Ask for These Scraps at the Meat Counter and Get a Ton of Flavor for Cheap
There is something about being in the know about something secret that just makes us feel cool. Whether it is a secret handshake between a group of friends or knowing how to order that special off-menu dish at a restaurant, a little bit of special is attached to that knowledge.
So you can imagine my delight when I was standing at my local deli counter and a woman waked up next to me and asked for the prosciutto end, and was handed a half-inch thick slab of prosciutto that seemed to be mostly fat and skin, and rang up at a dollar. Yes: One American dollar.
I asked the guy behind the counter if he had more, and he rooted around and came up with a second slab and the same price. I was floored. Because I knew that this little scrap would be so useful in my cooking. A piece of it in my next batch of homemade tomato sauce would bring a ton of flavor, ditto adding a chunk to the pot the next time I was making stock. You like a ham bone in your beans? Imagine how next-level they would be with some prosciutto ends. You can cut it up small and render the fat, which is a good swap out for bacon fat for things like making cornbread or spinach salad. The little crispy bits left over after rendering are like bacon bits from the gods. They are not always available, so I almost always ask if I am standing at a counter, and if they have a lot, I stock up for the freezer.
I have also started asking at the counter for the butt ends of things like salamis and hams, when they get too small to slice properly, these can easily be cubed up for salads, sliced and fried for garnishing things, or sautéed for making fast pasta or bean dishes.
The same is true of parmesan and pecorino cheese rinds. Many people don’t realize that the rinds of these hard cheeses are just the cheese all dried out. And while you wouldn’t want to snack on them, they have a ton of flavor that can still be extracted. Soups, stews, chilis, sauces, anything that cooks for a long time can have a rind tossed into the mix and will impart amazing flavor. You can also make a broth just out of rinds and use it for everything from soup to risotto. And I have heated and steeped the rinds in heavy cream, then strained and chilled the cream, and whipped for a cheese-scented whipped cream that is an amazing garnish on things like mushroom soup or melting on top of cooked greens. Again, ask your cheesemonger for the rinds leftover from grating or shredding, often they will give them to you for free or very cheaply, and they store well in the freezer.
Skin might be a weird thing to ask for, but if your butcher counter is making a lot of boneless skinless chicken breasts, chances are they might have some chicken skin hanging out somewhere. This can be rendered down to get chicken fat, which is a really wonderful thing to have onhand, whether you use it to cook potatoes or vegetables, or to use in traditional Jewish cooking like matzo balls. The little bits of crispy skin left after you render the fat are a great garnish for salads or vegetables and can be stored in the freezer.
It might not be a secret handshake, but now that you are in the know, make friends with your deli-counter, butcher and cheesemonger and join the club of people who know how to make treasure out of trash.