Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New Year - Schmaltz, Gribenes, and Almost Kosher Chowder

Happy New Year to you all! I hope you celebrated to your heart's content! Me, well... We were supposed to go out into the countryside, like last year, but I got sick. Nothing serious, but I was not up to frolicking in the snow, or even driving over to the chalet. So we just stayed in, and Laurent made us cacio e pepe spaghetti for dinner - not quite typical for a New Year's feast, but it was exactly the comfort food I needed.

My cold took a long time to heal, but yesterday I was finally up to cooking. Again, I veered toward comfort food, and made chowder. However, once again, it wasn't quite traditional.

I call this chowder "almost kosher" because it contains no pork. It does, however, contain dairy and chicken, so the title of fully kosher is out the window. But that doesn't really matter, since there is not an ounce of Jewish blood in me. So why did I substitute the pork? Simply because I had a lot of schmaltz to use.

(One needs to be very careful when opening what looks like a jar of jam in our house, because they usually contain something else.)

Why did I have schmaltz on hand? Well, it all started several month's ago, when I read David Sax's Save the Deli. I'll post more extensively about this book later, but suffice it to say the author went on a North American tour of Jewish delis, ate a heck of a lot of pastrami and chicken soup, and schmaltz is inevitably mentioned on every other page. Schmaltz, you're probably aware, is rendered chicken fat, and can replace most oils and fats in cooking. I was intrigued by how this influenced the taste of preparations; duck fat makes a big difference, so what of schmaltz?

Unfortunately, I had no idea where to find schmaltz. But since we were already regularly buying whole chickens, boning them, and saving the carcasses to make stock, I took it one step further, and started putting aside all the chicken skin and fat, and saving it in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. Then, when the bag was full, and I had over three pounds of fatty scraps, I rendered it, using the method indicated in Jennifer MacLagan's Fat. Thus, I ended up with two full cups of beautiful schmaltz, and a cup full of gribenes, which are basically chicken cracklings: the crispy bits of skin left over from the rendering process. I usually don't eat the skin off roast chicken, but this was something else: so crispy and delicious! We put them in soups, salads, and even just nibbled on them.

So, the gribenes were easy to dispose of, but for some reason we've been slow to use the schmaltz. Like I said, it can replace butter in most recipes, but we were so overloaded with leftovers (ours and other people's) that we didn't cook for several days. And when we did, they weren't really the kind of recipes where the substitution would be made.

So when I decided to make chowder, I was determined to use the stuff. I drew inspiration from a recipe by Jamie Oliver, but used schmaltz instead of pork fat, and the remaining gribenes instead of bacon. I also adapted the broth-to-dairy ratio. Obviously fresh corn would have been best, but in this season, canned corn had to do. And I used Nordic shrimp, for a local touch.

There was definitely a subtle difference in flavour: less smoky than if I had used bacon, but still more gamey than if I had used butter. I wouldn't say any version is flat-out better than the others, but it's nice to have options. Either way, this soup is a very flavourful and easy meal for a lazy weekday.

Schmaltz and Gribenes

450 g (1 pound) or more of chicken fat and skin

Cut the chicken skin in small pieces. Place them in a heavy-bottomed pan over low heat, and let the fat melt, stirring occasionally, until the skin begins to grow crispy. This can take several hours (between two and four).

Alternately, if you are rendering a large amount of fat, put the chicken skin in a Dutch oven and place in an oven preheated to 120ºC (250ºF). Bake until skin begins to grow crispy, which will take several hours.

In both cases, when the skin is just getting crispy and brown, drain out the rendered fat and strain it through a cheesecloth into a heatproof container. Return the skin to the pan and cook over medium low heat until it is very crispy golden brown. Strain the remaining fat through the cheesecloth, and place the skin on paper towels to absorb the fat.

Store the schmaltz in a clean airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. Store the gribenes similarly, and consume them within a couple of days. You should obtain approximately 1 cup of schmaltz for every pound (450g) of chicken skin.

Almost Kosher Chowder
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp schmaltz
One leek, cut in half lengthwise and sliced crosswise
450g (1 pound) of potatoes (approximately 3 large), peeled and cubed
500 ml (2 cups) chicken or vegetable broth
500 ml (2 cups) milk
375 ml (1 1/2 cup) canned or frozen corn
225 g (1/2 pound) Nordic shrimp, fresh or frozen and thawed
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream

For garnish:
Fresh dill
Fresh red chili pepper, seeded and chopped

In a large saucepan, melt the schmaltz over medium heat. Add the leek and potatoes, and cook, stirring often, until leek is soft. Add the broth and milk, along with the shrimp and corn, and simmer for 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender and soup is somewhat thickened. Reduce heat, stir in the cream, and continue cooking until heated through.

Divide in bowls and top with garnish just before serving.


  1. This was such an interesting post! I've never heard of nor tried schmaltz before, but it sounds really intriguing. Not mention that I bet it goes beautifully in a chowder like this one. Yum!

  2. I've got to confess I'd never heard of schmaltz before. Duck fat I do know ofcourse but how cool that you actually made your own! That chowder looks totally delicious although I'm not sure if I would go through the trouble of making my own schmaltz. I'm lazy you see..;)

  3. I am so glad you are feeling a little better. I love the chowder you have shared with us, but better still are the directions you have given us for rendering the chicken fat. That is really helpful. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  4. Great soup and I learned something new: schmaltz! Yep I am on 2 weeks of the cold not quite ending. Happy New Year to you both!

  5. Val..I have been trying to post a comment here for 4 days! As of late - some blogs aren't working well in IE, so I installed Google Chrome, and now I can comment!

    I grew up with schmaltz and gribenes and all that 'healthy' stuff through both of my grandmothers. I still use schmaltz in my matzo balls, and keep it in a jar like you, although it's labeled schmaltz lol. OMG, if I was at your place, I would think your schmaltz was Bonne Maman golden raspberry jam and probably spread it on something hehe. My grandmother once left a bowl of schmaltz in the fridge, and my grandfather thought it was vanilla pudding. Two huge spoonfuls before he spit it out! lol

    That said, I LOVE your 'almost kosher' chowder so much. I know Jamie knows what he's talkin' about when it comes to food, so no doubt it's delicious! Awesome post as always!!

    1. Yeah, I had a similar problem with IE for months. I couldn't even post the normal way, I had to use code to format my text. Then I switched to Chrome and problem solved!

      And now I'm discovering that Blogger has added this nifty "Reply" function that wasn't there before! I have no idea what'll happen, so it looks like you're my guinea pig! :-)

      I've had many close calls with misleading containers (the worst are tomato and/or red pepper jellies, it's so hard to tell they're not strawberry), so I'm very careful now!

    2. Hey, the "reply" button worked! Wonder what happens now if I reply to myself?