Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fun with schmaltz

For this one you'll want to press your nose against the monitor to see if you catch a whiff of chicken fat.

These are mashed Russet potatoes made with salt, schmaltz, and grebenes. Served with extra schmaltz and grebenes at the table. Butter and cream are nice, but schmaltz makes these into a whole different dish. And if you must keep kosher and you're going to eat meat, schmaltz is really your only option. (In case you have forgotten, grebenes are the crisp bits of skin left over after rendering schmaltz, in addition to onions added to flavor the fat.)

It would be customary in the tradition of my people to make a joke here about how eating this kind of food will hasten your death. But that stuff isn't funny and anyway, we know now that the margarine we used to eat by the big plastic tubful was only slightly more nutritious than anthrax. I grew up eating hideous quantities of margarine, the horror. It's salty, spreads easily right out of the fridge, and can be eaten with milk or meat. And to think, all that time it could have been schmaltz I was devouring.

The only problem with schmaltz is that you have to render it yourself--at least around here you do--and I can't quite keep up the supply I would like. So we keep butter out on the countertop, which according to some amateur sociologists is like a big sign reading "GENTILES WERE HERE."

Every time I cook with schmaltz lately I hear in my head the sing-songy verses of Amy Wilson Sanger's Let's Nosh, which my parents insist they bought for the little man at the MoMA giftshop. While not quite a chestnut on the order of the Goodnights Gorilla or Moon, Let's Nosh does have its charms. It helps to try to imagine the voice of Zero Mostel (a world-class nosher in his day) reading the words and to begin every other line "Oy..."
"Carrot tsimmes," calls my tummy, "Let's nosh on kasha knish."
Look how I made mish-mosh of my gefilte fish!

I smell fresh-baked challah--it must be Friday night!
I dip my pinky in the wine. We eat by candlelight.

Slurp a sip of chicken soup with floating matzoh balls.
Chopped liver spread on dark rye bread tastes best with extra schmaltz.

Here's a scoop of noodle kugel in my fancy-schmancy bowl...
Next to fruit-filled hamentaschen and some nutty rugelach rolls.

"This bubelah loves bagles!" my grandma likes to say.
They're great with lox and cream cheese or most any other way!

I like applesauce and sour cream on my hot potato latkes.
But today my tummy says, "Let's nosh on lots and lots of matzoh!"
You might know Amy Wilson Sanger as the author of several other multiculti food books for kids: First Book of Sushi, Hola Jalapeno, Yum Yum Dim Sum, Mangia! Mangia!, and A Little Bit of Soul Food. I can only imagine that Japanese, Latino, Chinese, Italian, and African-American parents are no less embarrassed by caricatures of their ethnic identity than we are by Let's Nosh. That said, chopped liver spread on dark rye bread, like many other things, does taste best with extra schmaltz.


Blogger femme feral said...

I'd love to see a haverchuk cookbook / story for kids :)

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah schmatz, my grandmother's spread of choice. My father, a child of the depression, was sometimes sent to the bakery to buy a loaf of rye on credit, because he was the youngest and cutest, and most likely to succeed at extending the family indebtedness.
The reward was his favorite treat- a slice of the bread, spread with schmaltz, and sprinkled with salt.
Your mashed potatoes and gribenes look so fine.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Oh my. Sounds yummy, but unfortunately this would not be on my diet. (The South Beach Diet police would be after me big time.) Enjoy some for me.

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to know that the permanent butter on the counter at my parents' house is, essentially, a flag. I had seen a few of those kids titles you mentioned, but never all at once. You can write one of those books, but churning them out like this makes me think this Sanger person is an asshole. I do not mean to sound like Anita in West Side Story exhorting "One of your own kind, stick to your own kind..." but it is dangerous to imagine that by eating the food of a particular culture, you somehow come to understand it. It is a Montessori-ized version of eating the hearts of your enemies. The vision of culture as a global food court encourages a kind of complacency--"I feel your pain, because I have your people's Puttamayo sampler" might be overstating the case, but not by much. Back in the (grad school) day, I recall Homi Bhabha recounting being introduced to folks who should know much better who would say "Pleased to meet you, I love Indian food." I will sit back, and wait for Amy Wilson Sanger to get her head handed to her when she does her falafel book. War schmaltz, and poultry fat at large, I'm out.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So how exactly do you render schmaltz?

My only source is from the bottom of the pan in which I roast chickens. Said schmaltz is largely absorbed by the potatoes I put underneath. Thus, my schmaltz margin is pretty small. I suppose I could forego the potatoes - but is there anything tastier than gold potatoes cooked until crisp, waist-deep in salty schmaltz?

9:42 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

You're too kind, FF and Lindy. More for me, Kalyn.

Fesser you are right, the multiculural food court is politically abominable. However, I wouldn't mind to live near a good multicultral food court. There is one in the basement of the Louvre Museum that serves a killer couscous merguez. And I'm not exaggerating when I say that between couscous merguez, the 1956 Man Who Knew Too Much, and Casablanca, I've got Morocco's pain pretty much in my back pocket.

