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The Very Useful Kitchen Ingredient You're Probably Tossing in the Trash

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It’s no secret in my circle that I love salt—I’ve been known to sprinkle Maldon onto potato chips. So it was only a matter of time before I discovered the magic elixir more commonly known as feta brine: The salty, cloudy liquid in which hunks of feta cheese float.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

At first I approached it tentatively, with a splash atop a Greek salad here, or a teaspoon poured into a marinade there. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I got hooked for real—the Melissa Clark chicken story certainly didn't hurt—but I can confess that I caught myself taking a little sip straight from the container last week. These days, I'm using it in everything from pots of brown rice, to tofu prep, to salad dressings.

To me, feta brine is perfect in every way. It's salty as all get-out, subtly creamy, and best of all, already in my refrigerator. As a rule of thumb, you can use feta brine to intensify—and seriously elevate—virtually any dish that incorporates feta, as well as many that don't.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to make the most of it:

Time to Brine

Feta brine makes for a killer, well, brine.

And not just for whole birds—though I do love the Melissa Clark recipe for roast chicken that Kristen Miglore dubbed Genius. I use a similar but simplified technique on smaller pieces, too, to amp up the juiciness: Take the leftover liquid from a package of feta, and submerge a couple of chicken thighs (or breasts, or drumsticks) in a plastic bag or covered bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours, before patting them dry and preparing as you otherwise would.

As I've mentioned, salt-restraint is not my strong suit in the kitchen (she said, as she reached for a jar of capers to snack on). So if you've already guessed that I don't stop with meat, you're correct. I also love to use feta liquid to "brine":

  • Vegetables, before grilling or roasting—especially for slower-cooking produce, like whole carrots
  • Tofu, either cubed and left to "pickle" in a jar for a raw feta-like snack, or as a proper brine before pressing out the liquid and grilling, to get extra crispy tofu
  • Small pieces of sweet fruits, like halved cherries, for use in salads and grain bowls
Your New Favorite Broccoli Is Charred, Crispy & Buttermilk-Brined

Your New Favorite Broccoli Is Charred, Crispy & Buttermil... by EmilyC

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Feta-Brined Grilled Eggplant Salad

Feta-Brined Grilled Eggplant Salad by EmilyC

Make It Grain

Feta brine also does wonders to a pot of grains or legumes.

As a general rule of thumb, start by substituting 1/4 of your cooking liquid with feta brine, to get a feel for the flavor—then, you can titrate in more to your taste in subsequent batches. (I personally max out at about 1/2 brine, 1/2 water or stock.) Taste the cooking liquid before you get going to confirm, but it's likely you won't need to add any additional salt.

Wait, There's More!

When I don't have enough leftover feta liquid on hand to brine something for dinner, or to pull off a whole pot of rice, I'll use the dregs for:

  • Adding a splash to doughs, like for pizza, to contribute a little funk
  • Blending into feta as I'm whipping it for a dip to serve with crudite
  • Contributing saltiness and flavor to salad dressings

I'm sure I'm missing a few clutch uses—let me know in the comments or hotline! In the meantime, I'll be stocking up on more feta...

Now, For Using Up That Cheese

What do you do with your leftover feta brine? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: On the Cheap, Cooking with Scraps