Cooking Tip: Save the Drippings

With a family of 7, buying family packs of food at the grocery store is a given. And one of the common packs we’ll get is bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. A package of 14 or more pieces at 99 cents per pound is very economical and versatile. What we’ll usually do is bake the whole package at once, in a half-sheet pan on a rack in the oven, then serve half of them for dinner and bone and freeze the other half for another meal.1

But there’s one special byproduct here that you don’t want to overlook. After cooking the thighs, that sheet pan will be filled with golden goodness. You might be tempted to think it’s just rendered fat and toss it, but it’s much more.

Before you clean up your pan, pour the juices off into a gravy separator, or if you don’t have one, a container with lid to stash in the fridge. If you use the separator, the drippings at the bottom can be separated out now, but if you don’t have one, you can just scoop the fat off the top tomorrow.

You could throw away the fat, but if you have a good recipe that calls for some chicken fat (what they call in Yiddish schmaltz), then save it by all means.

But the rest of it, those golden and now gelatinized drippings are pure chicken flavor. The next time you’re making a soup or sauce for chicken, add some of this and you’ll boost the richness and chicken-y flavor a hundredfold.

Just be forewarned, it won’t keep forever. Use it within a week or so to be sure. But it should freeze just fine too.2

  1. Of course, we save all the bones for stock, but that’s another tip.
  2. After all, it’s essentially just super-concentrated chicken stock.

No Spice For You, You Racist

I used to buy all my spices from Penzey’s Spice online and did so for a number of years, but that all changed in June 2014 when they decided to send out an email to their customers pushing gay marriage in our faces. My response:

Now Rod Dreher writes that Penzey’s is at it again, this time excoriating people who voted for Trump as racists in need of being called on the carpet and required to make amends, you know, to the guy who sells them spices:

Whether any of us like it or not, for the next four years the 80% of this country who did not just vote for an openly racist candidate are going to treat you like you are the kind of person who would vote for an openly racist candidate.

You can get angry at everyone else for treating you like you just did the thing you just did, or you can take responsibility for your actions and begin to make amends. If you are lucky and younger family members are still coming over for Thanksgiving, before it’s too late, take a moment and honestly think about how your actions must look through their eyes. Simply saying “I never thought he’d win” might be enough. But if you have the means, leaving a receipt from a sizable donation to the ACLU or the SPLC accidentally laying around where you carve the turkey, might go over even better.

Or we can just buy our spices from someone who doesn’t hate us for our politics. I switched my spice purchases to The Spice House in 2014. Rod has done the same, while reporting the irony that doing so might be especially galling for Bill Penzey:

While looking around online to see what Bill Penzey’s problem is, I discovered that his sister Patty Erd and her husband Tom run a competing (but much smaller) spice business, called The Spice House. Bill Penzey Sr. and his wife started the business in the 1950s, and Patty inherited it. Bill Jr, her younger brother, started his own catalog company, Penzeys. I have no idea what the Erds’ politics are — far as I know, they could be commies, or they could be Trumpkins — but they don’t seem to make a habit of getting on their high horse and insulting their customers.

And that’s why I recommend that my friends buy their spices from The Spice House. Rod also lets us know that the Spice House is offering free shipping to new customers on their first order by using the promo code NOPOLITICS.

Cooking Tips for Frugal and Tasty Dishes Out of Scraps

We have 5 kids and as you might imagine our food bill could be quite high so we work hard to make it all go further. We also like to make a lot of food from scratch, rather than buy processed or prepared foods. That means we’ve picked up a number of tips and tricks to help us as we cook.1

Save the Bones and Vegetable Ends

We make chicken stock from scratch on a regular basis and so we need both chicken bones and vegetables. So we regularly save chicken bones from whatever we cook, whether it’s a whole chicken or thighs or even takeout chicken wings. After dinner, they go into a zip-top bag and into the freezer. Likewise, when we’re preparing vegetables for dinner, we set the ends aside for later bagging and the freezer.

Not every vegetable is good for stock, though. We mainly keep onion skins and ends, garlic skins and ends, carrot tops, celery ends and leaves, parsley stems, some other root vegetables. Meanwhile, any vegetable or fruit bits that wouldn’t go into the stock goes into the compost bin.

Then when it’s time to make stock, everything goes into the big pot along with water to cover and a few hours later, what is usually trash for other people is transformed into amazing chicken stock.

Save Those Old Bananas

Something else to save in the freezer is old, mushy bananas. Your kids may be different but once spots of brown appear on a banana, mine won’t touch it. Now a lot of people know that you can save the bananas in the freezer for banana bread or smoothies, but there’s another option as well: Banana ice “cream”.

