no longer a common kitchen staple these days, probably due to health consciousness, schmaltz & griven — or rendered chicken fat and cracklings, is something for which there is no (kosher) equivalent. in the olden days of the shtetls, or ashkenazi jewish village towns in eastern europe, schmaltz and griven was typically made from goose or duck skin and fat. this was an excellent choice as both geese and ducks are naturally fatty compared to the regular chicken, giving a lot more final product. making fat from the skin was not only frugal but also sensible; why throw out something which would provide an essential cooking fat? the average peasant or villager had little money to waste. shmaltz and the cracklings are not only a jewish thing — it should be noted that goose fat, or graisse d'oie, is also used in classic french cuisine and considered as much a staple as butter.
used the same way as others would use bacon grease/fat, rendered chicken fat gives foods a distinctive taste no regular oil can approximate. i use it sparingly and only make it in fairly small quantities and only around the times of the holidays when i tend to make meat dishes.
it does take about 2 to 3 hours to make, including the chopping, cooking, straining and cooling, but it is worth the effort. it can be frozen for longer storage and shouldn't be kept for longer than about 3 to 4 months in the fridge.
to make the schmaltz, you need the skins from either chickens, ducks or, if you can get it, geese. using the skin of one single chicken/bird won't really give you much of anything. i save and freeze the skin and fat deposits from whole chickens when i cut them up, until i am ready to make it. you need at least enough chicken skin from 3 to 4 chickens. it also helps to open up the fan and/or windows as your are cooking it and it leaves that "oil smell" we all know about. oh well, small price to pay .... at least, it disappears eventually and you're left with something you won't regret making.
chicken schmaltz & griven
rendered chicken fat and cracklings
chicken skin and yellow fat [collected from chickens]
1 large onion, chopped
several cloves of garlic, skins removed
defrost the skin, if it is frozen, only briefly. having it semi frozen makes it much easier to cut into pieces. cut all the skin into 1/2 " squares or small pieces.
place these pieces in a dutch oven type pot or very large cast iron pan or large non-stick skillet and add about 3/4 c of water. some people do not add water but i find it helps to remove impurities from the skin and also it allows the skins to cook a bit first and not brown too quickly. i also find using/switching to a nonstick pan to cook the chicken skin and onion together a better idea because the skin tends to stick to the pan and makes for easier clean up.
bring the chicken skin and water to a boil and let it boil away. turn on the fan to help remove the smell of the chicken cooking.
it will take some time for the water to evaporate but keep cooking until you have very little water left.
add the chopped onion and the cloves of garlic.
cook the onion and chicken skin over medium heat until it starts to brown, stirring every so often.
if the skin is not browned, i.e. with with spots, it's not fully cooked. keep going.
the schmaltz will be ready when the cracklings have turned dark brown to almost black. do not cook them too long or they will burn. you may need to turn the heat down a bit near the end.
let everything cool for a few moments and then strain it all in a fine meshed metal strainer or sieve. put the oil in a small jar and keep it in the fridge or freeze. store the griven or cracklings in a small container. they can be eaten like a snack item (!!) or used in mashed potatoes or chopped liver or fillings for knishes.