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Chefs share tips for home cooks to waste not, want not

Published July 30, 2014 9:20 am

Food • Be a master of economy, as well as gastronomy, with these tips from professional chefs.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Whenever I hear the phrase "economic recovery" followed by "housing sales are up 20 percent," I break open the bubbly. But when I offer my Granny Fanny a sip of something celebratory, she chides, "Don't get too smug, that's how this whole mess started in the first place."

"Waste not, want not," she proclaims, as if she had dreamt up the proverb herself. And then she proceeds to abjure my optimism by regaling me with stories about how she beat the Great Depression — the real one.

"I collected Coke bottles on the beach to buy your mom shoes," she brags. "We had five generations living under one roof. We recycled birthday cards." But mostly Granny exalts her excellence at outwitting her meager food allowance. That one hits particularly close to home.

Since Granny is not only Queen of the Thrifty Shoppers but one of the most creative cooks I know, I tagged along on her weekly search-and-destroy mission at the 99-cent store. To my astonishment, I scored organic, artisanal salad greens, the top brand of hummus from Israel and 100 percent pure coconut water from Maui. All for less than my daily macchiato.

But since I was keen to have my investigation scrupulous, and knowing that top chefs have to be masters of economy as well as gastronomy, I contacted a few for their take on the situation. Here are five of their top tips.

From farmer to table

While today's enlightened chefs support local farmers who grow their produce using sustainable methods, Salt Lake City's Nathan Powers also frequents farmers markets to have a little fun.

"I arrive with a whole stack of dollar bills," says the executive chef of Bambara, a Kimpton restaurant, "and it becomes a negotiation between me and the farmers. The more I buy, the lower his price gets. I love the haggling aspect of it."

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

When Powers buys chicken, he always buys them whole. "It can be as cheap as 98 cents a pound and I use every part. The drumsticks go for family meals, thighs for lunch and breasts for dinner. The bones are used to make a rich stock, which is flavored with herbs, aromatics, a few porcini mushrooms and cipollini onions." This flavorful combination becomes the luscious sauce on Powers' roasted chicken breast, the popular and second cheapest item on his dinner menu.

Stefan Richter, chef-owner of L.A. Farm in Los Angeles, also makes multiple meals out of whole chickens. He advocates keeping recipes simple, using just a few ingredients. "The most important ingredient for a perfectly roasted chicken is the recipe," he says, and if you have ever made the legendary Thomas Keller's Simple Roast Chicken recipe, you'll have to agree. Besides the chicken, he asks for salt, pepper, thyme, mustard and butter.

Kevin Sbraga, chef/owner of Sbraga Restaurant in Philadelphia, advocates buying fish whole and suggests a subtle twist on the traditional — and particularly pricey — whitefish salad, which can be $20 a pound: tilapia fish salad, which he discovered one day when he bought the flavorful but inexpensive tilapia. He ended up experimenting on a variety of sturdy, cheaper fish including red snapper and grouper, all tasty when turned into a salad. "But don't greet the fishmonger with, 'What's your cheapest fish today,' because that's asking for trouble," he says. "Ask to smell the fish. If it smells fishy, it's old. Really fresh fish smells of the sea."

Buying second- tier cuts yields rich rewards

"Find off-cuts of meat that aren't popular," says Christian Graves, executive chef at Jsix in San Diego. "Everyone wants short ribs lately, which has driven the price insanely high. Braised beef cheeks are just as delicious."

Powers features his favorite second-tier cut of meat, flat iron steak, two ways on Bambara's lunch menu. "It's so rich, it needs only salt and pepper," he says.

The sharp knife is a safe knife

To get the most value out of your meat, Powers stresses the importance of a sharp knife. "Using a dull knife puts too much pressure on the meat — you can easily tear it and not get a servable cut," he says.

We all remember Julia Child demanding that her audience learn the art of boning a chicken on her iconic television series. And her legendary "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was all about her way with the knife.

