When I was in culinary school, we learned how to filet salmon. Even if you are amazingly good (and we weren’t), when you cut the filet off a whole fish there is a little layer of salmon left against the bones. My instructor showed us students how to use a spoon to scrape the carcass clean of the remaining flesh. The scraped off salmon was perfect for use in salmon cakes or chowder or seafood sausage.
One of the students, under his breath, complained about this extra step. He said something like, “This is ridiculous. Why not just use the filets we just cut?”
My normally very mild manner instructor swiveled towards him and reproved: “My restaurant made money!” It was the closest thing to yelling I’d ever seen from her, and I learned more about restaurant profitability in hearing that one line than I did in months of formal hospitality management and food costing classes.
Waste Not, Want Not.
Professional chefs know this, and so did old time farm grandmas. The grandmas running the farm kitchen never let anything go to waste because their ability to feed the family might come down to their creative frugality in the kitchen.
When your paycheck or next week’s hunger level depends on how efficiently you utilize your food, you do not waste. You re-make, you reuse, you reinvent. Leftovers become new specials, roasts become sandwiches, mashed potatoes become soup.
In a world of easy convenience foods, it’s easy to think the extra step, the step of thrift, is a waste of time. It’s not. It is the difference between a profitable kitchen and an unprofitable one, or if you are running a householders kitchen, between spending money and saving it (a different form of profitability) is that extra step, and often it doesn’t take much time at all.
Here’s a few things that chefs and grandmas know:
It Starts And Ends In The Kitchen – First things first – you gotta cook. This is a topic deserving of its own blog post (or several), so let me be cursory here: the whole productive house thing hinges upon a productive kitchen. Nothing else even comes close. Want to save money? Want to utilize your garden bonanza? Want to eat healthier? Want to have a say in the additives going into your body? Want to be a badass punk domestic radical homemaker? It all starts with knives and fire: you gotta cook.
Spatulas – when you think the container of mayo or olive oil or dijon is empty, you can usually eek out a few more servings with a cheap flexible spatula (I like silicone for its high-heat properties). I buy my olive oil in 2 liter plastic containers. When the bottle’s empty, I cut the bottom off the bottle with a serrated knife and scrape out the remaining oil. I can often get a quarter-cup of oil out of an “empty” container.
Bread – The ends of bread, or the stuff that gets too hard to eat with soup or make into a sandwich can become breadcrumbs, croutons, bread pudding and a million other things. Throwing away the ends of a loaf and buying breadcrumbs or boxed croutons which taste like cardboard is the height of silliness.
Stock #1 – More things can go into stock than you’d think. I save all the usual trimming in freezer bags until I’ve built up a good backlog for stock making: carrot peels, tomato ends, onion skins and parsley stems; bones from both raw and cooked chickens, fish, lamb and beef; shrimp and crab shells. I also love throwing rinds from hard cheeses like parmesan into a veg stock to give it more richness.
Remoulage (Stock #2) – A good first stock should have a nice thick layer of fat on top. If you refrigerate it should be so full of gelatin that it hardens like jello. Once you’ve extracted all the flavor from your bones and veggies trimmings and poured off a rich first stock, you can pour more cold water over the spent bones and make a second stock, called a remoulage by snooty chef types. A remoulage is a light bodied, pale stock that is good for cooking rice or using instead of water in your savory recipes. In this way you get double value out of your stock.
Inventory – Chefs know what is in their freezer and their pantry. Grandmas knew what was in the larder for winter. Keep a running list of what you buy (side of beef, three bags of chicken potstickers from Costco, whatever) and you’ll be able to take advantage of bulk pricing without losing half your purchases into the gullet of the freezer monster. Bonus points for dating and FIFOing your inventory.
Cooking Fats – My grandma had an old coffee can that she kept by the stove. She poured off the bacon fat into the coffee can and used it for cooking. If you cook with animal fats – lard, schmaltz, tallow, bacon drippings – you know that nothing else compares. That’s why I save the rendered fat when I roast a chicken or prime rib or leg of lamb. Let’s not even start praising duck fat, I’d be here all day. I use these rendered fats to saute veggies or eggs and the flavor is fantastic. You want to keep a negabuck-profitable kitchen? Get some use out of the fat from the animals you eat. It’ll cut down on the oil and butter you buy.
What tips do you have to keep your kitchen negabuck profitable and productive?
In honor of No Spend Month, every Friday in July I’m breaking out of my normal milieu of garden talk and musing on money topics. Since values-driven spending (or not spending) is a big part of what we’re all about here, I don’t think it’s that big of a stretch, do you?