Closed-Loop Cooking: Create a Zero-Waste Kitchen



“Closed-loop cooking” is a phrase that is gaining more traction in the culinary spheres, and it is essentially another way to say “zero-waste cooking.” While many of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents knew how to use every part of an animal and reduce waste due to Depression-era frugality, the desire to eliminate waste and use the entirety of a grocery trip or garden harvest has resurfaced in the American kitchen, for many new reasons.

While there are obvious economic advantages to using more and buying less, there are other benefits, too. Practicing closed-loop cooking can reduce our environmental impact, and it allows us more pleasure as we enjoy more parts of plants and food that is losing freshness in new ways. Keeping a circular kitchen also connects us to the greater cycle of life we are part of, plugging us into the food system and even deepening our spiritual connection with the world around us.

There are many ways to practice closed-loop cooking, and it can seem overwhelming at first. We can begin by being aware: stopping as we reach to throw out that stale bread or carrot tops, and then thinking of all the ways we can use our second-tier food for new purposes. Here are six ways to get started.

Create a Stock Bag

It might feel like making soup stock is for the professional home chef, but it’s easy enough for anyone to do. Save all your vegetable ends and trimmings — carrot stubs, mushroom stems, onion peels, and other scraps — and if you’re a meat eater, throw in poultry carcasses, fish heads, and beef bones. Avoid saving starchy, sulfurous, or bland vegetables — think about the flavor each piece will contribute.

Keep all the scraps in a large plastic bag in the freezer, and when it’s full, dump the contents into a large pot and add just enough cold water to cover everything. Then add salt and herbs to season, bring it to a boil, and reduce to medium heat to simmer for a minimum of an hour. Keep in mind that the longer you let it cook, the stronger the flavor will be, so it’s best to block off several hours.

When your stock is cooked to your preference, strain it, let it cool, and then store it in the freezer for when you’re ready to make soup.

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