If you have been poor, you are never un poor. We all have seen movies—or maybe even have it in our families—where the ancient ones who now live in Malibu still save toilet paper tubes in case they ever need to start a fire, because they used to pick up coal in the railroad tracks to heat the house during the Depression.
I have had a good job for almost 20 years, but I still get giddy when I use my debit card and the little screen says, “Approved.”
So I will never stop “boiling it down,” getting every last nutrient out of my veg or my meat.
I think it was Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) who said that while necessity is the mother of invention, low budgets are the mother of innovation. Having been poor—not the type which starves you, but the type where there is nothing in the house but dried beans and spices and only three bucks til the next paycheck, I have gotten really good at discovering food ingredients.
Advanced boiling it down part 1—what to boil down
Now that you have gotten good at boiling down a turkey or chicken, you can boil down other things. As in any other bone. You are going to get broth, yes, but also you will probably get some oil or fat, and you’ll want to figure out how to best use that. But first, boiling bones.
You can boil bigger bones right in the meal you are going to have, by which I mean you can leave a ham bone in ham soup. Do not do this with any poultry bone, as they are small and could pose a choking hazard.
If you boil the bones quite clean, you can throw them in your composter. They will add niceness to your compost and not add a bad smell, as long as you have made them clean.
Yes, you will see me collecting the bones from steaks my family has consumed—they are going to be boiled, remember?? Same with KFC, which makes a fabulous base for soup. Alison Arngrim, who once played Nellie Oleson, said in her memoirs that take out chicken should not be used for soup, but I find the 11 herbs and spices quite a time saver.
It’s up to you whether you want to segregate the bones. A soup base made from multiple animals is usually delicious, but if you are going to use the fat, you want to segregate.
Advanced boiling it down Part 2–using the fat
WHAT? FAT IS BAD, why is she USING THE FAT????
First, how: After the broth is done, and the bones are removed, put the broth in a bowl in the fridge. When the fat has solidified, you can either discard it or use it. Your call. It will rise to the top, and you can easily peel it up.
Different fats have different tastes and qualities. By qualities, I mean both the temperature at which it burns, and what the fat does to whatever you are cooking.
Most of us purchase olive oil, corn oil, butter–some form of fat is necessary in cooking, and some kinds provide nutrition. Why throw away something you are going to purchase later in the week? Animal fats CAN be used.
Butter makes anything yummy but burns at a low temperature so you can’t use it for making popcorn, for example. You CAN add a butter taste to popcorn cooked in corn oil by adding a small amount of butter to the oil in which you cook the popcorn.
Chicken fat is good for sautéing. Lard—pork fat—is good for deep frying. Beef fat is tricky. It is good for deep frying but it also solidifies to a rock-like consistency that makes it hard for me to use. Also, it makes food taste good but, to me, does not smell good, so I don’t use it very much. McDonald’s used to prepare their French Fries in beef fat. They were delicious.
Old folk tales tell of the poorer people using tallow candles, richer people using wax. “Tallow” is beef fat, which gives you an idea how hot it has to be before it burns.
My favorite is the fat from a ham. It melts nicely, can be used for sautéing or deep frying, and adds a wonderful, salty taste.
Most animal fats give a flavor and crispness not provided by corn oil. The very thing which makes olive oil so wonderful–if used right you may barely notice it–is what makes animal fats so paradoxically useful: You always know what you have.
If I die while I’m still young enough to be an active cook, I pity the person who has to clean my freezer, who will find a selection of unlabeled fats. I know what they are and how to use them without labels, you see.
And I’ll go to my grave knowing that at least in the kitchen I have kept waste to a minimum.