Traditional foods are currently making a come back.
One food that foodie traditionalists are particularly fond of is old fashioned animal fat for cooking.
If you’re frugal, that’s great news because you can take something that is often thrown away (in this case chicken skin) and use it to make free cooking oil.
Along with brewing the bones to make stock, you are using more of the whole animal, reducing food waste and saving money at the same time.
Rendered chicken fat is called schmaltz and is common in traditional Jewish cooking. The process to render your own chicken fat takes about an hour and is a similar process for any kinds of animal fats.
We buy meat in bulk and I usually get a kilo each of chicken breasts and thighs – skin on. I trim and cut the meat and divide it into portions before freezing – this makes cooking dinner quick and easy.
And the chicken skin goes straight into the frying pan to render.
Here’s how you do it.
First, chop the skin up into smallish pieces, no need to be too particular about this. Throw these in a fry pan (I’m using my trusty cast iron pan) and turn the heat to medium/medium-low.
Now all you have to do is wait, maybe give it a stir every now and then. Here’s what it will look like after about 10 minutes of cooking:
And then after about 20 minutes, you can see the fat starting to render out and the skin gain some colour:
Now after about 30 minutes of cooking, just about there:
And after 40 minutes or so of cooking on medium heat, the chicken skins are golden and the fat is fully rendered.
Let the fat cool and strain into a jar or container.
And pop it in the fridge, ready to use for cooking. The rendered fat is very stable and will last months in the fridge.
What do you cook with chicken fat, you might ask?
Use the rendered schmaltz as you would cooking oil, particularly in hearty recipes like stews and roasts. Use it instead of butter when frying onion or doing skillet potatoes. I can tell you that roast potatoes are completely different when cooked in the chicken fat – so crispy on the outside and delicious. And of course, many traditional Jewish recipes demand schmaltz.
But wait there’s more.
Don’t throw the leftover crispy chicken skins away. These are called griebenes and are a kosher alternative to pork crackling. You can let these drain and use them as you might crispy bacon – sprinkled through some steamed greens or used as a crunchy topping on salad, for example.
But they are also nice simply salted and snacked on, just like pork crackling, which my father used to snack whilst drinking home brew. I know, you may be thinking heart attack waiting to happen but just occasionally, it’s a tasty snack, although a little goes a long way.
And that’s the point really, of eating foods cooked in real fat. There’s nothing over-riding the “I’m full” signal from your brain, which is what processed vegetable oils can do. You cannot overeat this stuff, you just start to feel ill if you over-indulge.
So if you’re accustomed to throwing away chicken skins (or any other kind of animal fats), render them down instead and use them for cooking as these frugal fats have been used for thousands of years.