We are bringing back the schmaltz. There are many reasons I like to cook with schmaltz, read through to find out how it is healthier than you think and get my fabulous recipes that show you how good schmaltz can be.
Fat is Good For You
The 12th-century rabbi and physician Maimonides touted the benefits of chicken soup to one’s health. Many other cultures also believe in the restorative properties of chicken soup and it turns out that it indeed may be good for you. Poultry fat has monounsaturated fatty acid palmitoleic acid which boosts our immune system. Chicken fat has the most of this healthful fat and what has instinctively been understood by many cultures around the world can now be backed up by science. There is something magical about the golden pools of chicken fat.
Animal fats contain fatty acids which help our bodies fight disease, absorb vitamins and lower cholesterol. The human body can burn the short-chained fatty acids found in animal fats and will simply store the long-chained ones found in polyunsaturated fat. When I teach and lecture, I talk about how the human body can process natural fats but cannot tolerate hydrogenated and processed fats. Some states outlaw the use of trans fats and many companies have voluntarily stopped using them in production of their products. I have often said that margarine will be the dietary ruin of the Jewish people. Once touted as a healthier fat and as a substitute for butter, margarine and other processed fats are known to be unhealthy. It is a myth that eating animal fat makes you fat.
The French Paradox
In the United States, 315 of every 100,000 middle-aged men die of heart attacks each year. In France the rate is 145 per 100,000. However, In the Gascony region, where goose and duck liver form a staple of the diet, this rate is only 80 per 100,000. This phenomenon has recently gained international attention as the French Paradox — they eat more poultry fat in Gascony than anyplace else, but they live the longest.
Using The Whole Bird
The average American cook purchases their poultry precut on Styrofoam boards wrapped in plastic. We are out of touch with our food. We do not know how to cut it and we pay more than twice as much as we should. Think about it. The butcher/producer bought the whole chicken and paid for it by the pound. You purchase pieces of the bird (boneless, skinless breasts, thighs, legs or wings) but pay based on the weight of the entire bird. You might as well buy the entire bird and learn to use it from top to bottom.As a consumer you will come out ahead when you learn to utilize the entire bird. In my home and professional kitchens, I use the pieces of chicken for meals, the carcass for stocks and the fat for EVERYTHING!
Ashkenazi Jews have a long history with schmaltz. Instead of butter and in the absence of olive oil, European Jews turned to schmaltz as their cooking fat. In America, when in 1933 Procter and Gamble published “Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife,” a promotional cookbook available in English and Yiddish, animal fats lost favor as immigrants strove to assimilate. Jewish households never looked back as medical journals wrongly accused animal fats as being unhealthy, and touted hydrogenated fats such as Crisco and margarine.
MORE: Demystifying Duck
How To Rend Duck or Chicken Fat
Start with a whole chicken or duck. The challenge with kosher duck is that it is always found frozen and whole. This requires a bit of planning ahead and a fearless plan of attack. Cutting duck or chicken is not hard, but like many kitchen skills it has been replaced with purchasing cut-up pieces. I love cutting duck and chicken and want you to as well — so grab your sharpest knife, thaw your birds and steel yourself. Here we go.
- Place the duck or chicken breast side up on a cutting board with the legs facing you. (The breast side is plumper than the backside.)
- Locate the breastbone that runs down the center of the bird.
- Cut a line as close to the breastbone as possible down the entire length of the bird.
- Gently scrape your knife along the body; this loosens the meat without cutting into it.
- Follow downward with your knife until the entire breast is cut away from the bone.
- Repeat with the other breast.
- To remove the legs and thigh, cut the piece of skin that attaches the leg to the bones.
- Bend the leg slightly to loosen it from the joint.
- Cut the skin on the back and remove the leg and thigh.
- Trim any pieces of fat and loose skin from the chicken or duck.
- I individually wrap my poultry pieces and then freeze them. I save my carcasses for stock and the fat for rendering.
To Render the Fat
- Place the fat in a saucepan. Add about ⅓ cup water for 1 pound of fat/skin. Place the pan on very low heat and let the fat melt very gently.
- The water will evaporate and pieces of skin will start to turn golden brown. This process can take several hours. you can do this in a very low oven at 275 ̊F.
- When the skin turns golden brown, pour the fat and skin through a strainer. press on the skin to get every last drop of fat.
- Cool the fat before storing.
To Make Gribenes/Cracklings: Return the skin to the pan and turn the heat to medium. Add one medium white onion that has been diced. Continue cooking, occasionally pouring off the fat and saving it, until the skin turns a deep brown and is very crispy.
Now that you have the fat it is time to get cooking with these 10 recipes using schmaltz:
There is a rustic charm to this dish, not to mention a mouthwatering quality. Something as simple as potatoes browned crispy in duck fat just makes the eyes widen and the pulse quicken. YUM! I like to brighten the flavor of the dish with a sprinkle of sea salt, citrus zest and a generous dusting of freshly chopped parsley. The bright flavors heighten the savory duck fat and make the dish sparkle.
If I am going to eat a french fry, I want it to be a big fat fry. I want flavor, texture and lots of it. Cooking potatoes in duck fat is not a new technique, but it is a delicious one. I frequently sauté onions, shallots, potatoes and whatever else I can get my hands on... it is the je ne sais quoi that makes the meal that much more savory and luscious.
Rillettes are like coarse pâté. The meat, all fragrant with aromatic spices and glistening with creamy duck fat, schmeared on matzo or stuffed into a baked potato just makes my mouth water. This classic hors d’oeuvre is easy to make once you have confit.
I confit garlic in chicken fat all the time. It is my secret for creamy and flavorful mashed potatoes, soup bases and vinaigrettes.
Better than butter! This powerhouse of flavor will add an irresistible mouth-feel and bright flavor to mashed or roasted potatoes and vegetables. Schmear this all over a chicken or turkey and then roast it and wait for the compliments.
I serve these latkes with my favorite chicken or pot roast as a side dish. They are fragrant and so savory.
This savory Wilted Red Cabbage with Garlic Confit Gremolata is cooked in chicken stock for a rich flavor, perfect to serve with any meat meal.
I have never really liked the standard potato-leek soup so popular in the late winter and early spring. The soup just doesn’t have any OOMPH! My roasted version with the addition of parsnips, roasted garlic and generous sprinkle of gribenes with the caramelized potatoes and leeks has punch and flavor. The soup is addicting with a decadent creamy consistency.
Combining elements of citrus fruit, fresh greens, savory duck, and a tangy vinaigrette dressing, this Blood Orange and Duck Confit Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette is no oridinary salad.
Duck confit is like kitchen gold. The ancient method of preserving poultry in fat is not hard, but does take a bit of time. Confiting is the technique of poaching duck legs and thighs in their own fat. The gentle heat transfer ensures that the meat will retain moisture and flavor. Poaching poultry in water is not the same. The fat molecules are too large to penetrate, which is not the case with water. The water actually dries out the meat, whereas the fat keeps the meat juicy. The meat is then stored in the fat where it attains even more flavor and can be preserved for as long as 6 months. Once made, the confit can be served as a garnish, salad, entrée or appetizer. I keep a couple of jars in my home refrigerator and “buckets” of confit at work. After the work is done (most of the time spent confiting, you can be doing other things) the confit can be quickly made into delicious and flavorful dishes.
Recipe published in JOY of KOSHER with Jamie Geller Magazine Pesach 2013 SUBSCRIBE NOW
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