In her 40s my mother abandoned that staple of the Jewish kitchen, schmaltz. In my 40s I embraced it. I can’t really fault my mother. In the 1960s there was so much information about just how bad all those bad animal fats were for us that she was doing what seemed best for her family. Did I mention that animal fat was BAAAAD? Well, of course now we know for SURE (this is bound to change in the next 5 minutes…) that the hydrogenated vegetable fats that were substituted for yummy butter, chicken fat and lard that had been in every refrigerator for years were REALLY bad for us. Look up Nyafat.
I am quite concerned about the quality of ingredients I use, so I don’t purchase chicken fat – either jarred or frozen. I call my local Whole Foods Market and ask the butcher to save some fat from organic chickens as they break them down for sale. I put about a pound of fat in a small saucepan on the back of the stove with a little water to get it started rendering and leave it on simmer for hours until the only solids are little crispy bits. For those of you who don’t remember your Jewish grandmother rendering schmaltz these “Jewish cracklins” are called gribenes or grieven in Yiddish. It’s delicious (if maybe not so very good for you…). My mom used to add it to mashed potatoes. YUM!
I use this lovely clean fat to make my chopped liver and more importantly to fry latkes. For the latter I mix it about 1/2 and 1/2 with grape seed oil, which has a nice high smoke point. I’ll be making latkes with my two favorite girls – my great niece Cece and my lovely Amanda – in a couple of weeks so check back in for crispy Chanukah deliciousness.
Here’s the simplest of chopped liver.
Sauté onions in chicken fat. When they are starting to get brown add the livers and continue cooking until they are just cooked through.
Cool and grind on the fine disk of a meat grinder. (Don’t use a food processor) Add salt and pepper to taste.
I do buy organic chicken livers. The liver is a filter so any bad stuff a bird might be fed is going to end up in the liver. Also be sure the livers have not been frozen. Use a grinder, as any tough bits of tendon or vein will not end up in the final dish as they would if you used a food processor.
And just for good measure (and mushroom and barley soup later in the week) there’s a pot of chicken stock simmering on the back of the stove.