created at: 2013-01-23

Chicken is a polarizing protein. Some people love its flavor and convenience. Others only eat it because it’s healthier and less expensive than other meats. I fall squarely into the former category.

I’ve been a huge fan of chicken for as long as I can remember. It probably has something to do with the fact that I grew up on a rotating menu of chicken dishes. But I think something else has contributed to its steadfast place in my cooking repertoire: schmaltz.

I’m a staunch schmaltz advocate. Every time I render a skin-on chicken breast or thigh, I save the fat and make it into ice cubes. Well, fat cubes, technically. Seriously—just pour it from the pan into a bowl and allow it to cool off. Then spoon it into a clean ice cube tray and stick it in the freezer. You now have ready-to-use schmaltz cubes whenever you need them. Just one disclaimer: Make sure to communicate with your housemates if you plan to make schmaltz cubes. Otherwise, you may have to deal with a cranky roommate who has mistakenly dropped a frozen cube of chicken fat into her glass of water or white wine.

As you can see from the photo above, schmaltz is not the most photogenic ingredient. But what it lacks in looks it makes up for in versatility. Many of us already know to incorporate it into our matzah balls and chopped liver, and use it to make gribenes (which I’m planning on having some fun with in a future post). But the power of schmaltz extends far beyond that. Here are five unusual uses that you may not have thought of:

1. Use It in a Vinaigrette

Schmaltz can be used instead of oil in most savory recipes, including rice and couscous. (Making the swap in baked goods is a little more complicated.) With that in mind, consider drizzling it into a salad dressing to give a boring green salad a big boost of flavor.

2. Use It for Corn on the Cob

This one was inspired by one of Boston’s best food trucks, Mei Mei Street Kitchen. In the summer, they blowtorch an ear of sweet corn, then brush it with smoked chicken fat. This is easy enough to do at home—minus the blowtorching step.

3. Use It for Grilled Cheese

This obviously won’t work in a kosher kitchen, but if that’s not a concern for you, try swapping the butter for chicken fat the next time you make grilled cheese or French toast. It lends a subtle yet pronounced savory taste.

4. Use It as Frying Oil

Have you ever had vegetables or potatoes fried in chicken fat? Or a breakfast sandwich with a chicken fat-fried egg? Restaurant chefs use schmaltz all the time, but it’s easy enough to do at home. Start saving those schmaltz cubes.

5. Use It as a Spread

As a kid, I used to watch in a combination of wonderment and slight disgust as my grandparents spread chicken fat on pieces of rye bread. It turns out they were on to something.