrine (which is fast becoming obsolete). It has much less saturated fat than butter!

            - Joe

    • Rachel says:

      Chopped liver! Fabulous with schmalz.

      • joepastry says:

        Well done, Rachel! It’s a secret ingredient in lots of things, isn’t it?

        - Joe

      • Frankly says:

        Sorry I posted before I read your comment – thats at least 2 votes for chopped liver!

        • joepastry says:

          You can’t have too many votes for chopped live in my opinion, Frankly. Thanks!

          - Joe

  2. LynnT says:

    You ARE going to fix the typo in the title, no? Nitpicking on an excellent blog!

    Lynn

  3. Melody says:

    I can’t help but say that where i live, we know not of this type of use for chicken fat. We turn up our noses at it and it is considered very unhealthy. My my……..

    • joepastry says:

      Well, things go in and out of fashion. Schmaltz was once upon a time a way to make the most out of every part of a chicken (or goose), to let nothing go to waste. Most people here in the States consider chicken fat to be just a waste fat also. However it can be put to use…and it’s really quite good!

      - Joe

  4. GeekLady says:

    This reminds me of my grandmother. That woman even had a cookie recipe that used bacon drippings for its fat!

  5. Chana says:

    Schmaltz is becoming “fashionable” again. (Although that’s incorrect since it was never “fashionable,” it was just prevalent.) Some dude whose initials are MR and who has written about ratios recently released a book for iPads about schmaltz. I think the “Brooklyn crowd” is also starting to adopt it. Me, I always liked it very oniony, schmeared on challah or any good bread. But I haven’t had it in years.

    I’ve never baked with it (schmaltz cookies, anyone?), but I’m wondering if it would behave somewhat like shortening, even though it is softer. I think a dairy-free, savory and schmaltzy pie crust is in order. Or maybe some crackers.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Chana!

      Was wondering when you’d join in on this! ;)

      Schmaltz doesn’t make a very good substitute for shortening in most things, but it will tenderize doughs and crusts. There are quite a few schmaltz pie crust recipes out there. I’ve never tried one but would love to hear about the results if you care to run some experiments! ;)

      Cheers,

      - Joe

  6. Jackie says:

    Hey Joe! I love all of these posts on fats. I’m so happy you posted about schmaltz–I primarily use it to make chopped chicken liver.

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks, Jackie! It’s a mostly overlooked fat…but it shouldn’t be. It’s terrific…and has half the saturated fat of suet or lard!

      - Joe

  7. Frankly says:

    This is sort of tangential but I sometimes slice chicken skin into thin strips & fry them crisp in chicken fat to use as croutons on salad.

    • joepastry says:

      Any ideas for delicious uses of fat are not tangential. They’re mandatory.

      - Joe

  8. Julie says:

    Oh dear, I feel a wave of chicken pot pie test recipes coming on… with a butter/schmaltz flaky crust.

    Any ideas or thoughts on said project most welcome :)

    • joepastry says:

      Hehe…hey Julie! I suggest a using schmaltz as only a portion of the fat, since it’s schmalz is so soft. It won’t give you the flaky crust you’ll want all by itself…though it will deliver the flavor!

      - Joe

      • Julie says:

        Thanks for that- I’ll start by using it in place of the butter I would normally use to rub into the flour, so it can tenderize and flavor the crust without affecting the performance of the butter flakes. I just love Winter and the excuse it gives to make comfort food :)

  9. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Hey, Joe –

    May I add some personal experience?

    I buy chicken with the skin on because it’s cheaper than buying it with the skin off. I pull the skin off myself, cut the skin up into smallish pieces with a sharp knife, and add it to a freezer bag in the, erm, freezer.

    When the bag is full I put it into a pan over a low heat to render the fat. I found out the hard way that it’s really necessary to cook out all the water. Otherwise the results go unpleasantly mouldy.

    My rule of thumb is that when the chicken skin pieces go deliciously golden brown then we’re very nearly at the end point. I then strain them out, drain them on kitchen paper and, when cool, salt them. The result is gribenes, the Jewish equivalent of pork scratchings or Baco-Bits, and delicious in salads.

    But the main point is that it’s really important to cook out every bit of water in the schmaltz.

    • joepastry says:

      Very true, Philip. Thanks for that. It;s also why you should add only a tiny amount of water to the skin pieces, maybe a teaspoon per cup of chicken skin…just enough to get the fat melting without browning. Great comment, thanks Philip!

      - Joe

  10. Mary Beth says:

    Timely post and comments. I have not ordered this (below) yet, but the cover of this alone makes me want to do so. I am going to use some stock-rendered schmaltz for a biscuit topped chicken casserole tonight.

    http://ruhlman.com/2012/12/schmaltz-ipad-cookbook/

    Michael Ruhlman is obviously a big advocate for everything you are all discussing here.

    I never did lose my fondness for saving and using bacon drippings. I grew up with and have continued to use them for all kinds of things. All tasty!

    • Mary Beth says:

      I forgot to mention that I use a spaetzle recipe that calls for 2 T lard. I made them last night using schmaltz instead. Heavenly! So tender and light that I could have happily made a dinner of the spaetzle and forgone the chicken soup.

    • joepastry says:

      Cool! Everything old is new again.

      Thanks Mary Beth, how did the casserole turn out?

      - Joe

      • Mary Beth says:

        Hee hee. All gone! I actually had some paprikash-flavored schmaltz that I combined with some “plain” schmaltz. Just added a nice bit of color and the biscuity-dumplings were light as a feather. I now know to USE this stuff more often, as it doesn’t seem to impart flavor but a delicate lightness.

        New question for you, Joe: Do you use the drippings from beef (such as from stocks, roasts, etc.) in the same way? I have been leery of using it but in our frugal kitchen, it always kills me to throw stuff out.

        Also, I spent some time exploring your site. GREAT blog! Thank you for sharing what you have been learning.

        • joepastry says:

          Thanks so much, Mary Beth! Please come back often!

          As far as drippings go, the only ones I use are bacon drippings, mostly for salad dressings and sautéing green beans. Otherwise I don’t use them. Rendered fats are really what’s best for cooking and baking. And way to go! You get this week’s prize for creative use of schmaltz! ;)

          Invite me next time!

          - Joe

  11. Mary Beth says:

    Oh, one more thing I just remembered: Years ago, a friend of mine, born in Poland and moved to the US in the early 60′s, lived with his family on a farm. They used schmaltz for frying fish. As a dinner guest one night, I enjoyed eating some of his fresh caught fish (don’t remember what kind). It was unbelievable! I think I am going to start saving up for some Lake Erie perch in my freezer…..

    • joepastry says:

      Ooohhh…lake perch. They’re one of the things I miss the most from living on the Great Lakes. There was a great restaurant in Hammond, Indiana that did them better than any one else. It was called Phil Schmidt’s. They were know for frog legs, but the perch was to die for.

      I also miss the smelt parties in the Chicago harbors in March-April. You freeze half to death, but the fish is excellent!

      - Joe

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