I’m not Jewish, but they’re masters of doing interesting things with poultry lard, and I love duck fat.
This is one of those under the radar-cultural specialties people get flushes of memories from, or so I hear. The first time I read about this was in the book 1000 foods to eat before you die-a treasure trove of regional and specialty foods from around the world. Somewhere inside was a funky sounding recipe using grated black radishes mixed with garlic and chicken shmaltz, the author claimed it was not “for the faint of heart”.
I live for all manner of stinky foods, so I made a couple versions to see if it would be too stinky to serve customers. If you haven’t experienced the aroma of a pickled or marinated radish that has sat for a few days before, prepare yourself, and open up a window. The aroma is one of the strongest in the vegetal world I know of, but the flavor is mild.
After marinating in the fat for a while the radishes soften and become almost like a spread, soaking up the aroma of the shmaltz which could easily be infused with different things (hard herbs like rosemary or sage, or a blend).
I liked it so much we started playing around with different variations and putting it on our amuse-bouche at the restaurant. We made it out of carrots with ginger and bacon fat, watermelon radishes with duck fat, breakfast radishes with soft butter, purple radishes with smoked lamb fat and garlic. We made so much of the stuff we just started to call it “shmaltz”.
Experimenting with different ingredients taught me a couple things:
- The radish preserves must be eaten at room temperature, otherwise they will be grainy with fat. Leave them out for a while before eating like you would cheese, if they’re not soft enough after 30 minutes, give them a stir and work them around a bit.
- Don’t skimp on squeezing out the water after salting the radishes, you don’t want extra moisture in there.
- This is best with spicy winter radishes like black radish and watermelon radish, carrots and other root vegetables were not nearly as good, and didn’t seem to soften to a silky smoothness like radishes did.
- I recommend some sort of onion-y character like garlic, onion, or in the case of this recipe, ramps for this. Using ginger as a substitute was not nearly as good.
- Be careful with the fat you use. Animal fat tastes the best, softened butter would be a close second. You could try using different flavored oils, but I prefer the lard. As for the type of lard, poultry lard is the way to go. Other animal fats like pork, beef, and lamb that I render my self seemed too stiff for some reason, even at room temperature.
If you’re wondering what you do with stuff like this, here’s a few great ways to enjoy it:
- Spread on toast or a sandwich (personal favorite)
- On crackers
- Straight out the jar with a fork
- As a component of a cheese or cured meat plate
- Warm up the preserves and put them on top of a piece of fish or chicken
Winter Radish-Ramp Preserves / Retach mit Shmaltz
Yield: Makes about 1 cup, enough for a couple sandwiches or appetizers. If you like the recipe it can easily be scaled for larger batches
Some recipes call for white onion, some call for garlic, so of course, I had to make the preserves with ramps since they’re almost in between the two. The ramp preserves are great, and delightfully stinky. If you like sauerkraut, washed rind cheese, cured fish or salami and pickles, this recipe is for you.
Other key points to remember are to salt the radish, squeeze out the water, and use soft poultry lard or even butter. Making sure to squeeze the water out of the radishes helps soften them and prevents a watery preserve, which would have an inferior shelf life and be, unappealing.
As always, you can play around with the proportions as you like, but the ratios below will give you a great start.
- 1 large winter radish, the size of a man’s fist, roughly 8 ounces
- 1/4 cup melted duck fat or poultry shmaltz, soft butter could be used for a vegetarian version
- 1.5 ounces finely minced ramp bulbs, roughly 2-3 tablespoons
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Peel the radish and grate it, add the ramps, season with the salt and work it in gently with your hands. Allow the mixture to macerate for 15 minutes.
- Squeeze as much water as possible from the radishes, then combine with the duck fat and pack into a container, like a small crock or half pint canning jars. The preserves will keep for weeks in the fridge, and are better after sitting for a day or two.