The Book of Schmaltz

Friday, November 22, 2013

Michael Ruhlman sings the praises of schmaltz (or rendered chicken fat), a staple ingredient in traditional Jewish cuisine. But schmaltz is at risk of disappearing from use due to modern dietary trends and misperceptions about this versatile and flavor-packed ingredient. The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat takes a fresh look at traditional dishes like kugel, kishke, and kreplach, and also ventures into contemporary recipes that take advantage of the versatility of this marvelous fat.


Michael Ruhlman

Comments [8]

Leilani from NYS

A heads-up to Britta B. from Cross River, NY and your other listeners: The Yiddish word Schmaltz is derived from the German Schmalz, which means "rendered animal fat". It doesn't just mean rendered pork fat (which we know as lard in English).

My German great-grandmother made her matzoh balls with goose Schmalz, and would also spread it on black bread and sprinkle on a bit of salt as a snack. I use organic chicken fat to make my Schmalz. Either way, it's delicious and makes matzoh balls into heavenly "floaters"!

Nov. 24 2013 01:32 PM

I enjoyed this segment.

Mr. Ruhlman's rejection of the simplistic, broad-sweeping demonization of fat echoes what I have on the topic from Michael Pollan (a repeated guest on the LL Show) and others.

Chulent was cited as one of only a few truly Jewish foods. But I heard no mention of what makes it so: the origin and purpose of this traditional Sabbath dish.

On the Jewish Sabbath or 'Shabbos' all types of cooking are strictly prohibited, as is merely /adjusting/ a flame. (Even merely /heating/ already-cooked food on an existing flame is subject to numerous restrictions.) Chulent, a dish of meat, potatoes and legumes, is placed upon a /covered/ flame sometime before sundown on Friday (when the Sabbath begins) where it slowly cooks until around noontime the following day (Saturday), when the traditional Sabbath day meal is served upon return from the synagogue. In this way observant Jews are able to enjoy a piping hot meal on Shabbos. This may seem like a way of "cheating"; circumventing the law via loopholes to those not versed in the Judaic tradition. But, in fact, the tradition of preparing and eating chulent is quite the contrary: It is considered a 'mitzvah' to eat chulent on the Sabbath day as it demonstrates our faith in the rabbinic, /oral/ tradition that expounds upon the laws of the proper observance of the Sabbath. This is in contradistinction to any number of sects that broke away from Judaism, such as the Kararites, because they accepted only the literal, /written/ Torah, rejecting the no-less-essential /oral/ component of the Torah. (And therefore sitting in the dark and eating only cold food on Shabbos.) Such rejection of rabbinic authority is considered heresy and placed the Kararites and any number of break-away sects outside of the confines of normative Judaism.

Nov. 22 2013 02:57 PM

My Yankee grandmother born in Boston in 1878 baked a divine chicken-fat cake that was light and tasty.

Nov. 22 2013 01:16 PM
Britta B. from Cross River, NY

I am German and the word Schmalz does mean pork fat, actually. It's delish! I used it on fresh bread with some salt, and do cook with it as well.

Nov. 22 2013 01:09 PM

I attended a birthday party at Sammy's Romanian Steakhouse several years ago. Bowls of schmaltz were put on the table. None of us knew what it was, a guy sitting near me tasted it and thought it was butter or something. We later found out exactly what schmaltz is- and that the taster was a vegetarian! Oops!

Nov. 22 2013 01:09 PM

Question - is it safe to make schmatlz from chickens raised with the current use of antibiotics?

My understanding is that drugs and other chemicals are accumulated in animal fat, which is used to make schmaltz.

Nov. 22 2013 10:15 AM

Schmaltz was always made from goose. Chicken schmaltz is yellow and semiliquid at room temperature. Goose schmaltz is white and handles like butter. There is no comparison.

Nov. 22 2013 09:44 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

What I have learned:
0.) The quality of the schmaltz is related to the quality of the chicken's diet.
1.) Trying to get crisp gribbenes at the end of the rendering is dicy, and one burnt one can ruin a batch; I extract the gribbenes when they reach a light brown, press them for fat, and then finish them in a 300F oven for about fifteen minutes.
2.) Gribbenes do very well in matzoh balls.
3.) The fat and skin trimmed zealously from eight decent chicken backs destined for stock can produce about 1.5 cups of fat, and 1 cup of gribbenes.
4.) Nothing beats goose schmaltz and gribbenes...if you can afford to make it.

Nov. 19 2013 10:35 PM

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