Gribenes: The Rendered Chicken Bits That Taste Like Crispy Pork Rinds

If American food culture is the sum of its parts, a confluence of traditions from across the globe, then Jewish cuisine would easily be considered one of the largest factors in that culinary equation. Some of this country's most treasured foods (think hot dogs, bagels, matzo ball soup), have their roots in the foodways of Jews who migrated to America from Eastern Europe.

The vast majority of American Jewry is descended from Ashkenazi Jews who came from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. They brought with them a food culture that has since given us iconic items like pastrami sandwiches, challah, and even cheesecake. Jewish delicatessens like Katz's in New York City and Langer's in Los Angeles loom large in popular culture, and perhaps no other culture is as responsible for introducing the idea of food as medicine. Jewish penicillin, anyone?

There's one dish that, while not as popular as some other Jewish foods, is a beloved treat with a long history. Reminiscent of pork rinds, this is a snack that has been fueling Jewish cooks for generations and is as deserving of a place on your table as Sunday brisket.

How gribenes came to be

Gribenes (pronounced grih-ben-ess) are the crispy bits of chicken skin and onions leftover from the process of making schmaltz, the clarified chicken fat that is a staple in Jewish cooking. Since pork fat is not considered kosher, and butter (a dairy) cannot be used in combination with a slew of other foods according to Jewish diet law, enterprising cooks learned that they could cook down poultry skins to get a usable cooking fat.

In the process of making the schmaltz, onion was often added to help flavor the fat. Once that clarified schmaltz is strained off, the lucky cook was left with a combination of crispy onion and chicken skin. They could be enjoyed on bread or crackers, or just eaten straight from the pan.

The process for making gribenes is remarkably similar to making pork rinds, with the resulting product tasting quite like its porcine cousin. Start by repurposing the fat when you make schmaltz – what's left when you strain off the fat is the gribenes. They can be mixed back into a bit of the cooled schmaltz to make a spread, or just served in a bowl for a finger-licking good kitchen snack.

Gribenes are just one more delicious contribution to American foodways that Jewish cooks have made, and the next time you find yourself taking apart a chicken for dinner, save those skins to make yourself a tasty treat with a long history.