About the Recipe
A staple of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking, schmaltz—rendered chicken fat—adds rich flavor to the dishes it's used in.
3/4 pound chicken fat and skin (12 ounces; 340g), finely chopped (from 5 leg quarters)
1 medium onion (8 ounces; 226g), chopped (about 1 cup)
The Jews of Northern and Eastern Europe had a fat conundrum: They were living in a land of butter and lard, but couldn't use those ingredients in much of their cooking. Rendered poultry fat, from chickens, ducks, and geese, became a staple of their kitchens. The fat, known as schmaltz, is, in its most basic form, just that: rendered poultry fat. Often, though, onions are also added to the rendering process for flavor, then strained out along with the gribenes (crispy poultry fat cracklins) before use.
My preferred method for making schmaltz is to save up a bunch of chicken fat, storing it in the freezer until I have a healthy amount; the more tender globules found around the neck and at the entrance to the chicken's cavity are best, but skin works too. Then I chop it up, put it in a saucepan with a little water, and cook it, stirring frequently, until most of the fat has liquified with little crispy bits of fat and skin floating in it and the water long gone. I add sliced or chopped onion towards the end for flavor (adding it sooner just means you have to contend with it sticking and burning). Then I strain it out. (Those fried cracklins and onions are good for snacking, so don't just throw them out.) I get about one cup of rendered fat from three-quarters of a pound of skin and fat, though yields will vary depending on the ratio of skin to fat.
In a medium saucepan, combine chicken fat and skin with just enough water to barely cover. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then lower heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until fat has mostly rendered, water has cooked off, and chicken skin and fat pieces are small, browned, and starting to crisp, about 50 minutes. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently until lightly browned, 10-15 minutes.
Strain rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) through a fine mesh strainer set over a small heatproof bowl and use as directed. Reserve crisped chicken skin, fat, and onion (called gribenes in Yiddish), if desired (they can be eaten as a snack with salt, or stirred into chopped liver).
A staple of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking, schmaltz made from rendered chicken fat takes some time, but pays off by adding tons of flavor to dishes like chopped liver and matzo balls. You can buy chicken fat from some butchers, or save up scraps in your freezer until you have enough.