Our kitchen is far from perfect. Like many others we run out of time to cook, run out of the ingredients we thought we had enough of (and buy too much of others) and waste more food than we’d like to. We continue to improve in each of those areas but it seems to be a lifetime learning process.
The biggest waste I encounter is in cooking school. My Father and I attend part-time college courses (often together) and the classes often introduce me to ingredients and experiences that aren’t common in my kitchen. The latest experience came in a knife skills class where 24 students butchered 50 chickens.
Half of the chickens were butchered on-bone, the other half were made boneless. The instructor encouraged people to bring the bones home and, to my delight, many did. On the opposite end of the spectrum, all 50 chickens were skinned and trimmed of fat and we were instructed to toss those parts as waste. I spoke up and ended up coming home with 3 or 4 pounds of chicken skin and trim.
When I offered to take the skin and trimmings, most people looked a little bewildered. And that’s the great thing about chicken trimmings; few people have any interest in them so they can be easy (and very affordable) to obtain. Short of finding a cooking class, most ‘real’ butchers will have chicken scraps (though you may need to ask them to put it aside in advance) that they will part of very economically.
Although I’m not an expert, I’ve read that rendered chicken fat was (is?) a traditional cooking ingredient in Eastern European cooking for several reasons:
- It was highly available
- It was very economical (especially when the economy was bad)
- It is an acceptable ingredient for many religions (I understand that schmaltz was an alternative to dairy or lard for many Jewish people and used for cooking or even spreading on bread!)
Rendering the fat is easy; though my process is admittedly a little stomach turning. The process begins with chopping the skin and fat into little pieces before slowly cooking it to release the fat. The first stages look much like boiling before the skin releases all fat, becomes crispy and almost fries in the oil.
I chopped the scraps by putting them in a blender, adding water (to help things circulate) and turned it into a near paste (I warned you!). Drain the scraps and cook and you’ll be left with a golden cooking liquid (that turns white and semi-solid when chilled).
Schmaltz can be stored in the fridge and used in place of (or combined with) other fats. For example, I plan to mix 50% butter and 50% schmaltz to make a pastry for leftover turkey pot pie during the holidays! You can also use it as a cooking oil or ingredient (though most would say it’s not as decadent as fat from ducks, beef, pork or olives).
How to Render Chicken Fat (Schmaltz) – Ingredients
- Chicken fat (I used 3-4 pounds to make 3.5 cups of rendered fat)
How to Render Chicken Fat (Schmaltz) – Instructions
- Place some of the chicken fat in a blender. Cover with water. Blitz until it’s a pace.
- Strain fat well
- Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until done. This can release a small odor that’s not the most pleasant (though not overbearing).
- Place chicken fat in a large pot and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat. It should be hot enough to ‘just’ boil but not more.
- Watch the chicken scraps for a few hours, stirring every now and then. Maintain a bare roll/ simmer.
- The contents will boil for a few hours then (as the water is cooked off), begin to lightly fry the skin. Keep the liquid at a minimal boil, stir to prevent the scraps from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Rendering is complete when the skin is crispy (all of the fat is released).
- Carefully strain the fat through a fine sieve or cheesecloth; store in a sealed jar in the fridge.
Although you can eat the ‘crackling’, it’s very fatty and I didn’t find it very enjoyable. I’d love to know if you have a use for it and need to do some more research in the meantime!
What would you cook with this?