Tuesday, January 06, 2015
If cooking with melted-down animal fat sounds bizarre to you, then you're certainly not alone.
But you're also due for a major attitude (and ingredient) adjustment, TRUST us.
Schmaltz is essentially chicken fat that's been rendered, or melted down to a lard-like state. The butter-like substance has a fluffy, rich essence of fried chicken that, when incorporated into veggies, breads and meat dishes, adds a savory bang that olive and vegetable oils can only dream of. Though schmaltz has long served as the backbone of the Jewish cooking tradition, it's made a major comeback with home cooks in recent years, as everyday chefs realize that lard isn't such a bad-for-you ingredient, after all.
Think of schmaltz as bone broth's just as antiquated, but much more versatile, cousin in the kitchen.
Schmaltz is historically the secret ingredient in latkes and matzo balls -- early chefs in Northern and Eastern Europe used it as Mediterranean chefs might've used olive oil. And for us, schmaltz's fatty richness ups the game on everything from Brussels sprouts (roasted til they get a nutty flavor) to gnocchi (with an egg on top, of course) to, yup, even cookies (the sweet-and-savory flavor combo, as we know, is pure dynamite).
For an authentic schmaltz experience, make your own. The easiest way is to chop up the skin and fat from a chicken. Simmer it with water on the stove for an hour or more, depending on how much you've got. The skin will form nice, crackly crisps known as gribenes that make a stellar salad topper or addictive eat-as-you-go snack. Toss some onions into your simmering schmaltz, and the rich, caramelized product is ready to go. You can store it in the fridge for about a week, adding it to every last crouton, green bean and batch of brioche dough you make.
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