Last weekend, we had a family shopping trip to Costco. We don’t go there so often, but I was having cravings for sliced peaches and it is one of the few places in Taipei that definitely stocks Western style items like canned fruit. While there we decided to pick up a pre-cooked barbecued chicken (NT$139) to take back for lunch. This reminded me somewhat of an earlier episode of my favourite soap opera, Inborn Pair, where Grandma Ke, on a strict no-meat health diet imposed to cure to her fake cancer, hides a Costco barbecue chicken in her cupboard so that visitors wouldn’t see it. But it smelt so good that she got found out. Ahhh!
Mr Taiwanxifu often likes to gently tease me about my frugal ways, especially in relation to food. I hate throwing things out, and will often try to find some new use for something rather than waste. And making good use of a decent barbecue chicken is one way to demonstrate my capacity to use every last bit of something. As soon as we got home from Costco, I carefully tore away all the meat from the carcass using my hands. (It is much easier to do this while the bird is still warm.) Then I used some of the flesh to make chicken bagel sandwiches (I didn’t have salad vegetables, but shredded some Chinese cabbage and added grated carrot). And the carcass — the best bit — I put straight into the slow cooker to make a nourishing chicken barley soup. Some of soup liquid I used for dinner as the base for a Chinese-style chicken noodle soup topped with sesame oil. Then I turned another portion into a simple pasta dish (making double for lunch the next day), and still managed to reserve a drumstick for Mr Taiwanxifu to eat as a snack during the week.
I am happy to learn that I am not the only one who hates waste. Taiwan celebrity chef Ah-chi-shih (阿基師), aka Chef Cheng Yen-chi (鄭衍基), has long been an advocate for reducing waste in Taiwan’s food industry. Last year he made headlines for criticising chefs’ inability to calculate the exact amount of food they need to prepare dishes during the World Culinary Contest at the annual Taiwan Culinary Exhibition. Ah-chi-shih has also been involved in a project to encourage Taiwan’s restauranteurs to find creative ways to use up their leftovers.
More recently Ah-chi-shih made headlines again. While judging a cooking competition at Donghai High School in New Taipei City, Ah-chi-shih was upset to learn that students had filleted fresh fish and then thrown the bones in the bin. He went over to the garbage can and insisted on fishing the bones out. ‘Good things should not be wasted,’ he remonstrated the sorry-looking students. ‘Now go and wash this, and I’ll show you how to make a soup from these bones.’ After making a simple soup by adding just water and without any seasonings, he then proceeded to make the students taste the soup (which he also tried himself). ‘Now that’s education,’ he said.
I am a huge fan of Ah-chi-shih. His recipes are practical and easy to follow, but more importantly he demonstrates good hygiene and skills in the kitchen — just like a professional chef ought to. You won’t see Ah-chi-shih licking his fingers or sucking cake batter off a wooden spoon. Instead, everything is scrupulously clean. When he needs to use his hands in cooking, they are usually covered with plastic gloves. And if he needs to add water, it is from a bottle of mineral water rather than simply from the tap. A short, cheeky character, he is always immaculately groomed in a spotless white chef outfit and hat.
Frugality is usually recognised as a virtue in Taiwan. While large banquets are now becoming the norm, it is usually socially acceptable to stop eating when you have had enough. And most restaurants will glady package up leftovers for patrons to take home. Home cooks will often dish up the same food at different meals until it is all finished; one of the advantages of serving many dishes at meals is that leftovers can be easily incorporated into the next meal — or the one after that. And in Taiwanese cuisine there are are many ways that leftover bits can be transformed into soups, fried rice or noodle dishes.
So next time you are thinking of throwing some chicken or fish bones out, watch out. Maybe Ah-chi-shi is watching. And if you have any recipes for reusing fish bones, I would love to hear about them.