Friday, August 25, 2006

Use the Schmaltz

Last post we made broth, and oh-by-the-way schmaltz. Now I know at least one commenter is repeating the palpitations brought on by my use of bacon grease, so let me pause and say it again:

It's not what you eat, it's how much of what you eat that matters.

Schmaltz, like bacon grease, is a case in point.

I have two favorite things to do with schmaltz. Hopefully mentioning them will give you ideas - ideas not only for the schmaltz but for other rendered fats as well.

First and without any doubt my favorite: roux. Now I'm the longwinded type, so I'm going to assume you're not certain what roux is, how it's use, or even why.

Roux is a thickening ingredient. It's a critical component in several dishes, not least of which are gumbos.

Starches are a common thickener. Cornstarch, arrowroot, and flour are frequent choices. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but we're going to focus on flour. Flour thickens wonderfully, but raw it's got a nasty taste. However, it browns and flavors divinely. A roux is equal parts flour and fat cooked to brown the flour. Now the darker the roux the richer the flavor. On the other hand the darker the roux the worse the thickening. Classically a roux is made from butter, which as it happens brings surprisingly little flavor to the roux. Enter schmaltz.

Ah, yes, you can see where this is going. One of those cubes, melted, and a tablespoon of flour, and you're off and running for your roux. Except it's got a powerful chicken flavor even when the roux's light in color. Mix the roux, cook it for a couple of minutes, and thicken a cup or two of broth by pouring it into the mix. You can also pour in milk - that's 'cream' gravy. If you're serving it beside a chicken dish your flavors are quite strong - heh, and I tend to get lots of raves about this gravy.

Now as it happens there's another dish we're fond of in our house. It's one that I got told after I'd been doing it a while is hard to do - bull, frankly. I speak of risotto. Let's make a batch -- a BASIC batch.

You need:
1 tablespoon of schmaltz, and another of olive oil or butter (your preference).
1 cup of rice.
4 cups of chicken broth - which probably won't all get used.
1/2 cup parmesan cheese.
A saucepan for the broth, a larger pot for the main cooking.
I also use a wooden spoon and a half-cup ladle.

Get the broth hot - I bring it to a simmer - then turn the heat down to keep it warm but not hot enough to evaporate.

Warm the large pan over medium hot heat and add the fats. When they're melted, add the rice and stir till all the grains are coated. Lightly brown a layer of rice, and turn the heat down to medium low. Add two ladle-fulls of broth to the rice (warning - steam blast), and stir thoroughly.

Now the pros will tell you to watch and stir constantly. Bah. here we go.

Shake the pan enough to cause the grains to self-stir for about 20-30 seconds. Use your spoon to push any grains that have climbed the side back into the broth. step back and do other stuff, checking the rice every couple of minutes or so. When you can't see any liquid - it's been absorbed/evaporated enough it's below the level of the rice - add another ladle, stir thoroughly, shake, push down. Continue till done.

Done? Here's the measure -- done depends on YOUR taste. I happen to like my rice soft. Some people consider it overcooked and go for al dente (so to speak). It's your rice, cook it to your taste. When it starts looking right, spoon out a small bite and try it. Oh -- you might not use all the broth. Or you might use it all. Even once you have 'your taste' the amount will vary depending on things like humidity and altitude and, well, all that sort of thing.

Anyway, pull the risotto off the stove and stir in the cheese. And serve.

OK, I said basic. Saute some onions just before you brown the rice. Add some shredded chicken with or instead of the cheese. Throw in some vegetables. One key thing, however: the schmaltz is going to make this have a strong chicken undertone. If you want to add something that doesn't sit will with chicken - say, crab meat - then don't use schmaltz. And the same goes for the broth - use an appropriate liquid. For what it's worth I have made a broth risotto with water. The lack of flavor was a bad thing though I can think of some additives that would have worked well, but its consistency was exactly what I'd intended.

Go eat.

2 Comments:

Blogger Molly Brown said...

Something tells me you must have a dog at your feet wity all this cooking going on!!?!?!?

8/25/2006 9:37 PM  
Blogger Kirk said...

Grin - dogs and cats. Though they begin - after a decade in one case - to understand my rule:

Pets get fed AFTER I'm done. Not while cooking, not while eating.

Still doesn't stop the moving furry carpet around my feet, but at least they're not shoving...

8/25/2006 9:41 PM  

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