Cooking with Schmaltz
Friday, October 24, 2014 at 9:04PM

Many people think of schmaltz as the Jewish version of bacon fat. But in many ways, it reminds me much more of butter. Judiciously used, bacon fat can add richness to sauteed dishes (like these brussel sprouts). But in my view, it is too heavy to cook or bake with. Schmaltz, on the other hand, is much lighter and has a more subtle taste -- which makes it an ideal fat to use in both traditional and contemporary dishes. Here are a few examples:

Matzo Ball Soup 

Despite the fact that I have lived in NYC for over 25 years, I have never had (nor made) a matzo ball. But after making schmaltz, I was determined to change that. 

For the uninitiated, matzo balls are dumplings which are traditionally served in chicken soup. As the name implies, they are made with matzo meal (as opposed to flour) which makes them an ideal choice for Passover -- when the eating of chametz is strictly forbidden under Jewish law.

Matzo balls typically fall into 2 categories: "floaters" or "sinkers". Floaters are matzo balls which are typically made with some kind of chemical leavening, to produce a light dumpling. Sinkers typically are made without levening and tend to be more dense.  This recipe recipe definitely falls into the former camp.

It is astounishing how much the dumplings expand when cooked. The matzo balls above started out the size of golf balls, and expanded as they were simmered in stock.  After the dumplings are cooked, they can be used immediately or stored for later use. (Just cool them and individually wrap each one in a piece of plastic wrap.) I have also read that they freeze well, but I can't vouch for it! 

Potato Pancakes {Latkes}

Growing up with a Polish grandmother, I am no stranger to delicious potato pancakes. But I have to confess, potato pancakes cooked in schmaltz are in a league of their own. 

I am not sure why, but potatoes cooked in poultry fat crisp up beautifully. They also do not have the unpleasant heavy, after-taste that foods fried in shortening often have.

This recipe differs from my grandmothers, in so far as it uses matzo meal and an egg to bind the pancake batter. Matzo meal? Yes, Matzo meal. Although I was initially skeptical, the batter does not get pasty with the matzo (which can sometimes happen with flour) and it makes the pancakes exceptionally crispy.  And in case you are wondering, the taste of the matzo is indiscernible.

Parisienne Gnocchi with Spinach, Onion and Poached Eggs

Dear readers, you have just stumbled upon the perfect brunch dish.

This recipe is riff on Thomas Keller's herbed gnocchi, which is served at Bouchon Bakery. Not to be confused with Italian gnocchi (which have a potato base), these gnocchi are made from pâte à choux -- the same dough used to make gourgeres, cream puffs and eclairs!

As advertised, the gnocchi are made with schmaltz . But by all means, feel free to substitute butter. Either way, the gnocchi will be amazing.

This recipe makes a lot of gnocchi, which can be made ahead and frozen. They also stay well in the refrigerator for a few days; just be sure to put some schmaltz, butter or oil on them, so that they don't stick together. 

Article originally appeared on AJ in the Kitchen (
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