Heritage: Lena’s Chicken Shkvarky (Crackling Spread)
I seriously could not think of a better debut recipe for my new blog series which I first talked a little bit about this in an Instagram post a few weeks ago. Heritage:Upgraded will feature Whole30/21DSD-compliant and Paleo recreations of the Russian, Ukrainian, Ashkenazi, and Jewish-American cuisine of my heritage and my childhood. Some of these will be dishes I grew up with, some just cultural classics, but this one, my Aunt Lena’s шкварки (shkvarky), this is like the holy grail. Plus it’s paleo, keto, and Whole30-compliant too.
Traditionally made with pork, Ukrainian Jews took to chicken for a more Kosher-friendly version of this scrumptious crackling “jam”. Chicken skin, chicken fat, and onions are all you need for this slow-cooked crispy madness.
It’s been on the menu at Portland-local Kachka a few times, but when I’m really missing my fam, I want it homemade. I’m still working on the paleo blinchiki to pair with this, but in the meantime, it’s pretty perfect on eggs, veggies, and anything else you want to schmear crispy chicken skin on.
I did not succeed in finding a butcher willing to sell me just skin and fat, so I instead purchased eight bone-in skin-on chicken thighs and used the meat for other dishes.
8 chicken thighs (skin and fat only)
1 large onion
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Note: Admittedly, chicken skin is a difficult medium to photograph, so I have not shown as many of the in-between steps for this recipe as I typically try to share. Just be patient and it will be worth your while.
Using a very sharp knife, remove skin and fat from your chicken thighs. Be sure your cuts are clean – you want virtually no meat here – cut away any meat that may have tried to come along for the ride.
Put skin and fat in a plastic bag or storage container, and freeze for 30-40 minutes. You don’t want anything to be frozen solid, just a little harder so it’s easier to cut.
With a very sharp knife, cut the skin and fat into thin strips and then cut those strips into pieces. According to my aunt, you want pieces around the size of a woman’s thumbnail. Too small and they will shrink away into nothing, too big and they won’t get crispy. In my first attempt, I made the pieces a little too big, and you could clearly identify those pieces in the pot as they were just getting rubbery instead of crunchy and delicious.
Pre-heat your pot on the lowest setting. Maintaining the very low heat, cook the skin and fat for about 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. You want it to get nice and crispy.
About 30 minutes into cooking your chicken, pre-heat the second pan (also on the lowest setting). Cut the onion so that the pieces are of similar size to the skin and fat.
Add about 1 tbsp of the rendered chicken fat from your pot to the pan. Add the onions. Cook on lowest heat until “dark golden” and crunchy.
When you are satisfied with the cook on both your chicken and the onions – we are looking for golden, crunchy, and all the fat rendered – gently mix the two together.
Remove to a heat-safe storage container. Do not drain the fat.
Refrigerate for up to 3 days or store in the freezer until needed. Due to the high content of chicken fat, it won’t take long at all to defrost from the freezer (and that’s the “classic” way to store it). Just pull it out a few minutes before you plan to indulge!