Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Chicken Fat

Let's get something right out on the table...fat is amazing. I won't go into all the reasons we think this. Let me just mention that we all love it, which is why we feel deprived when we don't get it. We make excuses for why we can't have it.

The classic chef adage is "fat is flavor." Boy are they right. If you think eating out at a restaurant tastes better merely because the chef is more talented in his left pinky than you ever might be in a million years you are only half right. A big reason they are better is because they do things you would never think of doing. They use more heat, more salt, and more fat.

Fat is not all together bad for you. Yes, I know the 459 diet books you have on your shelf say that any kind of fat (and any flavor and joy in life) is hateful against your body, but they are wrong. How do I know this...one simple word...France. You're welcome. The French eat so much more fat than we do it is mind boggling. In fact there is an entire term for it, "The French Paradox." Not kidding.

Now to chickens in particular. Chickens are God's gift to simple eating. This is for many reasons, but the main one I would like to focus on is it's fat. The vast majority of the fat on a chicken resides in its skin. This insulates the lean interiors making the bird almost perfect as is. But fat in any form scares us to death. Accordingly, we in America have done our best to remove all skin from the parts of the chicken we eat. This is why the abominable practice of abusing a boneless, skinless chicken breast has become the pastime of seemingly every suburban middle class "food enthusiast." Don't get me wrong, on a busy week night this hunk of low fat, bone free, chunk of animal protein can serve as a beautiful and rapid vehicle for any number of flavorful preparations (most of which add a significant level of fat in other forms to the party). Just don't kid yourself that grilling this thing to death while basting it with "Italian dressing", or the like, is going to satisfy you. It won't.

Back to the skin.

The wonderful thing about the skin is that it can be heated and rendered leaving you with two products you never had before...schmaltz and chicken crackling. These two gifts must be on the top 100 list of pleasures in life. Here is the quick process of going from useless, lifeless, rubbery skin and fat to two delectable treats if you are breaking the whole chicken down into various pieces. Wait...you have never bought a whole chicken...you have never lived. And I'm not joking. Break down a bird. Get dirty. Use the bones for stock. See what it is like to dismember an animal and use it for food. I honestly see it as a spiritual experience. Something has given its life up for you to enjoy it, treat the thing with respect.

Step one: Remove fatty sections from the back of a whole bird (located near the big cavity) as well as from the chicken back. Really, you can use all the skin you have. The more the merrier. Then throw it all into a skillet (don't use non-stick...it sucks) and put it over medium heat. It will look like this:

Step two: Don't screw with it. Turn it every once in a while, but not too often. Lower the heat if it begins to smoke. You really can't mess this up. It will start to look like this, but leave it alone.

Step Three: Remove the skin and what you have left in the pan is liquid gold. People pay big money for good fat...you just got some for doing nothing. On top of that you have this:

That is free, fresh, low(er) fat crackling my friend. Little salt and pepper and you are good to go.

"Jeremy, what do I do with my new found free fat of awesomeness?!?"

Anything you want. Use it to fry eggs (chicken on chicken...mind bendingly good) or anything else you would use fat for. This is natural stuff, good stuff. Love it, appreciate it, and begin to embrace flavor.

Liquid gold

1 comment:

  1. this is timely - Steve is picking up six whole chickens from a KY Mennonite farm tomorrow afternoon! looks like we will have to do some experimenting...I 100% agree with you about the benefits of fat but I can't say I've ever applied that to chicken fat (I use it more to defend liberal use of butter and coconut oil).