Ann asked Lauren:
I found a recipe that was my mother’s and it calls for chicken fat. Can you purchase it in a grocery store and if so in what section would I begin to look? Thanks so much!
Affectionately called “schmaltz,” chicken fat is a traditional ingredient in many savory, ethnic Jewish dishes and is often used as the fat of choice in meat dishes since it’s a no-no in Kosher cooking to mix milk products (like butter) in a meal that contains meat. Having said this, you certainly don’t need to be kosher, or even Jewish, to love the flavor that chicken fat gives to food. You might be able to buy rendered chicken fat from a very well stocked supermarket (in the refrigerated or frozen section) but you’d definitely be able to get it at a butcher shop. Sold in tubs, rendered fat means you get pure melted down chicken fat that’s had any bits of meat or skin removed.
Although the plain rendered fat is fine to be used “as is,” I always flavor the fat with onions which elevates the taste immensely. To do this, melt a couple of tubs of the chilled fat down again in an uncovered skillet and, when liquefied, (it will have congealed to a firm, chilled butter-like consistency once refrigerated), add a cup or two of minced yellow onion. Continue to cook the fat with the onions, over low heat, still uncovered, until the onions have turned golden brown and your home smells like you never want to leave (ever!)–no joke, the aroma is that good. Then, allow the fat to cool to just warm with the onions and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a plastic tub and attach the lid. This can be frozen for many months. To use, just chip off a frozen piece, melt it down and stick the rest back in the freezer.
Now, if you can’t find chicken fat already rendered, each time you work with a whole chicken, pull off any wads of fat and cut off lose pieces of skin from the cavity opening and snip both into small pieces, using kitchen scissors. Then put these in a small, doubled freezer bag and freeze, continually adding to your stash until you have two cups or more. Then, melt the fat and skin, with the onions and follow the same instructions given above. When you do things this way (the second way) you will not only have wonderfully flavored chicken fat to use in your ethnic dishes but you will also get the prized pieces of crisp skin, called “gribenes.” These can be added to omelets, kneaded into bread, or simply popped into your mouth.