I hate to throw away fat as I’m prepping chicken. The skin, the tail, the little bits by the rear opening to the body cavity. Whenever I prep a large amount of chicken, I squirrel away the fat trimming in small sandwich bags, freezing them for batches of schmaltz (the Yiddish term for rendered chicken fat) later on. My problem is that I either (1) forget to render the schmaltz or (2) cannot find the rendered fat when I want it for cooking. And that’s usually right as I’m heating up the wok.
This evening, I deboned several chicken leg quarters for a stir-fry. I took the skin off and trimmed the fat. The flaccid spare parts sat in a heap on my cutting board. I was contemplating whether or not it was enough to save. And, just as I was about to scoop up that skin and fat to discard it, I remembered some great instructions from a 1968 Chinese cookbook that I’d recently read.
The cookbook was by Jim Lee, a graphics designer turned school teacher in Manhattan. He was a cranky but very thoughtful and practical writer. One of the things Lee mentioned in a recipe was to render chicken fat on the spot for stir-frying.
Now let me pause here to let you know that stir-frying with rendered chicken fat is fantastic. My mother said that in Vietnam, fat chickens were precious. Growing up, her family save every bit of fat from their chickens and rendered it for cooking. “We keep the fat in a little can,” she wistfully told me. Just like bacon grease, no?
A few years ago, Chinese food expert and restaurateur Bruce Cost revealed that chicken fat was used at his Big Bowl restaurants in Chicago. They save the fat from stock making, and it lends wonderful flavor to food.
Pork fat is nice, but chicken fat has an incomparable round richness. Duck fat is equally lovely and I saved the fat from steaming the Sichuan deep-fried ducks.
How to render chicken fat on the spot
Back to my chicken fat tonight. I heated up my skillet to medium and put the fat in there. I went about preparing the remaining parts of the dinner ingredients while the chicken fat sputtered and hissed. Once in a while I stirred and poked at the fat to keep it moving.
When there seemed to be enough for dinner (about 2 tablespoons), I turned off the skillet and let the sizzling noises subside. Then I removed and discarded the whole pieces, saving a few cracklings to superfluously add to the food.
The fat was already in the skillet and ready to be reheated for stir-frying the spinach and garlic. The result was fantastic. I felt no guilt for eating chicken fat because it was an ingredient that I put to use instead of discarding. The calories are about the same as for other fats, and since chicken fat is natural stuff, I can digest it a lot easier.
Next time you trim chicken, don’t throw away that fat! Render it on the spot.
Do you cook with chicken fat? What do you do with it?