I am not a patient cook. I use lettuces without washing them because it takes too long, peek into the oven more times than I should when I’m roasting a chicken, and slice into cakes before they’re properly cooled, even when I know better.
But if there is something I am going to take my sweet time with, it’s rendering chicken fat, because that stuff is worth its weight in gold.
And yes, there are lots of fats for cooking — with so many to choose from, who can play favorites? Well, I can play favorites, and chicken fat is my favorite.
It’s not just the deeply savory flavor you get from rendered chicken fat, although that is reason enough to make the effort. The idea that you can extract your own cooking fat from an ingredient as simple as a chicken thigh is something I take great pleasure in; to me, it’s one of the finest D.I.Y. moments in cooking. As a bonus, you end up with excellent, crispy-skinned chicken — a true luxury.
Thighs will consistently yield the greatest amount of fat, but bone-in, skin-on breasts will also give you plenty to work with. Maybe it’s counterintuitive, but the chicken must not be seared hot and fast, as you would cook a steak or skin-on fish fillet. Rendering fat takes time, and the fat is what we want, so time we must give it. This means medium heat for a longer period, but your patience will be rewarded with an unscorched pool of impossibly flavorful fat at the bottom of your skillet that nothing from a bottle can compete with.
All this extra time on the stove also suggests that you will not have to finish your chicken in the oven — that it can and should be cooked entirely on the stovetop.
And did I mention there is crispy skin? There is crispy skin.
While I would drink this fat directly from a spoon, that’s not why we are here. We are here to cook with this golden-brown gift, which imparts its chicken-y flavor to any ingredient we choose to grace its presence with. Here, that means tangy slices of lemon, which sizzle and caramelize in the fat, followed by a simple can of white beans to soak it all up.
While this dish is an excellent place to start, it is infinitely riffable and adaptable, depending on the season and availability of pantry ingredients.
Don’t have white beans? Use chickpeas. Like it spicy? Add a tablespoon of harissa or a few pinches of chile flakes. Going paleo? Leave out the beans, double down on the kale and add a few crushed olives for brininess. With chicken fat to cook in, you can go anywhere.
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