Love It. Fear It. Smear It.The Case for Rescuing Schmaltz From Culinary Oblivion By Lenore Skenazy
You walk into the restaurant, and there, at the center of each table, is a help-yourself container of cocaine. Well, Jewish cocaine.
Pure Gold: Schmaltz was once a treasured part of our cuisine. Then life became one big fitness craze.
“People get a little confused,” explained David Zimmerman, owner of the uber-Jewish eatery Sammy’s Roumanian Steak House, on New York City’s Lower East Side. That is, diners understand the bowl of pickles and the basket of rye bread. Homey. Nice. But they are confused by the fact that next to these wholesome items, there seems to be, in full public view, an entire pancake syrup jar full of yellow, pourable chicken fat — a food so fraught with anxiety, joy and just plain shock value, it should come with a tablet of Xanax. (And, of course, some stents.)
Instead, all it comes with is that confounding gift: freedom. Patrons are free to slather it on the rye or stir it into their mashed potatoes. Heck, they can mix it with their vodka — which some do.
“They think it’s orange juice,” Zimmerman said, chuckling. Generally those are the younger patrons, or the non-Jewish ones. They’re about to gulp down their screwdriver when they realize: “What the…? The two liquids aren’t mixing.” “Then they say, ‘This doesn’t look too good,’” said Zimmerman, who encourages them to drink it anyway, because why waste good schmaltz?
That would be a shande. A scandal, kids, a scandal. In the olden days — the days before people were expected to read labels, blanch kale and use dumbbells for exercise instead of as a label for their sons-in-law — schmaltz was golden. (Well, it still is. But “golden” in a more metaphoric sense.) “My mother used to make it,” recalled Marilyn Meltzer, a retired telephone company employee in Boston. “The house smelled wonderful when she made the gribenes” — little pieces of chicken skin and onions fried up in that savory fat. Meltzer’s mom, like most yidishe mames of an earlier era, rendered her own chicken fat and saved it, sometimes for months, in coffee cans. Then the family used it like butter, scooping it onto bread for sandwiches, or frying in it, or even baking with it. But because it wasn’t made with milk, you could eat it with a meat meal and still be kosher. “My mother used to bake pies, and her apple pies were, I swear to God, so good, my sister and I fought over them. So she used to make one for each of us,” Meltzer said.