Schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat is an Ashkanazi comfort food. My mother told me that when she was a child she would eat it smeared on bread as a snack after school. Like most of the food that came with the Jews from Eastern Europe, schmaltz is a food of poverty. Meat was very expensive for most and a real luxury (why do think that Shabbat dinners only rated chicken, and only around big holidays like Passover they splurged for brisket- a really lousy cut of meat?). The result of this condition is that no part of the bird was wasted. This is often referred to as the “snout to tail” approach to food as championed by Anthony Bourdain and others. Since I had just purchased two whole chickens and broken them down into parts for other meals I was faced with the question of what to do with the carcasses.
Consulting Cooks’ Illustrated The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition (a handy gift that!) I found a quick recipe for making chicken stock that I have adapted here.
Cut up chicken backs, wing tips, skin and anything else left from breaking down whole chickens.
1/2 chopped onion
2 bay leaves
2-5 cloves of garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
Put a small amount of oil in the bottom of a large stock pot and heat over medium until oil starts to shimmer.
Add onions and saute until translucent, add salt and pepper.
Add chicken pieces allowing to brown a bit on the pot floor and then turning until most of the chicken surfaces look slightly cooked.
Cover pot and lower heat, cook another 20 min to render out fat and other juices from the chicken.
Add enough hot water (please boil it on the stove- do not use hot tap water the inside of your water heater isn’t that tasty) to cover chicken parts.
Bring to a boil, add garlic, bay leaves and reduce heat to simmer covered another 30 min.
Let cool, remove bones and then strain smaller pieces out with a sieve.
Now, we are ready to get the schmaltz out. Let that cool to room temp and then place in the fridge (or the freezer- but keep an eye on it). When the fat on the top has congealed scoop it off with a spoon. There will be some water/stock, that’s ok. Put your stock back in the fridge, if you have too much to use freeze some (either in a ice cube or muffin tray), it will keep for months. Place your fat in a small sauce pan and then start to heat very gently, on low heat it will start off looking like this:
Keep the heat on and you will see the fat liquefy and then the water trapped under the fat will start to boil. This is the tricky part, hot oil, water and open flame are a pretty bad mix. [If you have a gas stove please have a fire extinguisher within reach.] Keep the heat just hot enough for the water to boil up and evaporate.
Once you have gotten most of the water out, pour the fat into a coffee filter lined sieve over a small measuring cup, here you can see my rig from a few angels. Be patient, the filtering process took quite a while and I just left it on the counter while I went and did other things. Once it has filtered and cooled a bit you can transfer it to something smaller. Refrigerate and once the fat has set up again you should find there is almost no water at all in the container. This will keep for weeks, and can be used for anything you would use butter for- provided it would taste good with chicken flavor. I reccomend using it for a roux base.