The Miracle of Schmaltz (and Other Hangover Cures)

Rachel Tepper Paley

Photo credit: Greg Rannells Photography/StockFood

Each night, the crammed-together tables at Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse in New York City are slowly taken over by platters piled high with fatty Eastern European fare. There are breaded and deep-fried veal cutlets, gargantuan potato pancakes nearing one-inch thick, and large metal mixing bowls brimming with chopped chicken liver, which a server theatrically drizzles with golden schmaltz, also known as rendered chicken fat, from a syrup bottle.

Then there are the tall bottles of Ketel One vodka encased in blocks of ice. It’s not unusual for a festive group of four to finish off an entire thing over the course of two to three hours—and wake up the next morning none the worse for wear.

But why? For the answer, look no further than a textbook.

"Food, especially if it contains fat, delays emptying of the stomach into the small intestine," reads the academic tome, "Nutrition.” “The delay also provides a longer opportunity for oxidizing stomach enzymes to work. And food dilutes the stomach contents, lowering the concentration of alcohol and its rate of absorption.” If you eat enough, that means no hangovers (or at least a less paralyzing one).

The key is to down that schmaltzy chopped liver before knocking back any vodka shots. Afterwards, it won’t do you much good—and could even make you feel worse.

But schmaltz isn’t your only preventative option. Any fatty food will do, which is a great excuse to start the evening with a greasy burger or a few cheesy slices of pizza. More healthful alternatives may include everything from an asparagus appetizer—research suggests that it could help accelerate the metabolism of alcohol—to simply drinking water throughout the night. You can help yourself as you sip, too, with Vitamin B pill supplements and sugary mixers like fruit juice and soda.

Ifyou’re worried about hangovers, however, it’s advisable to steer clear of brown liquors like bourbonbrandy, and whiskey altogether. They contain a higher number of congeners—impurities from fermentation—which are associated with more head-splitting hangovers. Bourbon, for instance, has thirty times the number of congeners of vodka.

That’s the price you pay for deliciousness, we suppose—unless you’ve got some schmaltz up your sleeve.