I do not know much about my maternal grandfather except for a few stories. I know that he passed away not long before my parents’ wedding, he was mistakenly captured as an Italian spy during the war, and his favorite snack was a piece of rye toast, a slice of raw onion, and a schmear of schmaltz. Schmaltz is in my history, it’s in my family’s traditions, and it’s in my blood (hopefully not literally, but you know what I mean). So when I picked up The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat, by Michael Ruhlman, I knew immediately that I would enjoy this short collection of recipes all featuring this most fowl of lipids.
The Book of Schmaltz is more than a cookbook; Ruhlman has set out, with this book, a series of applications as an argument for the use of a once very popular ingredient in Jewish cooking. As described by his neighbor and inspiration to the book, Lois Waxman, schmaltz is looked at as a “heart attack food,” and has been phased out in many of the traditional Jewish and Eastern European dishes which once featured it. He notes in his introduction that schmaltz is so unused today that his dictionary does not even define the word as a food product, but instead as something which is overly sentimental. So why would we ever want to bring back the use of such a product?
Plenty of formerly maligned foods have been catapulted into the culinary spotlight. Just look at the makeover Brussels sprouts have received in recent years, or the heftier price tag that anything fried in duck fat can demand. But schmaltz just can’t seem to get a break. James Beard Award-winning food writer and cookbook author Michael Ruhlman latest volume, “The Book of Schmaltz: A Love Song to a Forgotten Fat” is trying to change that.
“It’s this wonderful cooking fat that needs to be better used,” said Ruhlman in a phone interview. “I mean, if you have had potatoes fried in schmaltz — they rock!” And so he turned to his neighbor Lois — an Ashkenazi Jewish woman in her 70s — to teach him the magic of rendered chicken fat.
The result is a self-published iPad app (hardcover and ebook formats will be published by Little Brown in the fall, 2013) with one basic schmaltz recipe with step-by-step photos (both Lois and Ruhlman insist on the addition of onion), plus nine traditional uses and 15 contemporary recipes.