Mindfulness (Or Throw Nothing Out)

I was giving a cooking lesson to my friend Tracy’s “gourmet group” recently, and was telling the ladies about cooking a duck and using every part of it — the meat, the skin, the liver, the bones — and getting some winces from the girls. (I know, ducks are cute…) But I was making a point of not wasting and using as much as you can of an animal that has died for your sustenance (and/or pleasure). It’s the sacred thing to do.

My wife and I once had a grilled fish on the beach in Mazatlan — it took the guy 2 hours to cook it, he told us his story, about his life and family, gave us Pacificos, and finally presented the grilled fish in all its glory. We felt honored to be eating it, squeezed with lime, drizzled with salsa, wrapped in tortillas. This is what eating should be. I cooked a whole Japanese sea bass on the grill a few nights ago, head and all. We picked the meat from the bones, just like in Mazatlan, made tacos. Then I threw the bones and head into a pot of water with an onion, bay leaf, celery found limp in the veggie drawer… and made a stock. I froze the stock in ziploc bags to have when I want it for fish soup, paella, whatever. Most people would’ve simply thrown the bones away. But respecting the animal is the sacred thing to do. And you get a few more meals out of it, which in difficult economic times is also the smart thing to do.

I was at dinner at a friends house a few weeks ago. She bought a roast chicken somewhere, served us the meat, and was getting ready to throw the bones away. “Can I have those?” I said. The bones from a roast chicken you buy at the market or wherever will make the BEST chicken stock you’ve ever had. Throw it in water with an onion, carrot and bay leaf, some salt, simmer for an hour or so, and strain.

Mindfulness is the most important aspect of cooking. Mindful of your ingredients and their freshness. Mindfulness of the seasons. Mindfulness of your body and what you put into it. People along the Adriatic eat lots of fresh fish, they pour olive oil liberally over EVERYTHING, they eat pork and beef grazed on the farms around them, they eat fresh butter and greens foraged from the hills, or that they grew themselves. They linger hours over their meals, conversing,  and drink more wine than the average American. And they live longer than anyone else on earth.

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