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Gribenes

Updated February 23, 2016
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Mama Hinda rendered her own schmaltz (chicken fat) to use in cooking. The by-product, gribenes (skin cracklings), was the Pringles of her day, fought over and devoured by the children. An old Yiddish proverb goes “Meshugeneh genz, meshugeneh gribenes”–“Crazy geese, crazy cracklings” (or “Like parents, like children”). A while ago I removed from the freezer what I thought was a large bag of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. When it had defrosted, I discovered that they were chicken breasts all right, but not skinless. So I removed all the skin and fat, and when I was through, there was a huge mound of the stuff. Mama Hinda’s frying pan happened to be in the sink. I looked at that mound and I looked at that frying pan, and I was seized by an irresistible urge to render. I communed with Mama Hinda all afternoon as the smell of slow-cooked onions percolating in chicken fat perfumed my kitchen. There is nothing sacred about the proportions here. C’mon–who’s gonna weigh or measure fat? I freeze the fat and loose skin, and when I have a nice pile and the mood hits, I render away.

It is much easier to cut poultry skin with kitchen shears than with even the sharpest knife. Be sure the skin is finely cut. Larger pieces take too long to brown and the onions could burn.

Cooking Methodfrying

CostInexpensive

Easy

Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

Recipe Coursehors d'oeuvre, snack

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, low carb, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Taste and Texturecrunchy, salty

Ingredients

  • About 1½ pounds (3 cups) chicken fat and skin (trimmed of meat), cut into fine pieces
  • 1 medium-size onion, chopped
  • Kosher (coarse) salt

Instructions

Pour 2 tablespoons water in a large, heavy skillet, then add the chicken fat and skin. (The steam from the water as it evaporates will prevent the skin from burning when it comes in contact with the hot pan.) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring often to prevent sticking, until all the fat has rendered, about 20 minutes.

Add the onion and continue simmering until the skin and onion are brown and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes. As the onion and skin begin to brown, stir more often to prevent the skin pieces from sticking to the pan.

Remove the skillet from the heat and for safety’s sake, allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm in the skillet. (If you’re not going to listen to me, at least warm the jars before you pour the hot fat into them.)

Strain the schmaltz through a fine-mesh strainer into clean glass jars, and cover the jars tightly. Don’t be alarmed if there are tiny dark particles that sink to the bottom. The schmaltz will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks and in the freezer for months. Use the fat in place of oil for frying anything from onins to liver--and especially in place of oil for matzoh balls.

Drain the gribenes on paper towels and sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve the gribenes plain as a snack or schmeared on bread, or use it in chopped liver, matzoh balls, or mashed potatoes.

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