Also called schmaltz, rendered chicken fat adds rich flavor to many recipes and makes use of parts of the bird that would otherwise be wasted.
It is a must in traditional chopped liver recipes, but it is also good for cooking potatoes and other root vegetables. It's also delicious used instead of oil for making stovetop popcorn.
It used to be common to render fat from chicken, duck and other poultry and use the result to cook with rather than wasting any part of the bird. As part of traditional Jewish cooking, schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) is an essential part of making chopped liver. Alice Waters cooks potatoes in poultry fat with delicious results.
To make schmaltz a.k.a. rendered chicken fat, begin by saving bits of fat and skin removed from raw chicken. You can stockpile these in a bag or container in the freezer until you have about 3 cups of them.
You can also ask your butcher for chicken fat and skin scraps that are usually trimmed off the bird and discarded. Often they will be happy not to waste parts that would otherwise end up in the trash and will give them to you for free. At most, you should pay a few cents per pound for them.
If you get your scraps from a butcher, there may be bits of meat attached. Try to remove most of these (save them to use when you make stock).
- 3 to 4 cups chicken fat and skin
- Optional: 1 medium onion (peeled and chopped into quarters)
- Place the fat and skin scraps in a heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot (cast iron, copper, and aluminum can give your schmaltz an off taste). Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the scraps render most of their fat and begin to brown.
- Add the onion, if using. Raise the heat to medium. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken scraps are golden brown and crispy, but not burnt. Turn off the heat and let cool for a few minutes.
- Strain through a fine-meshed strainer, or better yet cheesecloth or a paper or cloth coffee filter into a heatproof glass or Pyrex container. Canning jars work well for this.
- Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Use rendered chicken fat to make traditional-style chopped liver. It is also great to use for cooking root vegetables and in any recipe where you want to add a rich, savory flavor. It has a medium-high smoke point, e.g. higher than butter but lower than peanut oil, and it can be used to brown meats or carmelize onions. Rendered chicken fat can also be used as an ingredient in pates.
The crunchy cracklings you strained out (also called gribenes) are a tasty snack. They're probably not the healthiest food to eat frequently, but they're a wonderful occasional indulgence.