If you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, or just indulge in the culinary traditions associated with both of these, you are likely to have your fill of turkey and chopped liver. In our house, we like to have turkey for Christmas, which of course means hot turkey sandwiches, turkey pot pies and turkey soup for the following week, leading up to New Year’s Eve a week later when we like to ring in the new year with a feed of chopped liver! And the one common denominator between the turkey and the chopped liver might surprise you: schmaltz, the schmaltz you get when you make a big batch of stock for your soup.
Schmaltz is a Yiddish/German word meaning simply, “rendered animal fat” so technically can also refer to rendered pork fat (lard) or beef fat (tallow). But since lard is verboten in the Jewish diet, and butter must be kosher and is often restricted, schmaltz has pretty much become synonymous with the fat rendered from poultry; chicken, goose or turkey, and has become a main ingredient in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine like matzo balls, latkes, chopped liver and of course is the go-to fat used for frying as it has a high smoke point and doesn’t break down like many vegetable oils. It is also used as a spread on bread and in sandwiches. Schmaltz keeps well in the fridge, and can be frozen for several months, but liquefies at room temperature, thus explaining the presence of squeezable bottles of schmaltz in Jewish delicatessens. It is always great to have some schmaltz in the fridge or freezer. The best gravies start with a roux made from fat flour and stock.
Traditionally, to make schmaltz, the chicken, goose or turkey skin and fatty tissues are cut into small pieces and slowly fried, melting out the fat. Sometimes an onion is used in the frying/rendering process to add flavor. The fat is collected, and strained through cheesecloth or a fine sieve, and the crispy browned skin and onion bits, now known as gribenes, are set aside to be used as a snack or garnish.
Another simpler way to make schmaltz-especially at this time of year- is to make a big batch of stock out of that turkey carcass. Throw in the wing tips, bones, neck and skin and all the fatty bits, and after the stock is strained and cooled the fat will rise to the top and harden. Remove this fat cap and voila! Turkey schmaltz. Just in time for your chopped liver recipe!
Nutritionally speaking, 1 tablespoon (15g) of schmaltz has about 80 calories, and contains 3.8 g saturated fat, but also contains 2.5 g polyunsaturated fat and almost 6g monounsaturated fat, both considered “good fats” So schmaltz is a little naughty, but mostly nice: bear in mind that the same amount of butter, for example, has 7.2 g saturated fat, and coconut oil has a whopping 11.8g
While we don’t recommend making a meal of schmaltz, it is way better for you than, say, margarine and its hydrogenated trans fat horrors, and is an old-school way to get a little delicious and healthy fat into your holiday indulgence. Besides, all the cool kids are eating it.
My favourite recipe for chopped liver is this one from Homemade Mommy, simple and traditional, and perfect for your New Year’s Eve table. Goes great with bubbly!