My Blog List

Monday, February 24, 2014

From Fowl To Flame

Or, How to make a field expedient candle from chicken scraps-n-stuff...

I eat a lot of chicken.  Lots.

Lately, I've been buying packs of thighs from the store to marinade, then roast or smoke.  To keep a check on my girlish figure, I take off all of the skin, and cut off the obvious chunks of fat.

Each time I do this, I've got a hell of a pile of stuff that hits the trash bin.  Seemed like a waste.  So, I decided to do some research on how to render fat.  I figure you can always use another skill, and with the price of oils in the store, I could save a couple of bucks in the bargain.

I had an ulterior motive, too.  I wanted to see if I could make a candle from the fat.  I've made emergency candles from blocks of paraffin and Altoids cans, so I figured using rendered fat would work as well.

After cleaning up my thighs, I was left with this mound of skin, meat and fat -

From just under 5 pounds of chicken, I had a hair under 1 pound of stuff to work with.  Yeah, 20% of what I was paying for was hitting the garbage.

Following a mish-mash of instructions I found online, I chopped the skin into smaller pieces - say around 2 inches square.  I put them into a pan, and added a half cup of water.  The heat was turned to medium, and away we go!

That's what it looked like after about 5 minutes or so.  The water supposedly keeps the skin and meat from burning.  It worked, and I never got any pops from the oil.

I let it go another 15 minutes or so, stirring it often.  You want to have no white skin when you're done.  This picture is a couple of minutes before they came off.  Notice how the skins have browned up, but there are still a couple of pale pieces in the mix.

A couple of minutes later, I broke out the fine mesh strainer, and ended up with this -

Yep, 225 ml of oil (that's 7.6 fluid ounces, or just under a cup, for you non-metrics out there).

Oh, and there was a bonus, as well -

Yeah, baby!  Cracklin's!  While still hot, I sprinkled them with some garlic salt.  Tasted just like garlic pork rinds.  Seriously good.  And surprisingly low-cal.

OK, back to task.  You need to make sure there aren't any bits of meat or skin that made it through the screen.  I added water to the oil to get the oil to float, and all of the heavier pieces to drop to the bottom.

I put this in the fridge to chill down for a few hours.  Once is set up, I poked a hole in the top of the solidified fat right near the spout of the measuring cup.  Poured off the water, and scooped the fat into a bowl -

At this point, this is called, schmaltz.  It's used in Jewish cooking as everything from cooking oil, to a spread on toast.  It only had a faint smell of chicken.  It is VERY soft, even when fully chilled.  Kind of like soft butter.  If you touch it, it starts to melt.

On to our candle.  I assembled my tools -

Those would be:  The fat, an empty soda can, a length of cooking twine, a bamboo skewer and poultry shears.

I placed the fat in a pan to re-liquefy, and set it on the stove on the very lowest heat.  While that was working, I needed to make a candle holder.  That would be done with the empty soda can.

In the videos I watched on lard candles, the fat liquefies quickly.  It doesn't have the structural integrity that a candle made of wax possesses.  I was going to use a half-pint mason jar, but decided I didn't want to have to clean it up if I had a failure.

Using the poultry shears, I cut the top off the can higher than the final height -

Not wanting to slice an artery on the rim, I cut down from the top - making a series of tabs -

No, I didn't measure them for exact separation distance, or depth of cut.  Each cut was about an inch deep.  I then folded over the tabs to give me a child-safe lip -

I then tied one end of the twine to the skewer, hung it in the can, then cut the other end so it just touched the bottom.  Filled it up with the now-liquefied fat, and put it into the fridge to set up.

Here's our bad-boy in action -

No in-your-face chicken smell while it burns.  I'm likin' it.

I'll be interested in seeing how the wick works out as it gets closer to the bottom.  As I noted before, this stuff is VERY soft, and I wonder if the wick will tip over.  I'll try and post an addendum at a later date.



OK, for those of you that are thinking, "That fat would be much better used in cooking," - well, you might be right.  Or not.  It might be dark sometime, and you'd be thinking, "Wow, I'm sure glad Chief Instructor showed me how to light up this room with chicken fat..."

Hey, it could happen.

I did some checking, and schmaltz has cooking properties very similar to extra virgin olive oil.

Smoke points (in degrees Fahrenheit)-

  • Schmaltz - 375
  • Butter - 300-325
  • Tallow (beef fat) - 400
  • Lard (pork fat) - 370
  • Veggie shortening (Crisco) - 360
  • Extra virgin olive oil - 375
  • Virgin olive oil - 420
  • Corn oil - 450

Go forth, and render!

UPDATE 2/26/14:  As a candle, this is a BIG fail.  After about two hours burning, the entire "candle" was liquefied and the wick slumped into the fat.  No bueno.

On the positive side, the fat is awesome for cooking.  I pan fried some pork chops, and did an Asian stir-fry that turned out great.  I just keep the bowl of schmaltz in the fridge, and take it out when cooking.  Very good stuff that is easy to make.

Also, I like the re-use of the cans.  I'd originally mentioned the paraffin candles I've made in the past.  This weekend, I bartered for about 20 pounds of paraffin, and I'm going to make some emergency candles in the soda can holders.

Bottom line:  Render the fat from stuff that was going to hit the garbage to save a couple of bucks, but eat the fat, don't try and make candles!

Share this post! Click the Twitter, Facebook or Google+ icon below, and let your friends know!
Copyright 2014 Bison Risk Management Associates. All rights reserved. Please note that in addition to owning Bison Risk Management, Chief Instructor is also a partner in a precious metals business. You are encouraged to repost this information so long as it is credited to Bison Risk Management Associates.

1 comment:

suek said...

If you expect to keep this for a lengthy period, it might be wise to store it in the 'frig, or preferably in the freezer. Otherwise it's going to get rancid. I've been doing a version of this for years - not making a source of light, but taking the skin off chickens - and the fat clumps around the tail - and rendering them to make crunchies and provide the fat for cooking gravies/sauces. I use very small jars to store the fat in the refrigerator so that I can use one up fairly quickly before it goes rancid. Rancid isn't bad in the sense of being biologically hazardous for your health, but it sure spoils the taste, and I suspect it would also be pretty obvious if you're burning it for light. I suppose that if you got down to the point of having to use it for a source of light, you might not care, but still.....!
I use very small jars, because the problem is that if you use a larger container, you are going to have to pour new on top of old. The new might be fine, but the getting older...!