Monday, 31 December 2007

Smaltz and other stories

Where on earth has the week gone? I meant to write on Thursday, then when that wasn't possible, on Friday. Now it's Monday and I'm back at work in two days (yuck!). Don't have much time today, so this may be a bit truncated.

I finally started the "Turkey Production Line" on Friday. After multiple meals, our turkey yielded 3.5lb of meat for future dinners (now in the freezer). The stockpot of turkey stock is currently in the fridge, having simmered most of Friday night. We're away for New Year's, so I'll have to finish it off tomorrow when I get home.

Anyway, while I was pulling apart the turkey, it occurred to me that I never feel closer to my paternal, shtetl-living great-great-grand-mother than when I'm covered in bits of poultry, filling the stock pot with bones on one side and a bowl with meat on the other. Today's post is dedicated to her.

Smaltz/schmaltz/however-you-want-to-spell it

Smaltz is the Jewish answer to lard; rendered chicken/duck/goose fat. In the shtetl, goose was the all-important bird - like the cottager's pigs, they were fed any leftovers going. The goose provided meat, fat, crackling ("gribbene"), quills for writing, down and feathers for warm bedding or clothing.

Like all fat, you shouldn't eat too much smaltz. However, it adds a wonderful depth and chicken-aroma to chicken dishes.

There are two basic methods of rending poultry fat to make smaltz: the top of stove method and the oven method. For both, you need to collect a large amount of chicken skin, globs of fat removed from poultry before cooking, scrapings from the top of your chicken/turkey stock and the fat you drained out of the roasting pan on Christmas Day. (I usually skin my own chicken fillets and dump those skins into a bag in the freezer to await the day I make smaltz.)


Top of Stove. Empty the fat into a deep saucepan, add a cup of water, cover and cook on a medium heat until the fat is melted and the chicken skins are crisp. Approximately 40 minutes.

Oven. Alternatively, if you are using your oven, dump the assorted skin and fat into a roasting dish and place it in the bottom of the oven. Roast for at least an hour or until the fat is melted and the chicken skin is crisp.

Both methods. Line a colander with kitchen paper or muslin/cheesecloth. Place the colander over a deep bowl. Carefully pour the rendered fat, etc, into the colander. It will slowly drain through. When the fat has drained out of the colander, set the bowl aside to cool and then refridgerate it until solid.

The stuff in the colander is gribbene (crackling). Dust with salt and pepper and feed to the hungry hoards.

Okay, back to the fat in the fridge. You are almost done. To ensure longevity, it needs to be "washed". Take the bowl out of the fridge. Turn the fat out onto a board and scrape the bottom of it to remove any sediment. Place it into your largest, heatproof container. (I like deep but narrow for this.) Pour over a kettle full of boiling water and allow to cool. Chill until set.

Lift off the lid of fat from the water and scrape off the remaining sediment. Dump the fat into a saucepan and melt it.** Pour into tuperware container(s) and refridgerate until you need to cook with it (or shove it back in the freezer). It lasts indefinitely.

Uses: frying; any recipe that starts with "fry onion"; roasting vegetables; pastry (it makes a great flaky pastry); roasts; etc.

Next time you see a chef on TV talking about roasting potatoes in goose fat, smile smuggly - you've got your home-made fat ready and waiting. And it didn't cost you a penny.

- Pam

**After I wrote this, I came across a facsimile of a Ministry of Food leaflet from World War 2, "How To Fry". It explains that when you reheat the fat for the last time before storing it, you should simmer it until it stops bubbling (to ensure the fat has lost any residual water content). That will ensure its longevity.

If you are interested in WW2 food, check out Eating for Victory by Jill Norman.

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