Anonymous: there's a thumbnail version of rendering schmaltz in the post linked from this one (click on "grebens"). But that one skips the onions, so here goes:

You collect chicken skin. The skin from two breasts might give you enough for one recipe of mashed potatoes a deux, but if you want extra schmaltz you might need a whole bird's worth or more. You cut it up into little pieces, perhaps half-inch squares, and toss them into a pan with a few ounces of water. Cook over medium heat until most of the water has evaporated, then add an onion, diced, and keep it going until the skin and onion are both golden brown. Strain them out, they're your grebens, and use the fat as you would any other. It's pretty liquidy at room temperature but it solidifies in the fridge. Some cooks prefer not to let the skin and onions get too brown and so they crisp up the grebens in the oven rather than in the hot fat. I haven't tried this. In any event, like anything fried, the grebens should be salted right when they come out of the hot oil.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating post and comments. I'm of the waspish ethnicity. A stint I did as counter help and busboy at a kosher deli in Pittsburgh (Go Steelers!) during high school left me with an enduring taste for good kosher corned beef & pastrami (and an intolerance for the supermarket deli stuff made from the round of beef). 30 years of adult life in a mostly low-middle income bracket has added a fascination with culinary traditions like kosher where setting a splendid table doesn't depend on the employment of exotic and expensive ingredients. Obviously there's much more to kosher than "making a virtue of necessity", but that's the angle that reels me in when it comes time to research, shop & cook. Even as we speak...er...type...I've got a packer-cut brisket brining in the refrigerator and some cucumbers in a no-vinegar brine in a crock on the kitchen counter, since alas the nearest kosher deli to my current home is a 3 hour drive from here - that would be Attman's in Baltimore.

I enjoy your blog very much. Keeping my fingers crossed that a chopped liver post may be in the offing somewhere down the road!

1:45 PM  
Blogger zoe p. said...

(hi burgher, i'm living there now) i was going to post earlier about this time i was cat-sitting with a woman who left her butter on the counter. i was so fascinated by this . . . i'd never seen or heard of such a thing and this was in the dead of summer, in a house with no AC . . . and i swear to you nothing bad happened to it. it was like some kind of magical forcefield.

i'm with fesser. and the man who knew too much was the first Hitchcock film i've ever seen, and probably one of the first 15 feature length films i ever saw.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

I wanna see the dim sum book. Mehehehe. Actually, now I want to write my own book. Hmmmm...all about...SWEEETS! I'll turn millions of kids onto diabetes!

Margarine! I don't know if I've ever made anything with margarine. Can't recall seeing it in the house. I don't know what I ate growing up. Uh. RICE. SO MUCH RICE. But I do love mashed taters.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hiya zp. Y'know I live in what used to be the seafood capital of the USA, Crisfield, MD, and I can't get a decent fried fish sandwich. Krimeny.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never tried (or even been near) schmaltz, but I reckon I'd like it. That mash looks pretty yummy.

Hey mzn, I just realised you tagged me for a favourite foods meme aaaaages ago. I didn't notice at the time. I'm a little busy at present but will post my response to that meme in the near future. Sorry it will be rather belated!

6:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made a crust for a turkey pot pie, using rendered turkey fat, and it was the best crust I've ever made- light, crispy, savory. Did a little nutritional looking-up, too, and came to the conclusion, "if the recipe calls for shortening, and you were going to eat it anyhow, schmaltz ain't gonna be your cause of death."

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re chopped liver:Barbara- there is a widespread liver-of-any-kind phobia which is beyond my understanding. Then there are also people who say they won't eat it because it is "unhealthy." Between the 2 ailments, nobody ever serves me chopped liver anymore,and I can't give it away.Sigh.

7:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

barbara's note that schmaltz is great stuff specially with taters reminds me that English cooking lore is replete with recommendations to save the copious amounts of fat rendered from the holiday goose for the purpose of frying taters. I've cooked exactly 1 (domestic - the wild thing is a whole leaner and different cup of tea) goose in my lifetime and I did save, and use, the fat as recommended - to tasty and crispy effect.

lindy's post has me feeling antique...at age 51, I'm just barely old enough to remember parents confronting their childrens' liverphobia with the admonition that this was vitamin and iron-rich health food.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Helen said...


Great post on schmaltz! You almost made me drool over my keyboard ;)

If you get a chance, I have tagged you in a meme started by Raquel from Raquel's Box of Chocolates (http://www.raqueljournal.typepad.com/) called Common Cold Remedies. I am interested to see what you do to cure colds -- particularly any food and drink related remedies. I am sure schmaltz can help :)

Here is my post about a drink called "cranberry cozy" that does wonders with colds.

You can participate only if you would like to, but please don't feel obligated.


5:58 PM  
Blogger the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...

Hi mzn,
An inspiring post and discussion.

There was a wonderful popular Yiddish song in the 20's that had the line "zi iz mayn puter-bulke, zi iz mayn tshikn shmalts" (she is my buttered roll, she is my chicken shmalts). It is hard to imagine a love song in our century in which one's dream girl would be compared to shmalts. Pity.

10:02 PM  

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