Remember that time you found an empty bottle of sun-dried tomatoes in the back of your refrigerator? You retrieved the jar, flipping through your mind’s Rolodex for the culprit—was it your neighbor who came over to cook last week? Or a visiting family member who skimped on their responsibility to drain the jar and clean it after plucking out the last tomato?
You go to rinse out the jar—but instead, a thought occurs to you: The leftover olive oil is still infused with the flavor of the bygone sun-dried tomatoes. A small taste confirms that even though the tomatoes are gone, the olive oil has absorbed their flavor, so you put the jar back in the refrigerator, dreaming of tomato-spiked pasta.
Whenever we automatically pour the oil that suspended sweet tomatoes or the brine that fermented pickles down the drain—products that are accidentally made from making another product—we’re tossing an ingredient that may be delicious in its own right. Instead, once you’ve emptied the jar, bottle, or case of the “usable stuff,” think about what remains; it might just become a new go-to. Here are some of our favorite ways to use the byproducts of food that are just as good as the foods they help to make:
The purpose of pickle brine is to ferment cucumbers—and carrots, and watermelon, and just about any vegetable you can think of (including avocados)—so that they last forever, or at least until the next crop. The brine itself, though, is either sipped as-is by the brave, served as a shot after whiskey, or tossed. But at its heart, pickle brine is, as Kristen Miglore put it in a recent Genius post “just a contained burst of acid, salt, and mulled seasonings” that can enhance a number of dishes.
Add it to mushrooms as Kristen did, or even use it as a chicken marinade, as a recent contest finalist did. When each of these two recipes came out of our test kitchen, it was devoured within minutes by the editors, which is to say that if you’re still unconvinced by this whole pickle brine business, send your jar to us.
When Joe Kindred, the founder and chef of Kindred in North Carolina visited Food52’s offices to teach us out to make the restaurants’s Milk Bread, I took copious notes—on everything from the bread itself and cooking a whole boar to making a versatile dough. At the center of my notes, circled several times, reads, “LOVES Calabrian chile oil.”
Joe told us that the oil that the peppers come packed is one of his favorite ingredients, and one that he uses over fried oysters and anything else that needs a hit of spice. If you prefer a less spicy option, use a few tablespoons of sun-dried tomato oil anywhere you’d use olive oil, from sautéing vegetables to the finishing touch on pasta.
When our Director of Audience Development, Haley Priebe, went on a homemade butter kick, we reaped the benefits as she brought in swaths of homemade butter for us to
devour taste-test. She, on the other hand, ended up with jars and jars of buttermilk, the liquid that separates from the fat when the cream is beaten into butter.
Rather than toss it, she took to adding it to her coffee and tea, which she said tasted similar to milk, but was slighter richer from the butterfat still in it. She said, “The thing that excites me about buttermilk is that it feels like such a bonus: Just by shaking one ingredient—cream—you get two rich, flavorful ingredients—butter and buttermilk—that you can do so much more with!” Ashley Rodriguez, author of the blog Not Without Salt, saves her buttermilk for the following morning’s pancakes.
If you’ve ever brewed beer at home, you’re already familiar with the sopping-wet bag of grains that comes out of it. Referred to as “spent grains,” these are the grains that result from the process of steeping grains in a pot of hot water to leach out the flavors and sugars of the grain that will become the backbone of the beer. Once removed, the grains themselves are still fully edible and, while often sent to farms as animal feed, can be dried then baked into a number of things, like bread, or as our baking contributor, Erin McDowell uses it, in pasta dough.
Whey, a byproduct of cheese and yogurt, is the liquid remaining after the curds have been strained out. When I made mozzarella over the summer (the byproduct of a serious pizza kick), the cheese kit I used recommended that I feed my chickens the whey—which, in my New York apartment, was not useful to me at all. See you later, whey. (Just kidding.)
Whey can be used for a number of things. When our editor Caroline visited the yogurt maker, The White Mustache, they gave her a bottle of sour whey (the type of whey leftover from yogurt making), which they sell as a probiotic drink. She said was delicious (on its own and in this cocktail). And since it's so acidic, it can also be used to brine meat, Caroline told me. The sweet whey that results from cheese-making can be used as a skim milk substitute in baking recipes.
Arguably 2015’s most exciting discovery (just us?), aquafaba is the liquid leftover from canned chickpeas. While it doesn’t sound very appealing, the mysterious liquid works surprisingly well as a vegan egg white replacer. Over the course of the year, we’ve used it to make meringues, mousse, and vegan mayonnaise.
Once you’ve made it through that bag of salt-packed capers (which won’t take long once you read this), what’s left is a perfect pile of useable, briney, flavorful salt. Put a pinch over whatever you would use capers in, like chicken piccata and pasta.
What are some of your favorite byproducts that deserve a starring role? Tell us in the comment below!