A bit of luxury is a necessity

When asked about ingredients that he is never without in the kitchen, Powers was quick to mention Slide Ridge Honey Wine Vinegar from Mendon and DaVero biodynamic olive oil from Healdsburg, Calif., and dried porcini mushrooms. He also loves high-quality black truffle oil, but warns there are a lot of impostors out there.

It's gratifying to serve a dish that tastes like a million dollars even though you spent only a couple of cents. In my kitchen, I recently boiled fettuccine, topped it with roasted asparagus and presented it to my guests. Nobody said anything. And then I sprinkled on a few drops of truffle oil, some Himalayan pink salt and a smidge of fennel pollen. They all asked for thirds. I smiled. —

Bambara's Flat Iron Steak Cobb Salad

2 (8- to 10-ounce) flat iron steaks

Vinaigrette dressing:

3 ounces extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar

1 finely diced shallot

5 sprigs fresh chervil, chopped

5 sprigs fresh chervil, left whole

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Roasted tomatoes:

6 Roma tomatoes, halved vertically

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Salad ingredients:

4 eggs hard cooked, sliced and shingled

8 ounces slab bacon or thick-cut bacon slices cooked until crispy

2 heads living Boston butter lettuce, cut into 4 wedges each (8 wedges total)

1 large ripe avocado quartered, sliced and then fanned

4 to 8 ounces Maytag or other premium blue cheese crumbled

2 to 4 ounces prepared premium blue cheese dressing

For vinaigrette • Whisk olive oil slowly into vinegar until they reach partial emulsion. Add shallot, chopped chervil, salt and pepper.

For roasted tomatoes • Heat oven to 250 degrees. Toss tomatoes with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet tray, cut side up. Roast tomatoes for 35-45 minutes until they start to caramelize and shrink. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

For steaks • Start a charcoal fire or gas grill. Season steak with good amount of salt and pepper and then brush with small amount of olive oil. Grill steak to desired doneness; allow to rest 5 to 10 minutes before slicing while you assemble the plates.

To assemble the salad • Spoon a small pool of the blue cheese dressing in the center of a plate. Place one of the lettuce wedges cut side up in the center of the pool and lean another wedge against it. On one side of the lettuce, in a stripe formation, arrange 3 tomatoes halves, the sliced and shingled egg, the sliced avocado, and blue cheese crumbles. Slice the rested grilled steak against the grain in ½- to ¾-inch slices. Arrange them on the other side of the lettuce wedge. You will use 1 steak for 2 plates.

Drizzle entire plate with the white balsamic vinaigrette and garnish with the chervil.

Powers suggests accompanying the salad with a cold Epic Brewery Pfeifferhorn lager or a sturdy Spanish rosé.

Everything for the salad may be made ahead except the steak

Servings • 4

Source: Nathan Powers, executive chef at Bambara, Salt Lake City.

See more recipes from Chef Nathan Powers below —

Cast Iron Seared Chicken with Cipollini Onion Sauce

Stock: 

1 (4- to 5-pound) chicken, broken down into wings, breast, drumsticks, boneless thigh, and back bones

1 cup diced onions,

½ cup diced carrots

½ cup diced celery

6 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

2 heads garlic, cut in half  

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms

Cipollini Onion Sauce:

4 ounces bacon, julienne

1 pound sliced cipollini onions 

1 cup Madeira wine

3 sprigs thyme, chopped

3 sprigs marjoram, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Cast iron chicken:

2 chicken breasts

2 thighs

Salt and pepper to taste

2 ounces high-temperature oil (grape seed or canola)

For the stock • Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a large roasting pan, combine chicken bones, onions, carrots, celery, thyme, bay leaf and garlic. Toss with oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast until bones and vegetables are a rich golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Transfer bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Add 1 gallon cold water. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 4 hours. Strain. The next day, bring stock to a boil, add dried mushrooms, lower to simmer and reduce by half.

For the onion sauce • Brown bacon and onions slowly in a heavy saucepan until amber in color. Pour in Madeira, scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce until nearly dry. Add reduced chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook slowly for about an hour to concentrate the sauce. Add the chopped herbs and season with salt and pepper.

