Sometimes called “schmaltz” chicken fat can impart a remarkable taste and richness to dishes. Rendering down animal fat may sound unappealing, or altogether foreign, but non-dairy animal fats have been used throughout history (in the United States rendered bacon fat would be one of the most familiar forms of re-used animal fats). Animal fats have a richer taste than their dairy/vegetarian-fat counterparts and have made a comeback in the culinary world in the form of pork lard, duck fat, and beef tallow.
Chicken fat is one of the best ways for a beginner to start experimenting with animal fats to understand how to extract them, preserve them, and reuse them. Bon Apetit, and Get Cheffy!
FOR THE CHICKEN FAT:
- 2-3 Pounds skin on chicken thighs (bone in or bone out)
- Begin by putting your chicken thighs skin sign down in a cold nonstick pan. Don’t trim any skin or fat from your thighs, but try to position the thighs so that there’s minimal overlapping, and each bit of skin is touching the bottom of the pan. Once you’re pleased with the arrangement place your cold pan over a burner and turn the burner to high heat. After about 2-3 minutes, you should hear the chicken sizzling. Once you hear this, turn your heat down to low/medium-low, and allow to cook, undisturbed, for 20 minutes. More important than the temperature setting, you want to always hear a low sizzling sound coming from the chicken thighs; think of this like frying bacon…..you need the temperature high enough that you’re still cooking, but low enough that you don’t scorch the rendering fat. You should never detect a “burning” smell. After 20 minutes, use a pair of tongs and check the skin side of the chicken. It should be taking on a beautiful golden color and should have shrunk considerably. Keeping your heat low/medium-low, continue to cook, skin side down, repositioning the chicken thighs as necessary, for another ~15-20 minutes (~35-40 minutes total). After ~35-40 minutes cooking on the skin side, flip the chicken thighs over and allow to cook on their other side for another 7-9 minutes. Remove the chicken thighs to a plate and save for later use. With the fat still in your pan, set your pan to the side to cool for 15 minutes. Once your chicken fat has cooled for ~15 minutes, you can store it in mason jars, or other non-reactive containers (we pour our chicken fat into ice cube trays and freeze it for later use). Storing chicken fat in the freezer allows it to last longer (animal fats will go rancid quicker than vegetarian/dairy based fats).
GET CHEFFY TIP!– Now that you’ve got your chicken fat, how do you use it?!? Use rendered chicken fat to sauté potatoes (in a potato gratin, or for frying potato cakes/hash browns), use in place of butter in cornbread and other savory baked good, or as a replacement for mayonnaise in dips and spreads. Always be aware that, if you have vegetarian/vegan friends, or anyone who doesn’t want to eat animal products, they should be advised to stay away.