Schmaltz is worth saving from a burning house

Schmaltz is worth saving from a burning house
                        

“If you’ve had a bad day, if you’re having a bad week, just cook, man. Just cook.” — Chef Roy Choi.

That’s a quote from the Netflix series, “The Chef Show,” which has dropped a third season. Hollywood A-list producer/director/actor Jon Favreau (“Lion King,” “Iron Man,” “Jungle Book”) seeks out private and restaurant kitchens and offers himself as help in whatever capacity he’s assigned while talking to fantastic cooks and helping us learn a few things. In a director’s chair, he’s absolutely in charge. In a kitchen he gets the same chiding as everyone else from Wolfgang Puck.

The quote — “Just cook, man. Just cook” — struck me as a perfect expression of what I try to say in many more words each week. I texted it to several friends, but they didn’t respond right away because they were furiously cooking to recover from bad days.

The reason it helps is because the act of creating something good to eat replaces the echoes of a boss’ dumb rant about parking spaces with the accomplishment of having produced good food to nourish mind and body.

Some couples may even find cooking together to be a good path to argument resolution, though if you spend the time saying things like “taste this you feckless dork” you might want to try a good walk instead.

One of the “Chef Show” episodes is set at a Jewish deli in Los Angeles, where the owner is obsessive about every detail, one of them being the absolute necessity for keeping a supply of schmaltz on hand.

Schmaltz, which a friend once told me was the only thing he would save from his grandmother’s burning house after the people were out, is rendered chicken fat, which is used in cooking many dishes, both in Jewish cuisine and elsewhere.

Duck or goose fat also is often rendered for cooking, and if you haven’t had potatoes cooked in duck fat, you’re missing something.

Schmaltz is a cooking medium, binder and flavoring and makes use of the skin and fat you’re likely trimming from your chicken before cooking it anyway. But, full disclosure, it’s not a weight-loss tool. A teaspoon of schmaltz carries about 120 calories, but at least they’re natural calories and not from a Twinkie.

If you want to try making a batch, save all the skin and fat from chickens, adding to your stockpile in the freezer until you have about 3 cups.

When you’re ready, chop the pieces into small bits — the smaller they are, the more efficiently they’ll render their fat. Add them to a heavy-bottomed, nonstick pan, along with a quarter cup of water, and bring to a simmer.

Once the skin pieces have begun releasing their fat, you can optionally add a diced yellow onion and continue cooking, raising the heat a bit until the skin bits are crisped and chewy and all the fat has melted. The water will have cooked off.

Remove these bits and save for salad toppings or whatever use you like. The main thing is to not allow things to over brown. You want a fairly clear product at the end, and it should not taste roasted or the least bit burned. Don’t let anything stick to the bottom and keep stirring things around.

Strain the result through a fine mesh strainer, which you can line with cheesecloth for an extra clear Schmaltz. Keep it in a tightly sealed container in the fridge, where it should be good for at least a week. Freeze it for up to six months.

Once you’ve got some on hand, you can use it to make chopped chicken livers, matzo ball soup or fry just about anything. Keep an eye on heat as it’ll have a rather low smoking point.

And just cook, man. Just cook.


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