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 the stories go. You might find it in an old delicatessen, or place that sells things like gribenes, and gefilte fish–old school Jewish style, specifically the eastern European style or Ashkenazi, as opposed to Sephardic, which tends toward Arabic flavors. Basically it’s grated radishes mixed with poultry fat, garlic and salt. Early versions were likely fermented, very stinky, and delicious. Mine is all of those things.
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 (served warm). 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 as a stinky condiment (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
Fermented Radish Spread (Shmaltz)
- Winter radishes peeled and grated to yield 1.5 lbs, or roughly 4 cups of shaved radishes
- 2.5 Tablespoons 34 grams kosher salt
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic or ramp bulbs
- 2 oz chopped yellow sweet onion 1/4 cup
- ¾ cup rendered poultry lard or a light flavored oil like sunflower especially Smudes)
- Combine everything but the poultry lard and mix well, then vacuum seal, label, date, and allow to ferment for 2 weeks. After two weeks, squeeze the radish mixture dry, then put in the bowl of a food processor and blend, drizzling in the shmaltz or oil until takes on a spreadable texture. Transfer to a container and refrigerate.
Horseradish Radish Rillettes
Substitute 4-8 oz of fresh grated horseradish to the radishes. Add some extra oil when processing to help get a spread-able texture.