By Esther Rosenblum Cohen
When I was young, we did not know about cholesterol, but we knew about chicken fat. To us, chicken fat was not known as chicken fat, but schmaltz. Chicken fat was used as an important ingredient in many foods especially chopped liver. We fried many foods with schmaltz and it gave it a very special flavor that is lost today.
My father used to spread his schmaltz on rye bread or on challah, but I liked the “gribenes” the best. What Gribenes is can be understood only after I explain how chicken fat was made.
First we separated the fat from the chickens. We also took off the skin and cut it up into small pieces. We put the fat and skin into a frying pan (no oil was added – the chicken fat process created the oil). While the fat and skins were cooking in the frying pan, we added sliced onions (one onion to taste) to the frying pan as the skin and fat were melting. The onions would fry in this fat. When the onions were well fried and the skin became crisp, we would turn off the fire and remove the onions and skins from the melted fat. The crisp skins were the gribenes.
My mother let the schmaltz cool and afterwards she would put it through a strainer and storage it in a glass jar in the refrigerator. One chicken could give us about 4 ounces of fat, depending on the size and fattiness of the chicken.
As a treat, after my mother would finish rendering the fat, I was given some of the gribenes as a treat. We would make a little sandwich with left over challah. Although when I was a child, it was the most special of extraordinary delights that I could imagine eating; today the thought of it seems to me like heartburn heaven. I can not imagine eating that today, but this is the taste of yesteryear.
Today’s foods have lost much of the taste that once made them so famous. Potato pancakes were always fried in schmaltz; today’s potato pancakes are made with the commercial oils from the supermarket. The taste is totally different when made with schmaltz. Perhaps that is the reason that potato pancakes were so popular in previous generations, but in our generation they have lost their appeal; people seem to prefer the sufganiot (Israeli version of jelly-filled doughnuts) during Chanukah.
Even though today we are very cholesterol conscious, schmaltz is worth trying one time just to know how things tasted.
from the August 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine