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IT’S OFFICIAL. Even The New York Times acknowledges that “Schmaltz Finds a New, Younger Audience.” Nutritionally incorrect though it may sound, author Melissa Clark and photographer Andrew Scrivani make a scrumptious argument in the newspaper’s December 9, 2014, issue for rendered chicken fat
The word schmaltz is Yiddish, cognate of the German word Schmalz describing any sort of rendered animal fat. Both arise from the German term for “molten,” traceable to the Germanic verb smelt-an (also origin of the English “to smelt”).
Ashkenazi Jews originated the use of rendered chicken (or goose) fat because of their dietary laws against frying in butter (meat + dairy prohibited) or (pork) lard. Home-made schmaltz involves slow-cooking fatty pieces of chicken, typically with onions. The melted fat is strained through cheesecloth; the remaining crispy bits in the pan have the Yiddish name gribenes (a term that hasn’t lost its foreign italics, as schmaltz has).
Though not by this name, schmaltz had a rich culinary heritage in my family. As a kid, I spent occasional summer months visiting my maternal grandparents in eastern Pennsylvania. (See “Tonto, Train Rails and Disillusion,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-3T.) My grandmother, born and bred in Pennsylvania, didn’t call it schmaltz. And, in our family, the potato pancakes she fried by the dozens were “blinis,” not to be confused with the thin buckwheat pancakes traditionally served with a dab of crème fraiche and spoonful of caviar.
Ha! Not in my family. My grandmother’s blinis fostered eating contests among my cousins and me.
My dad also knew his way around schmaltz, by way of a compact home deep fryer (a novelty back then). For flavor, he’d mix a bit of schmaltz into the oil and make chicken and fries that attracted appreciative neighbors.
For reasons of safety (or so she said), my mom made dad operate his deep fryer in the hall, which probably explained the neighborhood sharing of aromas.
According to Melissa Clark in The New York Times article, “medical science has given the nod to the moderate consumption of saturated animal fats….” I followed up on this tantalizing bit at http://goo.gl/Ao3AZY.
This summary in the Annals of Internal Medicine is titled “Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids with Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” The research performed by 13 specialists is a meta study in that it combined analysis of previous research efforts. Seventy-six studies totaling more than 643,000 participants were considered. The conclusion: “Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”
Try a little schmaltz. It wouldn’t hurt. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014
Dennis, thanks for the look back. We are thankful that those “old country” recipes – and habits – survive. Your grandmothers output of blinis by the dozens takes me back to one of many memorable lines in “You Can’t Take It With You”, by Kaufman and Hart: Olga wonders how many are coming for dinner . . . “The Czar always said to me ‘Olga, DO NOT BE STINGY WITH THE BLINTZES!'”
For five minutes of laughs, the synopsis for the play is here: