German schmalz is rendered animal fat and griebenschmalz is rendered animal fat to which cracklings have been added. Pork is the most common schmalz in Germany and other parts of Europe (it is known as smalec in Poland), while schmalz made from chicken or goose fat is the most common among Ashkenazi Jews.
Schmalz, also written as schmaltz and shmalz, is most often used as a bread spread, instead of butter. While it sounds strange to the uninitiated, a layer of schmalz, sprinkled with salt on top of fresh, German bread is heavenly.
Schmalz is used in a multitude of ways in the German kitchen. It is layered over potted meats, stirred into cabbage dishes, and used for browning onions. Often eaten with the cracklings left in, when it is known as griebenschmalz, schmalz can be flavored with apples and onions as well.
Schmalz is better than bacon fat for many things because it does not add salt to a dish. While high-quality schmalz and griebenschmalz can be purchased in Europe, it is harder to find in the U.S. You can make your own schmalz with a little time and a few pounds of pork fat, by following this recipe.
- 2 pounds fat trimmings (from pork)
- Optional: 1 apple
- Optional: 1 onion
- Optional: salt
- Cut fat trimmings into small pieces (1/4 inch square). If they still have a little meat on them, that's OK.
- Place trimmings in a large skillet with high sides over low to medium heat. You may use a lid at any time to help them heat up but do not use a nonstick pan.
- Heat and stir until the trimmings start to melt. Continue to heat and stir for 1 hour or more, until the pieces turn into brown cracklings (grieben).
- If you are adding the apple and onion, peel both, chop fine and add at this time. Keep cooking the fat until the apple starts to turn golden brown, 15 minutes or more.
- You can add salt if you wish, but it is more common to salt the rendered fat when spread on bread just before consumption.
- Pour into a crock but do not use glass as the hot fat could cause it to shatter. If you would like smooth schmalz, pour it through a sieve or even cheesecloth, to remove all the browned bits. Cool completely.
- Keep the lard in a cool spot. It will keep for many weeks unrefrigerated and eve longer when refrigerated.
- If you don't combine the cracklings with the schmalz, you might want to save them to use in soups or bean pots. Freeze them in a plastic zip-top bag patting down until the contents are about 1 inch thick. Then just break off what you need and return the rest to the freezer.