Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family

December 10, 2014
Irene Saiger


Schmaltz and Gribenes

IMG_8088Last week Norm lost his Dad, I lost my father-in-law, and my children lost their last surviving grandparent.  We were in Toronto for the funeral but after the first day of Shiva, we returned to Los Angeles for Norm to complete the week here.  We arrived to our home to find that in our absence the mirrors had been covered, the chairs for services had been set up, the furniture had been moved out of the way, the paper goods for meals had been purchased,  and there on the patio table, a pot of split pea soup was waiting for us. The meals were all planned, and just seven hours after our arrival, it began.

Shiva was in motion and while the davening was taking place in the living room and Norm was being comforted by his friends, there was a different kind of comforting in the kitchen.  Bamitbach, women were milling around, telling each other what and how to set things up, more cookies, fewer bagels, fresh coffee.  The comfort that comes from being together, working as a unit, is also the comfort that comes from doing what we do best, preparing food for people we care about.

There was a lull later in the day and my daughter sent me an article from the New York Times about the renewed popularity of schmaltz.  My mother used to make schmaltz and although I don’t remember what she used it for, I do remember the delicious by-product, gribenes, the delicious salty cracklings of fried chicken skin.  After I read the article out loud,  we talked about trying to make schmaltz and Norm said we should make it right then.  I called my friend and asked her to buy a chicken and bring it over.  Within minutes, Shira, Denise, Anna and myself, not unlike hens in a henhouse, were skinning a chicken, cutting off every piece of precious fat, chopping onions and making schmaltz.  We ate the gribenes right away but the 2 tablespoons of schmaltz are sitting in the fridge until inspiration hits us.

This morning at 6:00 a.m. Norm and I were in the living room.  I asked how he was doing and he said, “Shiva, that’s what it’s about, having  Shira here and preparing schmaltz and gribenes during her Zaidie’s Shiva is something that she will never forget.”  I am sure that Norm’s dad, Pinnie Saiger, would have felt the same way.


Schmaltz and Gribenes

1 chicken, skinned and all fat removed.   (Or collect fat each time you make chicken, freeze, and make schmaltz once you have a larger amount)

1/2 onion, chopped

dash of salt

Dice pieces of fat and skin and place in frying pan over low heat.  Cook till fat is rendered (melted) and skin begins to turn golden brown.  Add diced onion and continue to cook until gribenes are crispy and dark brown.  Strain through sieve and store schmaltz in fridge till ready to use.  Drain gribenes on paper towel and allow to stand for several minutes to become even more crisp.  Sprinkle with salt and eat!   Note:  The article said that in Eastern Europe latkes were fried in schmaltz,  so you might want to think about that for Chanukah!




18 thoughts on “Schmaltz and Gribenes

  1. I often wonder why is that same recipes taste differently. Watching the picture that comes with the schmaltz blog, I realize that the battle hardened frying pan has to be part of the magic. Loved it. Both my grandmothers and my mom used the schmaltz for everything. A fresh baked tortilla with a shmeer of schmaltz was the best of snacks.

    • I agree. That’s my mom’s frying pan and I love using it. It brings back lots of memories and tears too. I have to try that, it sounds so delicious!

      I also want you to know that Norm mentioned that you stood next to him during shiva, whenever he said kaddish, and it meant the world to him!!

  2. Hi, Irene.

    Brings back memories of when we were young and living in the Bronx. Mommy used to make schmaltz to flavor some dishes. I do not remember what they were. At some point, she no longer made it because I think she realized it was not very healthy. The picture in the blog is great and everyone looks so wonderful. Sorry we could not be with you and Norman. See you soon.

    Love, your shvester

  3. You put it in the mashed potatoes? Awesome! When I first saw the piece in the NY Times, I thought of you right away.
    I always enjoy reading your posts, Irene.


  4. HI Irene Our heartfelt condolences to Norm on losing his father. it is hard to go through shiva, and you are all so blessed to be a part of such a caring community.

    I was happy to see that you have made Schmaltz. I have been making my own for years.. I do it a little differently. I take the fat that I collect from chicken that I cook, then with a diced oniion in the pan simmer it about 30 min covered. I strain the melted simmered fat and onions, and the fat will freeze beautifully. I then take the gibbenes and saute them with a little kosher salt and pepper. Sinfully delicious!

    I made the gedempte fleish for Thanksgiving, but I changed the recipe and all reported that it was delicious.Let me know if you are interested in it and I will happily share.

    Again our love to Norm. So sorry to hear about this sad news. All the best Jessica

    • Hi Jessica,

      Thank you so much, yes we feel very, very lucky, especially with all of our family so far away. I am shocked that you make schmaltz, I think of you as one of the most health conscious people I know!! It is sinfully delicious. I have to try that method too.

      Of course I am interested. A story that goes along with it is always appreciated as well!!

      Thanks again, I will read this to Norm.


  5. Fresh rye bread spread with chicken fat

  6. Great article!!!!

  7. That’s exactly how my mom made schmaltz. She used it for scrambled eggs, vegetables, and more often — smeared on a piece of black bread the way her father used to. If you’re in the mood to make gribenes and you don’t have enough skin — The Rabbi’s Daughter sells frozen packages of chicken skin. (Leave it to me find a less labor intensive way to do something!)
    I only make it once a year — when I make my chicken soup for Pesach. And then I’m the only one who eats it because everyone else in my family is too damn health conscious! And I make it because my mom always made it then — and served it as an appetizer before the seder!

    • Hi Elin,

      I think eggs sound great like that! I wanted to make that for Norm this morning but he passed. My Mom ate it on bread too but we are going to put it in our mashed potatoes and serve it with your coq au vin tonight! Can’t wait.

      Invite us, if we are ever in town, cause we will definitely eat it!

  8. Hi Irene and Norm, so sorry for your loss. It was actually comforting to me to spend time with you all.

    My mom used to make shmaltz, she rubbed in turkey and chicken before cooking, she sauteed all her onions for all her dishes that way. Especially for gefilte fish, but for many other One year, at thanksgiving, i realized that the stuffing didn’t taste as good as it usually did. And ever after, it just lacked something but i didn’t know what, After years, I said to my mo, that a bunch of years ago, her stuffing had lost some part of it’s amazing taste. I asked her what she does differently now? She said it was because she had stopped using shmaltz.

    Maybe it is time to reinstate the tradition!! Love to all the Saigers, Barbie

  9. I make schmaltz twice a year before the holidays. I save the fat from the chicken in a freezer bag so that by the time I make it I have about a pound of fat. I keep a jar in the fridge all the time. I use it in mashed potatoes. There is nothing better. I also use it to make knishes and kugels.

    • Dear Shayna,

      Where did you learn to make it? I would love to know. My sister just said the same thing, that my Mom kept a jar in the fridge and would shmear it on rye bread or put some in her chopped liver!

      Thank you for commenting!!


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