Leite’s Loves…Schmaltz

Schmaltz App

Growing up I didn’t know from schmaltz. In fact, I didn’t know from anything remotely Jewish. The only Yiddish I’d committed to memory was from the libretto of Fiddler on the Roof. So you can imagine my confusion when, in 1987, I slipped into a booth at the Second Avenue Deli in New York City and was confronted with a glass condiment container full of something too yellow to be mayo and too light to be mustard.

“What’s that?” I asked my friend Tom, who’s Italian through and through but, I think, dated a Jew or two along the way.

“Schmaltz,” he replied, which left me no more informed than I’d been before asking.

“What’s schmaltz?”

“Chicken fat.”

Instantly my gut buckled. At the time, I think my total daily fat intake hovered around five grams. This was, after all, the ’80s, and I was in my 20s. Tom explained that many old timers spread it on their bagels or bialys in the morning. I grabbed the jar and grimaced as I deposited it on the table next to ours. If I was going to pat down each individual slice of my hot pastrami sandwich with napkins to wick away excess fat (yes, dear readers, there was a time I actually did that), I was not about to stare at a jar of schmaltz while doing so.

Today, though, I adore schmaltz. I think chicken fat slowly rendered with onions is one of the great elixirs of cooking—and life. If someone were to find a practical beauty application for it—say, wrinkle-free skin—I’m pretty sure I would bathe in it.

I’m not alone in my adoration and deification of schmaltz. Best-selling author and cookbook-thumping cooking evangelist Michael Ruhlman, along with his photographer wife, Donna Turner Ruhlman, recently created a beautifully designed electronic book (don’t think “e-book,” as it’s sooooo much lovelier and more sophisticated than that) aptly titled The Book of Schmaltz: A Love Song to a Forgotten Fat.

Just to state the obvious, anyone who sings a love song to fat has already wooed me. The table of contents—superimposed on a sensuous image of melted schmaltz being poured into a canning jar, its yellow color glowing like a Venetian sunrise—features eight simple-to-navigate sections, including recipes both traditional and contemporary, how to make schmaltz, and a chapter devoted to Lois Baron, a neighbor and friend of the Ruhlmans who inspired the book.

The foundation of the book is, of course, Ruhlman’s schmaltz recipe, which is extraordinarily easy. Six steps, 90 minutes, and you’re in business. Classics such as chopped liver, kreplach, and potato kugel follow, as do unconventional dishes including vichyssoise with gribenes and chives-and-chicken confit. They’re now yours for the making.

Not an iPad lover or an eGeek? Not to worry. The book will appear in traditional paper-and-ink form soon, as part of an upcoming six-book collection—which makes me wonder what overlooked ingredient Ruhlman will lift to rock-star status next.

The Book of Schmaltz: A Love Song to a Forgotten Fat is available as an iPad download from iTunes for $7.99—and it’s worth every fat-slicked penny.

Comments
Comments
  1. Ling Teo says:

    A thing of beauty, David – a thing of beauty!!

  2. Philip E Miller says:

    How can you talk about schmaltz and omit gribenes? Often (mis)translated as “cracklings.”

    • David Leite says:

      Phillip, I do mention it, in the paragraph about new dishes. And, no fears, Rulhman has a recipe for it.

  3. Jamie Feldman says:

    David, thanks for the chuckle about your deli experience.

    My grandmother made shmaltz, gribenes, kreplach (very fond memories of watching her roll the dough out on a large cloth on the dining room table), kugel… My grandfather made the chopped liver and as I watched him use the hockmeister he would pause for me to do a sampling. My mother will occasionally make schmaltz but I don’t eat that or gribenes anymore. Just hand over the kugel and kreplach and no one gets hurt!

    • David Leite says:

      Ha, Jamie! So many wonderful memories, huh? I’d love to see those dishes being made in person. These are among great ones that we all should treasure and pass down–regardless of our heritage.

  4. Jackie says:

    I’ve been saving chicken fat for a couple of years after reading about it in a book by the Brass Sisters. I’ve recently increased the amount harvested by making Chicken Cracklin’s from the skin of two chickens. The stuff is great to saute and fry things in. I don’t love it enough that I smear it on bagels…yet! I find that it’s a great substitue when my stock of bacon grease dwindles.

    • David Leite says:

      Jackie, it sounds liked you’re all set, then. Next to bacon fat, schmaltz makes the best sauté. (But I’m partial!)

  5. My grandmother had a next door neighbor who owned a tiny, fat weiner dog named Schmaltzie. It all makes sense now and for that I thank you.

  6. Thanks for the tip about that book David – I’m off to check it out now. I’ve heard of schmaltz, but we don’t use it here in Oz. Although another source of hip-enhancing fat I don’t need!

    • David Leite says:

      lambsearandhoney, no problem. I’m not sure if Oz’s iStore carries it yet. Let me know what you find out.

  7. Now that many, including myself, eat just the chicken breast the leftover chicken fat is nowhere to be seen. So nothing to make schmaltz with.You actually can buy schmaltz and it will do in a pinch. My mom who lived in a tiny town without a deli, used to spread it on her morning toast!

  8. Nancy Reid says:

    I think chicken fat should replace the flu shot!

    • Lindsay Myers says:

      Hey Nancy, I think you’re onto something there. After all, if chicken soup works wonders on nasty illnesses, why wouldn’t schmaltz do the same?

  9. Karen Bodner says:

    Matza brie (fried matza, for the uninitiated) just isn’t the same unless fried in schmaltz. And then there’s black radish salad…. grated black radish, onion, schmaltz and lots of salt and pepper. Mmmm. Sadly, it’s been years since I’ve seen the jars of ready-made schmaltz. Happily, I’ve made my own for years! Mmm…..

    • David Leite says:

      Karen, that black radish salad sounds divine! Is the schmaltz used as a dressing, or are the onions sautéed in them?

  10. Anne says:

    Some time ago I became curious about schmaltz and began freezing chicken fat and skin so I could try my hand at making schmaltz and gribenes when I had enough collected. I now have trouble fitting anything else in my freezer. Thanks for the reminder–I think it’s finally time to chop some onions and give it a try.

  11. sarah says:

    i remember when i was a little girl my late mother bought rye bread and toasted it and put some schmaltz on top of it with a little bit of salt and had chopped liver with it. but the best was passover, we smeared schmaltze on top of matza and ate that with picha.

    • David Leite says:

      sarah, what a lovely memory. And there’s nothing in the world like good chopped liver. Right?

  12. Mikeline Skibsted says:

    Schmaltz is to a Jewish kitchen what ghee is to an Indian kitchen. I’ve used schmaltz for years to make roux for chicken and dumplings along with many other dishes. So much more flavor!

    • David Leite says:

      Mikeline, you’re absolutely correct. Which reminds me, I haven’t cooked with ghee in a long time.

  13. Bliss B. Siman says:

    The Itunes store has this title for 12.99 and said it will be published in August. How could that happen?

    • David Leite says:

      Bliss, that’s very curious because I just checked it again, and it’s available. I think you might have the wrong app. If you click on this link, it takes you to the app, and you can see the price is $7.99.

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