What it means
As every cook knows, fat is flavor. But what happens when religious codes prohibit using pork fat and mixing dairy fats with meat? Schmaltz.
Rendered chicken or goose fat, typically seasoned with onion, has long served as the dominant frying medium in Jewish cuisine. "The taste and smell of authentic Ashkenazic food is schmaltz," Gil Marks writes in "The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food." But schmaltz's services aren't confined to the frying pan: It makes matzo balls rich and chopped liver creamy. In Eastern Europe, schmaltz spread on bread was a cherished snack.
Until recently, schmaltz was considered a bygone ingredient, trotted out only for holiday meals. The ingredient was a victim of the national anti-fat frenzy and an association with sentimentality (Merriam-Webster defines schmaltz as music or art "that is very sad or romantic in usually a foolish or exaggerated way.")
But it's reputation was polished by Michael Ruhlman, an author and a gentile, who published "The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat." Inspired by his 78-year-old neighbor, Ruhlman urged home cooks and professional chefs alike to look beyond butter, lard and duck fat.
Where wesaw it
The Ocean Room Restaurant at The Sanctuary (Pan-roasted chicken, carrots cooked in schmaltz, date jus, $31)
Where else you can try it
Charleston Bakery & Delicatessen in Summerville makes its matzo balls with schmaltz, and Hello Deli puts schmaltz in its chopped chicken liver.
Where to buy it
Schmaltz is frequently found in grocery stores with extensive kosher sections, although the Publix on San Rittenberg Boulevard, listed on Brith Sholom Beth Israel's website as one of the city's best sources of kosher items, doesn't carry it. Fortunately, making schmaltz is relatively easy: just add skin and fat to a saucepan, heat and strain.