Cooking Tips

7 “Scraps” You’re Throwing Out That Could Save You Time and Money

What’s destined for the trash could be your greatest kitchen treasures.
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Published Nov. 30, 2022.

I get it—it’s easy once you’re finished picking apart a rotisserie chicken carcass to just throw it away. But by taking just a few extra steps, you could turn that carcass into liquid gold stock and make your time and money stretch even further.

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We all know that chicken bones, pasta water, and corn cobs are all useful scraps, but here are a few you might not know can go from kitchen trash to culinary treasure.

Cilantro stems

Most recipes that use fresh herbs call for just the leaves. But cilantro stems are very flavorful and relatively soft; we use finely chopped or minced cilantro stems and leaves in all types of Latin- and Asian-inspired dishes, as well as in dips and dressings. Chopped cilantro stems and leaves add a lot of flavor to our recipe for Arroz con Pollo.

Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken)

Arroz con pollo is classic comfort food throughout Latin America.
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Stale bread

You buy a beautiful baguette and enjoy half of it. A few days later, it’s hard as a brick. Don’t throw it away! Remove the crust, tear the bread into rough 1-inch pieces, and blitz it in the food processor. Toast the crumbs (either dry or with butter or oil) and sprinkle them over mac and cheese, pasta dishes, or broiled fish.

Watermelon rind

Southerners traditionally pickle watermelon rind. Simply cut away and discard the bright-green exterior, dice and salt the rind until it softens slightly, and then pickle it in a sugary brine; the resulting sticky-sweet pickles resemble a ripe pear in texture. This classic Southern pickle is a treat straight from the jar, wrapped in bacon or ham for an appetizer, or added to a cocktail.

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Broccoli stalks

Broccoli stalks are just as edible as the florets, but you’ll need to peel away the tough exterior first. The stalks have a wonderful crisp-tender texture when they’re cooked properly. We cut the peeled stems into slightly smaller pieces than the florets to ensure that all pieces cook at the same rate in our recipe for Broccoli with Lemon-Oregano Dressing.

Broccoli with Lemon-Oregano Dressing

The secret to crisp-tender, brilliantly green broccoli? Nuke it. Yes, we’re serious.
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Vanilla beans

Vanilla beans are expensive, so it makes sense to try to get your money’s worth. Most recipes call for vanilla seeds, but the spent pods, which contain vanillin—the chemical compound that gives the spice its signature aroma and flavor—can be used to make vanilla sugar: Dry the pods thoroughly, place them upright in an airtight container filled with white granulated sugar, and let the mixture sit for about two weeks, agitating it every few days. Use the vanilla sugar (which will keep at room temperature, tightly covered, for about a month) to sweeten coffee or to add subtle vanilla flavor to custards, cookies, or cakes.

Shrimp shells

Shrimp shells aren’t always discarded—Asian recipes for salt and pepper shrimp call for frying shell-on shrimp until the shells become crispy and edible. But when you do peel shrimp, don’t throw the shells away. Crustacean shells contain loads of proteins, sugars, and flavor-boosting compounds called glutamates and nucleotides. We brown shrimp shells in butter, add water, and then simmer to make a rich shrimp stock for our Shrimp and Grits.

Shrimp and Grits

Many modern versions of this Carolina favorite add too many frills. We set out to bring it back to basics.
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Parmesan rinds

Friendly bacteria and mold grow on the rinds of aged Parmesan cheese, creating strong aromas and myriad flavor compounds. That’s one reason why many Italian recipes for Sunday gravy and minestrone call for adding a Parmesan rind, which is a good source of glutamates (and umami flavor). Here in the test kitchen, we save our Parmesan rinds—as well as rinds from other aged cheeses such as Pecorino Romano and Gruyère—for this purpose.

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