Getting to Know: Useful Scraps
The best way to eliminate food waste in your kitchen is to take a second look at what you might be discarding. Reconsider some of these gems and their untapped potential.
STRAIGHT SHOOTERS: Most recipes that use fresh herbs call for just the leaves. But cilantro stems are very flavorful and relatively soft; we use finely chopped or minced cilantro stems and leaves in all types of Latin- and Asian-inspired dishes, as well as in dips and dressings. Chopped cilantro stems and leaves add a lot of flavor to our recipe for Arroz con Pollo (see related content).
FLAVOR SPONGE: After you’ve cut all the kernels from a cob, run the back of a knife over the cob to scrape off the flavorful, pulpy “milk” and add it to the corn during cooking. You can use the cobs to flavor vegetable stock or a soup like our Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken and Corn Soup (see related content). Remove the spent cobs before serving.
NO LOAFING: You buy a beautiful baguette and enjoy half of it. The next day, it’s hard as a brick. Don’t throw it away! Remove the crust, tear the bread into rough 1-inch pieces, and blitz it in the food processor. Toast the crumbs (either dry or with butter or oil) and sprinkle them over mac and cheese, pasta dishes, or broiled fish.
SWEET SCRAPS: Southerners traditionally pickle watermelon rind. Simply cut away and discard the bright-green exterior, dice and salt the rind until it softens slightly, and then pickle it in a sugary brine; the resulting sticky-sweet pickles resemble a ripe pear in texture. This classic Southern pickle is a treat straight from the jar, wrapped in bacon or ham for an appetizer, or added to a cocktail.
FLAVOR STOCKED: While store-bought chicken stock is sometimes a necessary convenience, we love the frugality of using the carcasses from a few roasted chickens to make a flavorful stock. The hours of simmering release flavorful marrow from chicken bones and cause collagen to break down into gelatin. Use homemade chicken stock in soups and stews, pan sauces, and gravies.
PERFUMED PODS: Vanilla beans are expensive, so it makes sense to try to get your money’s worth. Most recipes call for vanilla seeds, but the spent pods, which contain vanillin—the chemical compound that gives the spice its signature aroma and flavor—can be used to make vanilla sugar: Dry the pods thoroughly, place them upright in an airtight container filled with white granulated sugar, and let the mixture sit for about two weeks, agitating it every few days. Use the vanilla sugar (which will keep at room temperature, tightly covered, for about a month) to sweeten coffee or to add subtle vanilla flavor to custards, cookies, or cakes.
CREOLE BUILDING BLOCKS: Shrimp shells aren’t always discarded—Asian recipes for salt and pepper shrimp call for frying shell-on shrimp until the shells become crispy and edible. But when you do peel shrimp, don’t throw the shells away. Crustacean shells contain loads of proteins, sugars, and flavor-boosting compounds called glutamates and nucleotides. We brown shrimp shells in butter, add water, and then simmer to make a rich shrimp stock for our Shrimp and Grits (see related content).
TOUGH CRUCIFERS: Broccoli stalks are just as edible as the florets, but you’ll need to peel away the tough exterior first. The stalks have a wonderful crisp-tender texture when they’re cooked properly. We cut the peeled stems into slightly smaller pieces than the florets to ensure that all pieces cook at the same rate in our recipe for Broccoli with Lemon-Oregano Dressing (see related content).
PORK INFUSER: A ham bone can imbue a soup or stew with loads of flavor and body and can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen (for up to three months) until you’re ready to use it. The smoky ham flavor it imparts is a great match for split pea, lentil, or white bean soup or stew, but be aware that a ham bone will add a good bit of saltiness, too.
SAVORY WRAPPER: Bacteria and mold grow on the rinds of aged Parmesan cheese, creating strong aromas and myriad flavor compounds. That’s one reason why many Italian recipes for Sunday gravy and minestrone call for adding a Parmesan rind, which is a good source of glutamates (and umami flavor). Here in the test kitchen, we save our Parmesan rinds for—as well as rinds from other aged cheeses like Pecorino Romano and Gruyère—for this purpose.