Most foods must be fabricated in some manner prior to being utilized into whatever dish is being prepared. This often means breaking them down into their component parts. During my cooking classes I frequently get questions about whether certain parts of foods can be eaten. For example, I’ll be removing the broccoli florets from the stalk and someone might ask if you can eat the stem. (The answer is yes by the way).
Asking whether you can eat something could mean a few different things. At the extreme it could mean is this item safe to eat? Or, it could be an inquiry as to its digestibility. But usually, people are asking if the item in question is good to eat. Is it tasty? And is there anything special you need to do to in order to consume it? With these questions in mind let’s look at some commonly queried foods.
• Can you eat the dark green part of scallions?
Absolutely. Once you trim the root end of the scallion, a.k.a. green onion, the entire onion is edible.
• What about the dark green parts of leeks?
Ah, now here’s a catch. The dark green leaves on leeks are very tough. When incorporating leeks into a recipe they are almost always removed. However, they do have their uses. They are excellent for flavoring stocks. Substitute them for regular onion or add them in addition to onion for a broader flavor profile. I like cutting them into thin strips, blanching them briefly, and then using them to tie julienned bundles of vegetables which I then cook.
• How about the stems on herbs?
Yes and no. At one extreme is cilantro. Many Latin cooks would consider it a sacrilege to discard the stems. They are indispensable for adding crunch to your salsa or guacamole. They are also good for salads and soups. Basically, anything you put cilantro in would also benefit from the stems.
It’s also not a big deal to include some of the thinner parts of the stem from herbs whose stems are softer, such as parsley, dill or tarragon. Woodier stems however, such as from rosemary are best avoided.
• What about mushroom stems?
Yes with the exception of shitake. Shitake stems are tough and woody. For others, trim the end of the stem and chop it with the rest of the mushroom.
• Since we’re on mushrooms, can you eat the brown underside of portobellos?
The “gills” of the portobello are completely edible. They can discolor light colored sauces so some chefs scrape them off for aesthetic purposes.
• Can you eat the rind on brie cheese?
Yes and some people love it.
• What about the rind on Parmesan?
As a block of Parmesan ages you’ll notice a darker, hard rind forming near the edge. This is usually not eaten directly because of its toughness. However, Italian cooks take advantage of it by adding it to soups or stews as a flavoring agent. Allow it to semi-melt in your soup during cooking and remove it before serving.
• Can you eat celery leaves?
Yes. Chop them and add them to stock, soup, stews, etc. Treat them like an herb.
• Can you eat unpeeled carrots?
The skin of carrots is completely edible and packed with vitamins and fiber. But I recommend scrubbing them with a vegetable brush first.
• Can you eat artichoke leaves?
Sort of. You don’t actually pop the whole leaf in your mouth and chomp away. It’s much too fibrous. After cooking the artichoke, you dip the leaves in butter or a vinaigrette and then scrape the pulp off from the inside of the leaf with your teeth.
• Can you eat the seeds of squash like pumpkin seeds?
Yes. The next time you make an acorn or butternut squash, save the seeds. Rinse them, dry them, swirl them with some oil, add salt and roast them. They taste very similar to pumpkin seeds.
• OK, what about that bag of chicken parts that comes inside the chicken?
The “giblets” are the liver, gizzard and heart of the chicken. The neck is usually included in the packet as well. The gizzard and heart can be used to flavor stocks and soups, or chopped and mixed into stuffings. The livers are usually cooked separately. Use them to make a chicken liver pate. The neck is ideal for making chicken stock.
• Should I pour out that liquid on the top of the yogurt when I open it?
You don’t have to. It’s simply some of the whey that has separated from the rest of the yogurt. Just mix it back in. It’s rich in protein and low in fat. How often do you see those two things together?
• Can you eat the seeds of peppers?
Many people discard the seeds of hot peppers believing that they contain the pepper’s heat. Capsaicin, the substance that gives chiles their kick, is primarily found in the veins of the pepper. The seeds are tough however and are usually disposed of for textural reasons. Although, a Latin chef I know sprinkles poblano seeds on his steak dishes which gives them an interesting twist.
• OK, what about the orange stuff you sometimes find on and around lobster tails, and that green stuff in the body?
Yes and yes. The orange pellets are roe, the lobster’s eggs. The “green stuff” is the tomalley, i.e., the liver. Many consider it a delicacy but the food police will warn you that the liver is the organ that detoxifies the blood and thus can contain toxins. Your choice but it is edible and delectable to some.
• Can you eat those “fingers” on the sides of the crab’s body?
Ixnay to this one. The “dead man’s fingers” are the crab’s gills. They have a funky taste and are always discarded.
• What about the darker spots of meat you sometimes find on tuna or salmon?
Yes they are edible. Variations in muscular anatomy and blood flow cause uneven coloring. Usually chefs trim away those sections however again for aesthetic purposes.
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