What Is Schmaltz and How Can You Use It?

What is schmaltz? It's poultry fat, also known as liquid gold, and you should definitely be cooking with it.

I didn’t grow up in a household that cooked with schmaltz. My grandmother used it, but my mother didn’t cook many of her childhood meals in our kitchen. I think she was too haunted by memories of dishes like chopped liver and onions! So schmaltz was off the menu, replaced by more modern, American cooking fats like butter and olive oil. I’m sure we ate it when we visited for Passover, but I didn’t know it was there. I just knew that Grandma’s cooking was (ahem) better than my mother’s.

It wasn’t until I visited a deli in Portland, Oregon as an adult, where I connected with my grandmother’s “liquid gold.” It was pretty trendy at the time to serve duck fat fries, but I had never had schmaltz potatoes—crispy, pan-fried potatoes cooked in an onion-scented fat. I was hooked; I wanted to cook everything in this incredible substance!

As it turns out, everything from traditional Jewish foods to mayonnaise and cornbread taste better when cooked with schmaltz.

What Is Schmaltz?

Schmaltz is a common ingredient in Jewish and Eastern European cooking. It’s made by rendering poultry fat, usually chicken, although it’s made with goose fat in some areas. It’s inexpensive and tastes as rich as butter without containing any dairy. That’s important for anyone keeping to a kosher diet, as meat and dairy can’t be eaten together in a single meal.

Many of today’s chefs have discovered this flavorful cooking medium, and it’s recently become as popular as lard and duck fat.

Why Is It Useful?

Schmaltz’s main appeal is that it contains the same rich flavor of butter while being dairy-free, so eating it doesn’t compromise Jewish kosher dietary laws. Once you start cooking with schmaltz, you’ll understand why this stuff is called liquid gold: It tastes incredible. Matzo ball soup isn’t the same without it, but you can also use it for a variety of other cooking tasks.

How to Use Schmaltz in Cooking

You can use schmaltz like any other cooking oil. The only difference is it’s stored in the refrigerator, which makes it solid instead of liquid. So long as you plan ahead, that’s not a problem. It only takes about 30 seconds to melt schmaltz over high heat on the stovetop. When using schmaltz for baking, add it to a baking sheet while preheating the oven.

Here are some of our favorite recipes to showcase schmaltz:

How Is Schmaltz Made?

Traditionally, schmaltz is made by cooking chicken skin and fat, usually with onions. You can buy the skin and fat from the butcher, or save them over time when you buy whole chickens or skin-on chicken thighs. Pulling the skin and fat off of roasted chicken dishes also works, but you’ll have to save twice as much since the fat is already partially rendered.

Before we tell you the traditional way to make schmaltz, we’ll let you in on a little secret: An easier way to make schmaltz is to whip up a batch of chicken stock. After it’s finished cooking, strain the stock and put it in the fridge so the fat will solidify. Then, just scoop the fat off the top and store it in a mason jar in the refrigerator.

How to Make Schmaltz at Home

You can make schmaltz at home easily. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 cups finely chopped chicken skin and fat
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 yellow onion, diced, optional
  1. Place about two cups of finely chopped skin and fat in a saucepan with a quarter cup of water. Bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat before reducing the heat to low.
  2. Stir the mixture from time to time. After about 90 minutes, the skin should be nice and crispy. Add a diced onion (if using) and continue to cook the schmaltz until the onions are golden brown.
  3. Strain out the rendered fat through a piece of cheesecloth (saving those delicious little bits of crisped-up skin called gribenes to enjoy as a snack). Store the schmaltz in the refrigerator or freezer, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent it from taking on other flavors in the freezer.

What Can I Use Instead of Schmaltz?

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of making schmaltz, you can use any other type of cooking oil or fat as a substitute. Butter is a fantastic substitute when it comes to matching the flavor, but my grandmother often used margarine or vegetable shortening like Crisco because both options are dairy-free. If keeping kosher isn’t a concern, other types of animal fat could be used instead of schmaltz, like lard (pork fat), duck fat or tallow (beef fat).

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.