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Michael @HedgerowWizard
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1. With #Thanksgiving and #Hanukkah around the corner, your mind may be turning toward #cooking up something delicious for family and friends. And the best way to make great food is to start with great ingredients. To that end, let's make something delicious: schmaltz.
2. The word "schmaltz" comes from the #Yiddish "shmalts" (שמאַלץ), which in turn comes from the German "schmelzen," meaning "to melt." So we're going to be rendering chicken fat down to use as a delicious cooking fat for a variety of holiday dishes.
3. To begin with, you're going to need a source for your fat. The easiest place to get it is from chicken skin and the fatty deposits that are usually located around the tail right inside the stuffing cavity. There are a couple of ways to get enough skin and fat to make a batch.
4. The first is to save chicken scraps from every whole chicken or chicken piece you cook. You can put them in a zipper bag in the freezer and save them up until you have enough to render — usually about a pound. This is a great, thrifty way to make your ingredients stretch!
5. If you want to make a lot of schmaltz all at once, find a butcher or market that sells chicken backs. Most places toss these when they cut up whole chickens to sell as individual pieces, but some stores sell them (or you can develop a relationship with a butcher to save them).
6. Buying chicken backs is my favorite way of doing this, because not only is there a ton of fat to trim from each piece, the backs themselves are perfect for roasting and adding to the stockpot for another holiday staple: chicken stock. It's a very cheap way to get a lot of yum!
7. Once you have enough skin and fat bits, cut them into small pieces and put them in a heavy skillet or kettle. Add just enough water to cover and put on medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Some people add a thin-sliced onion at this stage, but I usually don't.
8. As you boil your skin bits down, the water will begin to turn a golden color — this is the magic beginning to happen. Keep boiling, stirring occasionally. Our goal is to let the fat render as the water boils away, leaving us with pure delicious schmaltz.
9. You'll know when the water has boiled completely away because the sound of the bubbling will change. Instead of a light, watery sound, things will begin to have a thicker, more muffled sound. The color will darken, and the chicken bits will begin to brown.
10. When this happens, you're ready to pour off your finished product! Take your pan and pour off the fat through a strainer into a glass jar or measuring cup. I usually repeat this process a couple of times because I like to have a nice, clarified end result.
11. Now that you have your schmaltz, you are ready to make your latkes, chopped liver, matzo balls, kugel or other delights! The flavor of this golden goodness is outstanding and far different than any other cooking fat. I love butter, coconut or olive oil, but schmaltz is king!
12. But what about all those chicken bits that are left over? Do we just throw them away? Of course not! Let's use those to make something else delicious: gribenes (גריבענעס), one of the world's most addictive snacks, and a nice side dish for your holiday table.
13. To make your gribenes (which in Yiddish means "scraps"), put your chicken bits back into the skillet and add an onion which you've sliced thin. I usually add back a tablespoon or so of my schmaltz to get things going. Fry the onions and chicken skin, stirring often.
14. Once your skin bits have gotten crispy and your onions are caramelized and beginning to also crisp, take the gribenes off the stove and drain them on some paper towels. Give them a healthy sprinkle of salt and try a few. I guarantee you'll try a few more after that!
15. You can serve gribenes as an appetizer, salad topping, or dole them out as a snack for hungry people working on the rest of the holiday feast. My personal favorite is to smear a bit of schmaltz on a piece of pumpernickel and top with the gribenes. It's the best thing ever.
16. Good food with family is the most important part of the holiday season, and making quality ingredients from scratch adds a depth of flavor and charm to each dish that can't be beat. Make your bubbe proud and show her what you can do! Make schmaltz! Happy cooking! /End
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