Step-by-step how to render poultry fat.
The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How (Storey Publishing, 2015) by Andrea Chesman, is your comprehensive guide to the techniques you need to get the most from homegrown foods. Author Andrea Chesman teaches dozens of simple and delicious recipes, most of which can be adapted to use whatever you have available.
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You can easily render the fat from chickens, geese, and ducks for use in cooking. (Turkeys, on the other hand, are rather lean and won’t produce much fat.) Poultry fat, and especially goose and duck fat, has fabulous flavor, especially when used for roasting potatoes and root vegetables. It is also more challenging — but not impossible — to use it in baking. In the Jewish cooking traditions of northern Europe, chicken fat was often rendered with onions for flavor. In the French cooking tradition, goose fat and duck fat are more common and are generally not flavored. Either way, savory foods are delicious cooked in poultry fat.
Poultry fat is higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids than either lard or beef suet, which is why it is softer at room temperature. It is stable at high heat, and the rendered fat will keep for at least 2 months in the refrigerator or for 1 year in the freezer. After about 2 months in the fridge, though, the fat becomes rancid and has an off odor that will be transmitted as an off-flavor to any dish it is cooked in.
Even if you are buying your birds from a farmers’ market or a supermarket, you should be able to collect enough fat to make it practical to render it. I recommend collecting chicken fat in the freezer until you have a few cups. You can do the same with ducks and geese, though chances are that you roast them more infrequently. One commercial duck will still yield 1/3 to 1/2 cup rendered fat, while one commercial goose will yield about 2 quarts.
1. Cut the fat into small pieces. Some of the fat, especially from geese, is in large pieces. Cut the fat into small pieces to reduce the time it takes to render and to reduce the chance of the fat scorching.
2. Combine the fat with water and apply heat. Place the fat and any skin scraps or the ends of backbones in a heavy, nonreactive pot, along with a diced onion, if you like. Add enough water to just cover the fat. Cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until the scraps render most of their fat, about 2 hours. Watch carefully during the last 30 minutes or so because the water will boil off, which could allow the fat to burn, which you do not want.
3. Strain and store. When the fat has liquefied, turn off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Strain through several layers of cheesecloth, a single layer of butter muslin, or a double layer of paper coffee filters into a clean canning jar or freezer container. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months or in the freezer for up to 1 year.
4. Fry the cracklings. There will be bits of skin (and onion, if you used it) remaining after the fat is drained off. This is called gribenes in Yiddish; there is no real English equivalent. Like pork cracklings, gribenes are unbelievably tasty, especially if there is onion in the mix. Fry them over medium heat until crisp, then drain on paper towels. Try not to eat all of the gribenes; you can sprinkle them over salads and other dishes as you would sprinkle bacon. Store in the fridge and refry as needed to make crisp again.
My ancestors came from Poland and Russia and kept kosher. Chicken fat was used for cooking all meat dishes; butter was used for cooking all dairy dishes. Cooking oils weren’t readily available in eastern Europe in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Outside of the Jewish enclaves, people cooked with lard. Only in southern Europe and the Middle East was olive oil a popular cooking medium.
Today chicken fat, goose fat, and duck fat are enjoying a minor revival — as well they should. It is easy to render the fat to make it possible to use it for cooking. It will keep for 2 months in the refrigerator and even longer in the freezer. As for its reputation as being very unhealthy for you, goose fat and duck fat, in particular, are possibly better for you than butter, in terms of amount of saturated fat. Chicken fat is sometimes referred to as schmaltz, which is Yiddish for chicken fat; it has also come to mean “excessively sentimental or corny.” Jewish schmaltz is often flavored with onions, but the onion is not at all necessary.
Because poultry fat has a medium-high smoke point (higher than butter but lower than peanut oil), it can be used for browning meats and sautéing vegetables. It can be used instead of other fats in most pates. Goose fat and duck fat make the best roasted potatoes and roasted root vegetables, and chicken fat is used in both traditional matzo balls and chopped liver. I have done only limited baking with chicken fat, enough to learn that it does not create flaky pastries as lard does, and cakes made with chicken fat tend to be dense and greasy.
Excerpted from The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How © Andrea Chesman. Illustrations by © Elena Bulay. Used with permission of Storey Publishing. You can buy this book from our store: The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How.