More Tips for a Happier Kitchen, Pt. II

It was so good, so helpful, I just had to do a follow up.

Actually, I mostly did a “part II” because of a fun video I wanted you all to see. And also because of a little trick I learned from our Mexican cook, Marilu, on our recent vacation south of Puerto Vallarta.


Vietnamese spring rolls with lime peanut sauce

Vietnamese spring rolls with lime peanut sauce

Lime Juice on Apple Slices
This one I learned on our recent vacation to Mexico. Each morning, a platter of fruit would emerge from the kitchen. Of course, the tropical fruits — mango, pineapple and papaya — were perfectly ripe and wonderful. But the best thing of all was the apple slices. It took us some time to figure out that the reason they were so good was that Marilu, our resident chef, had squeezed lime juice over them. And, as a bonus for you folks with kids, the lime juice keeps the apples from oxidizing in school lunch boxes!

Sauce in a Baggie
When you go to fancy restaurants, you’ll often find skinny 20-something sous chefs bent uncomfortably over a plate, drizzling it with an oil or reduction from a tiny squirt bottle. I achieve the same thing without soiling the difficult-to-clean little bottles by using plastic baggies.

How? I place the sauce or oil into a plastic baggie and snip off a tiny corner of a size to create whatever drizzle effect I’m going for. And then, similar to the way you would use a pastry bag, I squeeze out the sauce in the desired pattern onto the plate. Does that sound confusing? Watch:

Chicken Breast on the Grill
If you must… leave the skin on. Even if you don’t eat it, it will protect the meat and keep it moist. Brine in salted water before cooking. Cook at a VERY high heat for a short period of time (about two minutes per side per inch thickness). For a marinade, use fats — olive oil and garlic and rosemary for Italian-style, Greek yogurt and mint for Greek-style, etc. And when serving, don’t simply plop a whole breast down on someone’s plate  — slice across the grain at 1/2 – 1 inch thickness, drizzle with a little more olive oil or other fat, then sprinkle with flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Doesn’t that sound better?

Add a Little Coffee to That Gravy
It’s the secret ingredient of the red-eye gravy served with country ham in the south and Appalachia — coffee! But I find it adds a fantastic depth and complexity to just about any gravy. I splashed a quarter cup in the brown gravy I was making for Swedish meatballs a few weeks ago, and it transformed it from fine to sublime.

Save the Shells!!!
From the Skinny Girls Resourcefulness Files comes this plea. When you’re making shrimp, crab or lobster, don’t discard the shells — save them! They’re loaded with flavor.

I thought of this tip as I gathered up the top shell “lid” and broken up bits of crab I had left over while making Hong Kong-style salt & pepper crab. Loathe as I am to discard anything that might still have some flavor to be coaxed out, I tossed the crab refuse into a large pot with some chicken stock, Old Bay and a bay leave and set it to a boil. The next night, we were eating our second meal from the one crab — a warm, satisfying crab bisque.

Whenever we have lobster, which isn’t often, I boil the shell with onion and celery and tomato, blend it all and put it through a sieve, reduce down the stock to half a cup or so, splash in a little sherry, add some butter or cream, and voila! a perfect lobster sauce.


Now then, go try out that baggie thing for yourself. Or, if you’re peeling and eating shrimp tonight, here’s what to do with the part you would’ve thrown out:

*   *   *

Shrimp bisque
serves 4

1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned, shelled and deveined
1 quart chicken stock
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup cream

Chop the shrimp and place in a covered bowl in the fridge.

Heat the chicken stock over medium-high heat until simmering, reduce heat to medium and add the shrimp shells. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Strain stock through a fine sieve to remove shrimp shells, and return to heat. Add onion, half the potatoes and tomato paste. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Place soup in a blender and puree until smooth. Return to soup pot over medium-low heat. Add remaining potatoes.

In a small bowl, combine butter and flour thoroughly to create a beurre manié paste. Stir into soup until incorporated. Add chopped shrimp and cream and cook on medium low for 15 minutes. If soup seems too thick, add another 1 cup of chicken stock.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with crusty bread and butter and your favorite ale.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 01:18:43

    More great tips! Love the “if you must” re the chicken breasts. And we just made a great Thai shrimp soup from stock we made from shells this weekend.


  2. Lori Koefoed
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 01:29:51

    I love these tips! Although I’ve often used strong coffee as a “secret” ingredient in baked goods, I’ve never considered it in savory foods…brilliant!


  3. Benjamin J Thompson (@ThompsonBenjami)
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 05:54:01

    Coffee also adds great complexity to a steak rub. Speaking of country ham, I have one living in my fridge right now. It’s about to be my wife’s birthday dinner in a few weeks. I’m going to soak for a day, simmer for a few hours, and then finish on the Big Green Egg with a Major Grey chutney glaze. Salty/sweet goodness. Never had a true country ham before so I look forward to seeing how it turns out. Probably will be made with biscuits, potatoes gratin, roasted Brussel’s sprouts, and some glazed carrots. Gotta keep it simple.


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