The Outer Bits: Maximizing Peels, Shells, Husks, Rinds

Egg Shells and Avocado Peels: What to Do With ThemSome of the best tools in the kitchen are the kind you won’t find on store shelves. And since we’re feeling a little eco-happy this week at the Chef’s Table, we thought we’d lend the spotlight to an often overlooked implement: I call them “outer bits,” the rinds, peels, husks, and shells we peel or crack away and all too often stuff straight in the trash can.

One great habit for an eco-conscious kitchen is putting every part of your foodstuffs you can to use. It takes a little foresight and innovation to find creative ways to use things you usually consider waste, but once you’ve got them on your radar, you’ll be surprised at how many uses you’ll find for things like tea leaves, juiced citrus, and, of course, the outer bits. Here’s just a few:

  • The rinds of fruit and vegetables can be great cooking and presentation vehicles. We put this idea to practice this with our Avocado Baked Eggs with Lemon Butter. Other examples are twice-baked potatoes and the coastal cocktails you often see served up in coconut shells. Here’s a shot of the coconut shrimp at my favorite Mexi-Indo fusion joint back in Mexico, which was served in a pineapple rind with lots of flesh still on it, so that every bite had bits of the fresh fruit.

  • Who knew you could do oh-so-much with used, cleaned, and/or hollowed out eggshells? The Daily Green has a fantastic post with several uses for eggshells, including using them to shape (and serve) chocolates, dissolving them in apple cider vinegar as topical skin irritation relief, and filling them with potting mix (and lining them up in the used carton) to plant seedlings or root cuttings.
  • Banana leaves and corn husks make great material for steaming or baking in, such as in the preparation of tamales, sticky rice, Phillipino bibingka cake, and dishes in the pibil style (like cochinita pibil). They’re also often used for presentation, whether the dish was prepared within them or not. Here’s a chicken and vegetable mole served corn husk-and-wine glass style by Chef Alexandra Gomez Arriaga at the 2011 Latin American Food Show.

  • Vegetable peels (along with other random outer bits cut from onions, garlic, etc. while prepping a meal) can be thrown into a stockpot and boiled with water, other veggie scraps, and optionally bones, shells, or spices to make homemade stock.
  • Citrus rinds of course make for fantastic flavoring when zested into sauces, dressings, frosting or glaze, oatmeal, and rice pudding. Some rinds like orange and watermelon are themselves candied or pickled, respectively, for tasty treats.

Next time you go to pitch your peels, take a few minutes to research how you might be able to put them to use, or dream up your own new outer bit strategies.