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Pouring Food Down the Drain

January 8, 2014

Sure, there’s good news about GMOs, kind of. Those big yellow boxes of toddler friendly cereal will soon be devoid of GMO corn starch and GMO sugar (from sugar beets). However, buying them still lines the pockets of a corporation that spends its money to thwart GMO labeling efforts. So…

Which is why I’d much rather spend some time on my issue du jour, food waste.

Today’s topic comes from the Twittersphere where just a few days ago Jon In Albany called out Fine Cooking on their recent chicken recipe. It instructs readers to make a sweet and spicy sauce with two cups of maple syrup, but then takes the vast majority of that to use in the brine. Twelve fluid ounces of precious Grade B syrup gets diluted in three quarts of water and four ounces of salt.

Here’s the kicker. After brining the chicken in this precious slurry for eight to twenty-four hours, all of that syrup then gets poured down the drain. It’s one expensive brine. And it’s a travesty. This should never have been published. Here’s why (and it has nothing to do with money).

Poultry brines get tossed. Reusing them is ill advised. I get it.

The issue isn’t even solely a food safety one. Brines moisturize meat based on their ratio of water to salt. Once it’s been used, that ratio is off, and the brine simply won’t perform. Yes, you can flavor your brines, but the flavors are really secondary imparting more subtle notes than intense tastes. The important part of the brine is the salt water solution.

Do you know what you can do to a brined bird? You can marinate it. Totally. Marinades provide a deeper flavor anyway. The only caution is that if you’ve brined a bird, you best keep salt out of your marinade.

Want to know a great trick for marinating meat without having to make a shit-ton of marinade? Vacuum sealing bags. I use them all the time. My mother’s flank steak recipe would regularly use almost a bottle of soy sauce, a significant portion of a box of brown sugar, and quite a bit of olive oil. Those quantities can be cut down dramatically by not needing to produce enough liquid to cover the meat.

I throw it all into a food saver bag, suck out the air, and voila. All of the meat is covered with a deeply flavorful and penetrating goo.

Do you want to know the best part?

Unlike its cousin, the wet and salty brine, a marinade can totally be repurposed. Even one that has been used to season raw meat. You know, I wouldn’t believe me either. I enjoy rare burgers, like my egg yolks runny, and eat young raw milk cheeses with reckless abandon. Food safety isn’t my mission.

But you know who you should believe? Those no-fun jerks over at the FDA. Even they say, “Marinades used on raw meat, poultry, or seafood can contain harmful bacteria. Don’t reuse these marinades on cooked foods – unless you boil them before applying.”

So boil that marinade and you are good to go. Not a drop of precious flavor is wasted.

When it comes to reducing food waste, the vacuum saver is really a godsend. We mostly use it for breaking up packs of bacon, and storing shockingly small packages away in the freezer, to use as a flavoring agent in a variety of dishes. But its marinating function is remarkable too.

Cook with great ingredients. Pay a lot of money for them. They are totally worth it. And hopefully that will help ensure that you use them with care, and get the most out of these precious gifts as you can.

I can’t stop thinking that if I kept chickens, all my table scraps would turn into eggs. Man, that sounds awesome.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2014 11:31 am

    Two words, if you want to be efficient with your marinades and brines: sous vide.

  2. January 8, 2014 11:56 am

    I’m still surprised it got published. I wonder how much syrup they wasted testing the recipe.

  3. Jon E permalink
    January 12, 2014 2:27 pm

    I make maple syrup over here in VT. Enough for my family for the year (I have about a dozen trees I tap). Enough work goes into making a couple of gallons of syrup that I would not ever, never, consider wasting any of it in a brine. If it’s not directly ingested, it’s not used. What a waste.

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