Lucy has a dairy allergy and she can’t have ice cream when the other kids have it so when it’s time for a treat, Melanie takes some bananas out of the freezer, puts them in a bowl with some chocolate powder and blends it up with an immersion blender. Nothing else is needed and with the chocolate it doesn’t even taste strongly of banana. Lucia loves it.

Save the Crusts and Bread Ends

We also make a lot of our own bread, although at the rate our kids eat it, we also buy a lot of loaves from the stores, whether packaged sandwich bread or whole loaves from the bakery. While the packaged stuff tends to disappear completely, there always seems to be some hard crusty ends leftover of the other breads. We save those ends, letting them dry out thoroughly and then put them, yep, in a bag in the freezer to pull out later for bread crumbs for recipes.

You could also use them to make croutons, which I intend to try sometime.

Save the Cooking Liquid

Living in New England relatively near the ocean, we have shellfish fairly often. When I’m making lobsters, shrimp or clams, I always save at least some of the cooking liquid, freezing it to use in sauces, soups, stews, gumbos, jambalaya, and other seafood dishes that require liquid. I’m always careful to filter it though because there can be small bits of shell or sand.

Save Lobster and Shrimp Shells

Likewise, I save lobster shells and bodies and shrimp shells to make seafood stock. Combine the saved cooking liquid and the stock and you have a very flavorful beginning to a pretty great dish.

  1. Many of these will be familiar to most people cooking regularly for large groups.

Cooking Tip: Save Your Drippings

To save time and money, we often buy a large package of chicken thighs at the supermarket and then bake and freeze them afterward. Then we can thaw them for recipes like enchiladas, soups, and the like.

We use a half-sheet pan with a rack to keep the thighs out of the fat and drippings and when I was cleaning up the other night, on a whim I poured the drippings into my gravy separator and put the drippings into the fridge. Today, making my lunch I noticed some leftover chicken and rice soup from a couple of nights ago. As you know, soup with rice tends to absorb all the liquid into the rice and needs more liquid. Water will just water down the taste so I added the lovely, unctuous collagen-rich drippings to it as I heated up the soup.


Oh my! That is so good. Like a chicken explosion in the soup. (okay that’s not as appetizing an image as it initially sounded.) What I mean is that adds so much flavor to the soup it’s incredible.

One slight wrinkle is that also adds a lot of saltiness. Luckily the soup needed more salt at the table so it’s not overpowering, but it is something to keep in mind. I could have tempered the saltiness by mixing the drippings with an equal part of chicken stock or water too.

The bottom line is to think like your grandmother (or great-grandmother, if your gramma is a Boomer) and use everything. Think before you throw something away. It’s probably good for something.

Hmm, I think that’s another post.

Grown Up Popcorn

I’ve tried a lot of different popcorn recipes, toppings and sprinkles to spice up regular old popcorn. Of course, there are the store-bought classics like candied popcorn and SmartFood cheesy popcorn, but when it comes to homemade I’ve always stuck with butter and salt.

But when I saw this recipe for popcorn with soy-sauce butter, I had to try it, especially as I read the description of the complex umami flavors.

I opted for the variation that included garlic powder (not garlic salt, if you can help it) and Sriracha along with the soy sauce and it is very, very good. Addictive almost. If I had more time I might toast some sesame seeds to go with it.

Next time, I might go in a different direction and do a “buffalo” popcorn. Perhaps this Buffalo parmesan popcorn recipe, which sounds like an interesting combination.

How to Freeze and Defrost Everything Better

Freezing and defrosting food so that it doesn’t become inedible mush is an important skill to learn. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt takes us into the Food Lab to show some very easy methods.

Basically, the trick is to make whatever you’re freezing as flat as possible and get as much air out of the bag as possible. He shows you how to do it with regular zip-lock freezer bags, but we use a Foodsaver vacuum sealer1. It has paid for itself several times over by saving us from throwing away freezer-burned food. It’s also great for saving bacon in the fridge if find yourself using only a few pieces at a time.

Just remember: Air is the enemy of food.

  1. It’s not the same model we have, but a newer version. Ours is a few years old.

Culturally Appropriating Your Noodles

cultural appropriation in your pho

The latest trend in the worsening race relations in the US is cultural appropriation. It’s a grab-all term that basically means that people who weren’t born in a particular culture are not allowed to partake of or speak of aspects of that culture.

The latest dust-up surrounds the cultural appropriation of ethnic food. Today’s example comes from a video by Bon Appetit magazine in which a non-Asian chef discusses how best to eat the Vietnamese noodle soup dish pho.1

The controversy stems from the fact that chef in the video, Tyler Akin, is white and white people are not allowed to “whitesplain” anything from cultures other than their own.

