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Taking Stock on Food Waste

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Mark Pletcher   |   2017-05-10

I once read a story about a famous chef, who shall remain unnamed. He was so passionate about the food that he sourced for his restaurant(s) that if a line cook made a negligent error while cooking something he/she would have to call the purveyor the following day and explain why they had to throw that food away with a complete and utter apology. If they chose not to pay appropriate respects, they no longer had a spot on the line. Extreme? Perhaps. Respectful of the hard work that goes into quality food? Absolutely.

A lot has been in the news lately concerning food waste, with a heavy emphasis on American society in particular. The numbers that I've read have stated that somewhere between 40-50% of all food purchased by Americans is thrown away. That number spikes a bit when talking about fresh produce, which as we know has a much shorter shelf life. To be completely honest, as members of a CSA we should consider ourselves quite fortunate. A very small percentage of the world's population has the luxury of having nutritious food delivered to their doorstep (or as close as your pickup spot may be to your home). And we should pay proper respects to the amazing food, and the great people that grow it, that we receive every week.

So, let's talk about food waste. I'm a trained chef and I struggle with utilizing everything that lives in my refrigerator/pantry. I may take on a bit more than average with our All-In Family Share (plus meat), but I do the best that I can. The key to it, aside from dedicating the time, is to know what to do and how to cook the odd bits. But I've developed some tricks that may help. My next few posts, which will hopefully come a little more frequently, will focus on three ways to minimize food waste; stock, preserving, and "the odd bits".

First up - stock.

In the kitchen world, stock is wonderful way to add flavor for free. Why add water when you can add stock? It sounds simple but most people don't know how to make a proper stock. Vegetable, chicken, mixed, it doesn't matter. Stock is a miraculous way to use the bits you don't want to eat.

I make vegetable stock almost weekly from the scraps and odds and ends from my daily cooking. It's quite simple, really. Take the vegetables you aren't/won't use (onion skins, onion roots/shoots, garlic paper, carrot peels, tomato cores, cucumber peels, celery roots/tops, parsnip cores, any vegetable that's at the end of it's useful life, etc.), chop them, and cover (by 2-3") with cool water in an uncovered pot. Bring said pot to a boil, reduce to a VERY slow simmer, and go do something else for 1-3 hours. Strain out the cooked bits and transfer that delicious golden liquid to 1 gallon freezer bags. Remove as much air as you can and freeze flat. That stock will last you indefinitely in the freezer or 2 weeks unfrozen in the refrigerator.

Making chicken stock is a similar process but must be simmered for a longer period. You will also have to skim the top of chicken stock occasionally throughout the process to remove some of the "protein foam". These stocks can utilize food for a second use. For instance, say you roast a chicken for dinner. Instead of throwing the used carcass away, save it for a batch of stock. Or save them in the freezer until you have 3-4 to make a larger batch. When making meat based stock I recommend straining through cheese cloth before storing. Doing that will make the end product clearer than not.

The benefits of making your own stock are endless. These use food we would normally throw away, contain zero sodium (unlike store bought packaged stock/broth), they are full of nutrients, are incredibly flavorful, and can be used for almost anything you're cooking that calls for water.

Making stock isn't going to solve all of our food waste problems, but it's a start. Next time I'll talk about preserving, pickling, and fermenting.

Tags: food waste, produce, stock


Bio: Mark Pletcher

Mark Pletcher is a private chef based in Denver, Colorado.

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