in praise of schmaltz

Schmaltz! It’s a fun yiddish word to say. It’s also the rendered fat from a chicken* thus the yiddish, since Jewish people in northern Europe weren’t eating lard like their historical neighbors were.

I like to make schmaltz any time I process chickens. It’s another link the waste-not-want-not chain that comes from putting in all the effort of raising happy, healthy meat birds. When I spend half my weekend putting just 18 meals worth of chicken into the freezer (after spending a whole summer raising the birds) it reminds me that even free range organic chicken at the grocery store is a good deal compared to the work that goes into it. And so I don’t want to waste a thing, not even the scraps of fat.

To make schmaltz I trim as much fat as I can off the birds. Once I’m done with the unsanitary parts of my day I move into the kitchen where I render the fat. I put it in a sauce pan with no lid over low to medium-low heat. (I think if it as “warm enough to keep already simmering water going, but too low to bring cold water up to a simmer) Then I leave it be and the fat slowly renders out, leaving the little bits of connective tissue floating at the top. I’ve heard you’re supposed to strain the fat, but mine is usually clean and clear once I’ve scooped these bits out***.


If you’re buying chicken in the store you’re missing out because most of the fat comes out with the entrails** Too bad for you because this stuff is glorious. It’s a rich, savory, yellow fat with so many wonderful uses. When I have just a little on hand I save it for the basis of soups and stews (frying the onions and carrots in a little schmaltz adds a lot of flavor) or for frying breaded chicken. But it’s been cold for a few weeks, and the 6 birds I processed over the weekend gave me two quarts of rendered schmaltz. It’s good to know all that feed they were packing away was going to something useful! I’m excited to try schmaltz in all kinds of things now. Roasted root veggies, pie crusts for quiche, biscuits. I render mine without any flavorings so if the quiche goes well I’m totally going to try this for a fruit pie too. The more schmaltz I have on hand the more I use it in place of butter when cooking and baking. It’s a wonderful, local source of fat, and handles high temperatures just as well as olive oil (at least in my experience)

awesome jars

AND it gave me a chance to use these amazing vintage 60’s jelly jars my grandmother gave me. The lids don’t screw on, so I haven’t used them for jam. But I freeze my extra schmaltz just to be on the safe side (I’ve been told it’s shelf stable, but I don’t want to loose any!)

Also going on in my kitchen: pressure canned chicken. Not sure what I’ll use it for, I’ve never made it before. But I’m thinking last minute casseroles and other hearty winter dishes when I don’t want to have to thaw and cook the chicken first.

canned chicken

Tonight I’m canning broth. I let it simmer overnight the first night, and spent last night boiling the two gallons down to just 1 gallon of volume. My pressure canner has been getting a good workout this week.

*or goose, but I don’t raise geese.
**which means in the commercial factories it’s probably all going into cat and dog food
***I’ve also heard you can eat these bits, but they look gross to me. Then again, I don’t eat those deep fried pig skin things either.
****I’d forgotten my camera’s USB cord. But the pictures are up now…


5 responses to “in praise of schmaltz

  1. We’re starting our chicken processing this weekend. We’ve never made schmaltz before, but maybe we’ll give it a try. Thanks for sharing all this good info!

    • My mom only ever did it if there was enough fat coming inside on the birds (my dad did the gutting outside). I was shocked when I discovered how much is removed with the entrails – which makes sense if you figure lard usually comes from the kidney fat of a pig. I was also shocked when I found so little about it in a google search. If I can get 2 quarts from just 6 chickens this is a real resource that I’m surprised the local food movement isn’t paying attention to. Although lard is just starting to come back into fashion, maybe schmaltz will be next.

  2. Now that I’ve been thinking about this…we have turkeys too and in the spring the males develop a “fatty breast sponge” which is **OMGdisgusting.** Turkey schmaltz might be a good idea if we ever have to harvest a bird in the spring again – though, it was traumatizing enough that I will try very hard to avoid it if possible.

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