Much of the anger centered around the choice of a white person to authoritatively speak about an Asian food. As the chef shared his personal insights, he never mentioned his fondness for the soup, his personal connections to it. That omission was an editorial mistake. Treating pho as merely a fashionable food negated its rich role in Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and now, American culture.

Must every essay and recipe and quick video include a long preamble as to the importance of the dish to a particular culture? Or is the goal simply to force people to eat only food from their own culture?

Two points: First, this is the fracturing of America. We are not a melting pot or even a patchwork quilt anymore. We are an archipelago of race and culture islands constantly at war with one another, with the main enemy being the big white European island in the middle. We are a nation divided, not because of the divisions of the past, but because of the demagogues of the present who use the division to create power for themselves.

Second, cultural appropriation is baloney. Every culture appropriates. Culture doesn’t spring up from nowhere. It assimilates elements from every culture it encounters to grow and evolve. Even in the pho controversy, the critics admit that pho originated in at least two other cultures: French and Chinese.

Yes, it was the French who made beef scraps available, and yes, many of the initial pho cooks were Chinese, but the noodle soup was created in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people made the best of their circumstances and turned the situation into something of their own.

That is cultural appropriation right there. But there’s nothing wrong with it because the Vietnamese took something, modified it, and made it their own.

This current tempest may be about a bowl of soup, but it has its roots in a dangerous trend.

  1. Bon Appetit has apologized and removed the video but it can be seen here.

Nashville Hot Chicken

One of the new trends in food right now is Nashville Hot Chicken (confirmed by KFC’s attempt to market a mass-market friendly version). This profile of the origins of hot chicken and the current offerings in that city is both funny and makes me want to try it.

These are the kinds of restaurants I’m in constant search of, where what’s being served challenges sensory norms and forces you to reckon with food’s capacity to change you in the moment — not just emotionally, but physically.

My search brought me to Prince’s, but it didn’t stop there. In planning my journey, I found inspiration in Anthony Bourdain, who had tweeted earlier this year that eating hot chicken was a “three day commitment.” And so that’s what I did. I committed myself to eating at three hot chicken joints in three days, ordering the highest spice level available at each one.

I realize now that isn’t what Bourdain meant.

His experience reminded me very strongly of my Drover’s XXX-Hurt Me Hot Wings story, right down to the server saying, “I want to see you eat this.”

Make Sure You’re Getting Real Olive Oil

The sad fact is that most imported olive oil sold in the US is fake, mostly because of the mob getting involved and peddling substandard oils in order to boost their illicit profits. This Mother Jones article points out that it’s not just consumer fraud, but it also keeps us from getting the health benefits from olive oil.

They give four tips for ensuring you get the real deal: Don’t trust the label, look for the stamp of approval, judge the country of origin, and buy in season and in the dark. Check out the article for the explanation.

Jefferson on the Float

Bourbon is the hot trend in adult beverages and a lot of distilleries are taking advantage of the increased demand to do some interesting small batches. Jefferson’s Bourbon, named after President Thomas, is a small batch Kentucky distillery that is trying to recreate not just the distilling and aging of classic bourbons of the past, but all of the various environmental conditions that accompanied these bourbons to market over 100 years ago.

They started by placing several oak barrels of bourbon on an ocean-going research vessel that sailed crossed the equator four times, visited five continents and stopped in 30 ports. On the trip, the barrels experienced heat and cold, salt air, and the rocking of the ship, replicating the experience of barrels shipped by sea to market. So instead of the relatively placid bourbons resulting from quiet storage in a warehouse, Jefferson’s Ocean is darker, almost like rum with a hint of brine from the salt.

This was so successful, the distillers are going even more authentic with Jefferson’s Journey. They’re recreating the journey of the barrels by boat down the Mississippi to New Orleans and then by a 100-year-old restored rum runner to the Florida Keys, where a sailboat will pick up the barrels and take them north to New York, where they will be tapped, tasted, and bottled.

Trey Zoeller of Jefferson’s Bourbon had a crazy idea: what if we made a whiskey that followed the 19th century processes and then shoved off from Kentucky down the great Middle-American thoroughfare towards the end destination of New York?

What flavors would the constant slipping and sliding impart? Would the brine of the sea seep in just like it had on the previous Jefferson’s Ocean voyages (which spends several months on an OCEARCH shark research vessel to impart maritime influences), and if so to what degree?

This goes beyond an artisanal, hipster product to something more closely resembling the terroir of wine, trying to capture the sense of “place” that puts its stamp on the drink. In the case of wine, it’s dirt, air, climate, and the like. In the case of Jefferson’s Journey and Jefferson’s Ocean, they’re trying to capture the taste that economics and transportation technology of a century ago imparted to bourbon versus that of today. It’s a fascinating and tasty idea.

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