Continuing the theme from last week of finding ways to use “waste,” this week’s post is again about using scraps, this time, meat scraps and vegetable peelings.
My garden is completely organic, so I never hesitate to use any part of a vegetable I’ve grown, including the peelings. I read once that the two crops which are most heavily sprayed with pesticides are apples and potatoes, which makes me really glad I grow both in my garden, and I can use the residues of processing and preserving–peels, cores, etc.–in other ways.
I also try to find ways of using the scraps of meat left from trimming up our wild game. This past week, Dennis and I had to make room in the freezer for his bear, so I decided to turn last year’s venison into this year’s ready-to-eat meals. I thawed out most of the venison, and since I’d wanted to make jerky as well, Dennis sliced up enough round steak to fill 7 dehydrator trays and 2 cooling racks in the oven. It got a quick marinade in some teriyaki sauce and then onto the trays. In the process of slicing the meat, Dennis trimmed quite a bit of silverskin and fat off of it, and of course, there was meat in the trimmings as well.
“What do you want me to do with this?” he said, indicating his growing pile of scraps. I immediately thought, stock. I made a huge batch of stock last year from this deer’s bones and canned it, and it was really good. (We subsequently picked the meat off the bones and made an enormous pan of venison enchiladas.)
The rest of the thawed venison was going to be cubed for soup. The recipe called for browning the meat and adding the seasonings and vegetables, then covering with water, bringing to boil, and then filling the jars and processing for 90 minutes. How much better it would be, I thought, to cover the meat and vegetables with stock. And what better way to use those meat scraps from the jerky?
Here’s the key to good stock: roast the meat and vegetables first. I don’t remember when I first learned to do this, but probably from making chicken soup out of roast chicken carcasses, and stretching how many meals I could get from one chicken, back when I was first married and had babies. Roasting adds flavor and color to the stock. You won’t get nearly as much flavor, and no color to speak of, if you just dump your scraps into a pot of water. So to start this stock, I put a whole bunch of limp celery and hairy carrots from the fridge down on two baking sheets. I added three quartered onions, distributing them between the two sheets. Then on top of that, I spread out the meat scraps. I drizzled all that with a little olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, and into the oven it went at 425 degrees to roast until it was good and brown.
After browning, the scraps went into a big pot. I threw in a handful of fresh thyme, two sprigs of fresh hyssop, and a big bay leaf. I covered this with water, brought it to a boil, and kept it at a low boil for a couple of hours while I went out to dig potatoes and pull carrots for the soup.
When the liquid was nice and brown and the scraps and vegetables were tender, I strained it off through a colander. There is no added coloring in this stock, nothing artificial. Look at that color!
Because this stock was going immediately into a soup or stew, I didn’t double strain it. I did cool it and skim off the little bit of fat that rose to the top because I wanted to can my venison soup, and I didn’t want the fat rising to the top of the jars during processing and spoiling the seals. If I were going to process the stock by itself, the way I did last year, I’d have strained it again through cheesecloth after cooling to get more fat and particles out of it.
I looked at that pile of meat and veggies in the colander, and I thought, I wonder if you’ve given all you have to give? I dumped the scraps back in the pot, covered them again with water, but only half as much as I’d used the first time, and put them back on the boil. This second batch of stock was not as dark, nor was there as much, but I was glad I’d made it when I got all the soup ingredients together in my 13-quart stockpot, because the first batch of stock wasn’t quite enough to cover 5 pounds of meat, 3 cups of onions, 12 cups of potatoes, and 6 cups of carrots. I ended up using all the stock I’d made. I canned 7 quart jars of soup/stew, with a couple of quarts left over for dinner.
I tasted the meat scraps after they’d been boiled again, and there was no flavor left in them. I suppose there was protein, and I racked my brain to think of some way of using them that would be tasty, but at that point I was too tired to come up with anything. So the scraps went out to the woods with Dennis the next day, where they will feed some other critter, maybe a bear. (If we put such things in our trash at home, the resident bear strews all the garbage all over the driveway.)
It was a long day of cooking and canning (I also made 7 quarts of venison chili and canned it) but since I had fresh potato peels from my new potatoes, I decided to try something I’d read about on Facebook. I pressed my potato peels between paper towels to get the excess moisture out, then scattered them on a baking sheet. I drizzled them with a little olive oil, maybe a tablespoon, and sprinkled with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, and a little onion powder. Then I put them in the oven at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes and stirred them once. I almost forgot about them, and a few got a little dark, but oh boy, are these things good! Better than potato chips! It tickled me to use something I’d have thrown in the compost otherwise. As far as nutrition goes, most of whatever a potato has is in the skin, but unfortunately, that’s also where most of the pesticide residue is on commercially-grown potatoes. Not mine!
I saved the carrot peels from my garden carrots, along with the cut ends of the onions, in a freezer bag for the next batch of stock I’ll make, which will probably be bear stock. I’ve got a bear in the freezer to cook up over the winter!