Nothing says Jewish home cooking more than schmaltz and its scrumptious by-product, gribenes. (Disclaimer: There isn't a line in the U'netaneh Tokef, "Who by rendered chicken fat," but this stuff is seriously bad for you. How have we survived this long?) Making it is not difficult—actually kinda fun—and it adds immeasurably to the richness of the recipes in which it's used.
Start with a pile of raw chicken fat. Yum!
I use two kinds. The larger pile is a half-pound from the butcher. Nice ones give it to you for free, but this year I went to a place that charged $5.96/lb. for, basically, their trash. Grr. The smaller pile is the result of my best effort at trimming the chicken I used for my matzo ball soup. There never is much fat on the chickens you buy in stores these days, so you pretty much have to seek outside help. (My grandmother z"l cooked chicken frequently enough that whenever it came time for her to make schmaltz, she had her fat supply at the ready in the form of a large baggy containing the accumulated trimmings from many chicken dinners past.)
Here is the finished schmaltz. Technically you are supposed to strain it so it is clear and golden (like the schmaltz in the inset, which is opaque because it was chilled), but I never bother. (Please note: The logo on the glass implies no endorsement of this product by Pom Wonderful, the Antioxidant Superpower that helps you Cheat Death.)
So—now that you have produced the sacred elixir of Jewish continuity, what do you do with it? The truth is, there isn't an authentic Ashkenazi recipe that doesn't call for schmaltz, but, like, are you really going to serve your family homemade kishka (stuffed cow's intestines) or p'tcha (jellied calves' feet)? Below are a few more mainstream ideas.
The first is my grandmother's salt & pepper kugel. I've never seen a recipe quite like it anywhere else—it's delicious and unique.
A couple other easy ways to have fun with schmaltz:
Schmaltz is grandma's way of saying, "I miss you. Come visit." Shana tovah, and don't overindulge unless you are anxious to visit her in the hereafter!