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).
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.
Adapted from Crockery Cookery by Mable Hoffman
:: 1 stewing chicken* (5 to 6 pounds)
:: 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.