Rendering Chicken Fat

According to Fat by Jennifer McLagan, schmaltz morphed in the 1930s from a Yiddish noun meaning “rendered fat” into a description for anything excessively sentimental.  Schmaltz usually refers to poultry fat, but in Germany schmaltz usually means pork fat. “Unlike other rendered fats,” McLagan says, “schmaltz is often flavored. Sliced onions are the most popular addition, and often apples are included to give the fat a slight sweetness.” I like having these special words for different rendered animal fats, so long as we’re all talking about the same thing. So far, I’ve rendered lard (pork fat) and schmaltz (chicken fat).

Without marinades and rubs, it’s the fat that makes chicken taste so good. This is abundantly clear when you take in the smell of schmaltz: comforting, savory, golden, rich goodness. And apparently it’s good for us. It’s approximately 45% monunsaturated fat, including palmitoleic acid, which is thought to boost our immune system.

I’ve used schmaltz to make dumplings, to stir-fry henbit and spinach, and to make a cream sauce for poached chicken (recipe below).

chicken necks
Here are chicken necks I ordered from Downing Family Farm (through the Oklahoma Food Co-op).
I trimmed off the skin and froze the necks for future stock-making.

I cooked the skins and a little water in a skillet over medium-low heat for around two hours. I’m a little fuzzy since it’s been about two months since I did this (so much for New Year’s food goal #9). But basically I took it slow since I was trying to gently melt the fat. After I drained and strained the rendered fat, I turned up the heat to get the remaining bits of skin to crackle.

Chicken cracklings, also called gribenes.


Freshly rendered chicken fat. Chicken fat is soft at room temperature and lasts about two months in the refrigerator, or a year in the freezer. When it turns bad it still has that nice schmaltzy undertone, but the initial scent is sour. I’ve had a batch go bad, so in the future I will store a small jar in the frig and freeze the rest in small batches.

Poached chicken with cream sauce. Very good!

Poached Chicken
Adapted from Crockery Cookery by Mable Hoffman
:: 1 stewing chicken* (5 to 6 pounds)
:: water
:: 1 stalk celery, halved
:: 1 carrot, peeled and halved
:: 1 small onion, halved
:: 1 tsp. salt
:: 3 or 4 sprigs parsley
:: 1 small bay leaf
:: 2 whole cloves
:: 1/2 t thyme leaves

:: 6 T chicken fat
:: 1/4 c flour
:: 1 c chicken broth (taken from the slow cooker)
:: 1/2 t salt
:: 1/8 t pepper
:: 1/4 c chopped parsley
:: 1/2 c cream

In slow-cooker, cover chicken with water. Add celery, carrot, onion, and salt. Tie parsley, bay leaf, cloves, and thyme in small square of cheesecloth. Add to pot. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 9 hours. Melt chicken fat in saucepan. Stir in flour and cook over low heat for several minutes. Gradually stir in broth; simmer until smooth. Add salt, pepper, parsley, and cream. Just before serving, beat in remaining chicken fat. Remove chicken from pot; slice and serve with cream sauce.

*We got a huge, fresh chicken at the Alexander Family Farm near Austin, Texas. We were able to buy it directly from Mr. Alexander the day after the chickens were slaughtered and processed on site. Why can’t we do that here in Oklahoma? More on that some other time.

10 thoughts on “Rendering Chicken Fat

  1. I like to buy chicken leg quarters in 10 lb bags and trim off the back portion for stock and fat, this leaves the whole leg, which is what the leg quarter with the back removed is called, for barbecuing.

    I then boil the backs, along with all the fat trimmings, for several hours, remove the solids from the pot, pour all the liquids through a strainer and refrigerate. When cold the fat will solidify on top and can be easily removed.

    To further purify the fat I reboil it in a few cups of water and refrigerate again. All the undesirable solids will remain in the water and you will have pure fat that can be gently heated for a while until all the water is totally evaporated out. This fat is delicious and will resist spoiling for an extended stay in your fridge.

    I reduce the stock to about 20% of its original volume which makes it immune to spoilage for equally long periods in the fridge. Since the flavor is so condensed it can be used sparingly in recipes.

    After the meat that was boiled is chilled I pick through it and get enough for a bit of chicken salad. Buy leg quarters in bulk when they are on sale and you can eat frugally, but well.

  2. Tricia .. Try a grilled cheese sandwich browned in lightly salted chicken fat rather than butter, don’t use American cheese for the sammie, Swiss Gruyere is much tastier.

    My Asian wife (Japanese) likes the stir fries I make in chicken fat to which I add a spoonful of the concentrated stock toward the end of the cooking process. A drop of Kikkoman soy sauce and a touich of Hoisin accentuate the chickeny goodness.

    Your breakfast eggs fried in chicken fat will be delicious.

    We raised our own chickens when I was a kid and my deceased aunt, she would be 118 if she were still alive, never made a pie crust with shortening, chicken fat only for that old timey cook. Her crusts were tender, flaky, and just wonderful.

    I’m not Jewish but I have the same love of schmaltz as your average Jewish Mensch Chef.

  3. We used to butcher about 50 chickens a year when I was a kid. My Mom used to save and render all of the chicken fat from the butchered chickens and render it.

    She used the chicken fat for almost all of her baking and cooking all year. Best thing though , was spudnuts, cooked in the chicken fat, rolled in sugar (and cinnamon if preferred) served hot at the old church functions. I was the most popular kid on the block when I brought them to youth meetings.

  4. Hey Charlie;

    Ever used chicken fat to cook French Fries? I’ve never tried it, but, I’ve heard they are the greatest.
    I’ve started raising my own chickens on non-medicated feed and forage (out on the grass and fields) and want to know what things I can do with chicken fat, besides using it in my VeggieBurner Mercedes Diesel (if its fat or oil and clean, it’ll burn as fuel in a Diesel engine).
    In France, I know they sell duck fat in jars in the stores and its used for everything that cooking oil is used for, but, I never got to inquire about chicken fat.
    What about spudnuts?


  5. I never cooked fries in chicken fat but good old artery clogging beef suet makes fries that are to die for! I bet chicken fat fries are good too!

  6. I was so pleased to find this web site. As we prepare for Thanksgiving, I am determined to make the best and most plentiful gravy ever. I thought of buying expensive duck fat, but realized its strong flavor would overpower the local Virginia oysters I planed to include. Then I thought of lovely mild chicken fat. After reading the blog, I went to a local and rather cheap supermarket and bought badly trimmed chicken thighs. I now have plenty of chicken fat to render and will make crackling from the skin.


  7. @ Diane, If you bone out the thighs don’t forget to save the bones for chicken stock. My motto is, “use it up, or wear it out.” 🙂

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