Cool and reserve.

For the seared cast iron chicken • Heat oven to 425 degrees. Season chicken with salt and pepper. To a large cast iron skillet add oil. Bring heat to high, brown and crisp skin side of breast and thighs. When skin is brown and starting to crisp, flip chicken pieces over and place the skillet in oven. Roast until done (165 degrees on a meat thermometer). Place birds on wire rack to rest for 10 minutes. Slice breast and thigh in half.

To serve, spoon warmed sauce on the plate. Place chicken on top. Serve with macaroni and cheese, and a light vegetable such as grilled asparagus, wilted kale or baby green beans. Garnish with parsley chiffonade.

Servings • 4

Source: Nathan Powers, executive chef at Bambara, Salt Lake City. —

Cast Iron Seared Chicken with Cipollini Onion Sauce

Stock: 

1 (4- to 5-pound) chicken, broken down into wings, breast, drumsticks, boneless thigh, and back bones

1 cup diced onions,

½ cup diced carrots

½ cup diced celery

6 sprigs thyme

1 bay leaf

2 heads garlic, cut in half  

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms

Cipollini Onion Sauce:

4 ounces bacon, julienne

1 pound sliced cipollini onions 

1 cup Madeira wine

3 sprigs thyme, chopped

3 sprigs marjoram, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Cast iron chicken:

2 chicken breasts

2 thighs

Salt and pepper to taste

2 ounces high-temperature oil (grape seed or canola)

For the stock: Heat oven to 450 degrees. In a large roasting pan, combine chicken bones, onions, carrots, celery, thyme, bay leaf and garlic. Toss with oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast until bones and vegetables are a rich golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Transfer bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Add 1 gallon cold water. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 4 hours. Strain. The next day, bring stock to a boil, add dried mushrooms, lower to simmer and reduce by half.

For the onion sauce, brown bacon and onions slowly in a heavy saucepan until amber in color. Pour in Madeira, scraping up browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce until nearly dry. Add reduced chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook slowly for about an hour to concentrate the sauce. Add the chopped herbs and season with salt and pepper.

Cool and reserve.

For the seared cast iron chicken: Heat oven to 425 degrees. Season chicken with salt and pepper. To a large cast iron skillet add oil. Bring heat to high, brown and crisp skin side of breast and thighs. When skin is brown and starting to crisp, flip chicken pieces over and place the skillet in oven. Roast until done (165 degrees on a meat thermometer). Place birds on wire rack to rest for 10 minutes. Slice breast and thigh in half.

To serve, spoon warmed sauce on the plate. Place chicken on top. Serve with macaroni and cheese, and a light vegetable such as grilled asparagus, wilted kale or baby green beans. Garnish with parsley chiffonade.

Servings • 4

Source: Nathan Powers, executive chef at Bambara, Salt Lake City.

Smoky Ham Hock Mac & Cheese

½pound tortiglioni or penne pasta

2 tablespoons butter

4 ounces braised and smoked ham hock meat or diced smoked ham

¼ cup Riesling wine

2 cups cream reduced by half

1 cup shredded Beehive Cheddar

½ cup shredded aged Gruyère

¼ cup shredded Parmesan

12 sprigs Italian parsley, shredded or cut into thin strips

½ cup quality sourdough breadcrumbs

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta for a little more than half of the recommended time listed on the box or until barely al dente. Drain. Do not rinse. Reserve.

In a large sauté pan, add butter and gently brown ham for a few minutes. Deglaze with the wine and reduce. Add cream and slowly start adding the cheese to melt and combine with creamy ham mixture. Reserve a bit to spoon over the finished dish.  

When the cheese and ham are incorporated, add the pasta. Over medium heat, cook mixture for a few minutes. Add ¾ of the parsley.

Heat oven to 400. Portion each serving into an individual ceramic bakeware dish or altogether into one large dish. Just before serving, place in hot fast oven; cover with remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs and bake until bubbly and slightly browned.

 Serve with a light vegetable such as baby green beans, wilted kale or grilled asparagus.