I know this because of what is on my stove.
“Is that even a real thing?” Chris asked.
“Yes, it’s Yiddish for rendered chicken fat,” I said. “You can’t fry meat in butter or bacon fat if you keep kosher. So, poultry fat. It’s good stuff.”
There is a pan of it on my stove because Grandma and Grandpa are on their way over the river and through the woods to our house. We got a phone call late last night from Chris’s parents: We’ll be there tomorrow. They’re spending the holidays with us this year, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.
It’s going to be a lot of cooking.
I’ve already got two chickens in the oven, because leftover chicken is the Best Thing Ever when it comes to feeding hungry relatives, plus it makes the house smell good. This time around, my house smells even better because I pried the giant hunks of fat off of both chickens and am currently melting them over very low heat with garlic and onion and a couple of bay leaves and, for good measure, a handful of cranberries. Oh, and the livers from both chickens because my father-in-law loves chicken liver.
Years ago, my mother shared with me what she called “the world’s best recipe for chopped chicken liver,” given to her in dead secret by a friend whose cardiologist husband forbade her from ever making it for health reasons.
The recipe is this: render chicken fat, then saute a pint of livers in the rendered fat along with a chopped shallot. When the livers are cooked, chop them in the blender along with a sieved yolk from a hard-boiled egg and, for the unkosher, two tablespoons or more of heavy cream, and plenty of salt and pepper.
I don’t have enough liver to make a blender full, but I did toss the livers from the two chickens I am baking into the pot of rendered chicken fat. It’ll make enough for two or three Triscuits worth of chopped liver for my father-in-law. He’ll know I’m glad to see him, and then I’ll have a cup of liver-scented chicken fat in the fridge for when I cook Thanksgiving dinner.
Mind you, I don’t typically keep cups of melted chicken fat around my house. Among other things, it’s fantastically fattening and fantastically delicious, so, if you are me, you eat a lot of it (try it on toast instead of butter) and then you have to buy bigger jeans. I typically head this off by throwing away the chicken fat before it gets to my thighs. Not this time.
We’ve officially entered what Chris calls “the season of fat” and what I more elegantly, if less clearly, refer to as “The moveable feast of fat things.”
‘Tis the season of butter, of sauces and cookies, and too-rich cakes. No wonder Ebenezer Scrooge attributed the Ghost of Christmas Past to a bit of dinner — sometimes, I’m amazed that “eat until you hallucinate” isn’t in our cultural lexicon.
We don’t — or at least we ought not — eat like this during the rest of the year. It’s expensive, and it’s unhealthy, and it makes you, or at least me, feel terrible: bloated and gaseous. Ten and a half months out of the year, I eat whole grains and leafy greens and lean protein, and that’s what I feed my family, because I love them and I want them to be healthy.
But come the holidays, I’m frying up chicken livers and baking cookies.
Why do I do this? Because it’s traditional. But also because what we refer to as The Holiday Season is, literally, bookended with feasts. Not just the meals although it’s a big part of it. A feast, a festival, is a celebration — of food and friends, of family, and abundance, and above all, life, of the moment, the fleeting moment, right now, when we are together with the people we love.