Sunday, January 17, 2016

A thrifty soup idea

A couple of months ago, I remembered something from the eight months I spent in cooking school at George Brown College in the late 1990s.

Most of our cooking instructors had been raised up in the apprentice system in big hotel kitchens in the UK and Europe in the 50s and 60s. One of them told us about how they used to have a big pot going on the back of the stove containing Le grand jus. Everything that would have otherwise been wasted went into le grand jus: vegetable and meat scraps, leftover gravy and drippings. The pot was simmered down and simmered down until it produced a thick jelly rich with flavour. This jelly would then be used as the base for sauces and gravies, giving them a deep and complex flavour.

Remembering this story gave me an idea. Since I don't work in an old-school hotel kitchen, it's not practical for me to have a pot simmering away on the back of the stove all the time, but I realized that I can adapt this idea to suit my lifestyle.

I like making broth from scratch in the winter. Soup makes a delicious, warming and healthy meal. In the past, when I've made broth I've added a carrot or two, some celery, onions and garlic as well as herbs and spices to some meat bones leftover from a roast (roasted meat is my other favourite winter meal).

Remembering le grand jus made me consider that through the week, cooking all sorts of other meals from scratch, I produce a large amount of vegetable scraps: parsnip peel, carrot ends, onion and garlic skins and roots, mushroom stems, spinach and chard stems, the woody parts of broccoli, etc. 

I had been putting these scraps in the compost bin and chucking them away.

But since I remembered about le grand jus, I have started keeping a ziploc bag in the freezer. When I have meat or vegetable scraps, I put them in the bag and keep it in the freezer until it's full.

Last week I made lamb soup. The contents of my ziploc bag met a lamb bone, some bay leaves, coriander seed and peppercorns, were covered with water and simmered into a delicious broth.

When it was done, I strained out the broth and put the veggie scraps in the composter – having gotten an additional use from them before they became waste. And having saved myself from using wasting perfectly good carrots, celery, onions and garlic to flavour the broth.

Then I put some carrots and parsnips into the soup – and put the veggie trimmings back into my rinsed-out Ziploc bag to begin the cycle again:

And now I will leave you with this link to Hawksley Workman's Almost a Full Moon: Let's make some soup 'cause the weather is turning cold.

PS: When curating your veggie scrap collection you can choose an active or a passive role. You can just throw everything into one bag and toss it all in the pot when it's time to make soup. Or, you can have several bags in your freezer at once: perhaps a "sweet" one for puréed root vegetable soups that could contain apple and pear cores among other things, an "Asian" one that could contain ginger scraps and green onion trimmings, and a "pungent" one that could contain more strongly-flavoured scraps (especially those from the cabbage family), which could be reserved for cabbage/broccoli/cauliflower-based soups. If you want to get really fancy, you could save each different kind of veg in a different bag and use your preferred amount in each soup that you make. Personally, I prefer the random approach – and I haven't been disappointed by my soup yet.