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Wed August 7, 2013
Pot Liquor: A Southern Tradition To Salvage Nutritious Broth From Greens
Originally published on Wed August 7, 2013 4:05 pm
Pot liquor — not what the name implies — is the leftover water of boiled greens.
It’s a Louisiana tradition to save the nutrient and vitamin-rich water that leaches out during cooking.
NPR food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey tastes some of the greens water and shares tips on how to use it.
- Read Allison Aubrey’s blog post on NPR’s The Salt
- In defense of the traditional spelling ‘potlikker’
- More segments with NPR’s Allison Aubrey
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. This summer, some bad weather on the East Coast has caused the price of lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens to soar. The Los Angeles Times reports iceberg lettuce is double the price from a year ago. The price may be high, but so is the nutritional value. The only problem is when we cook the greens, we tend to boil away most of those vitamins. NPR's food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey joins us now to talk about one solution, a Southern tradition called pot liquor. Hi, there, Allison.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hi there, Jeremy.
HOBSON: So what exactly is pot liquor, and how can it help salvage the vitamins from greens?
BYLINE: Well, in many a Southern kitchen, it's a tradition to save the liquid that's left over after you cook up a big pot of greens and reuse it. So, in essence, pot liquor is the salvaged broth from greens that contains a lot of the vitamins and nutrients that are typically cooked out.
HOBSON: I see it when I dump a pot with broccoli, and you see the green water come out, and that's, you know...
BYLINE: That's right.
HOBSON: ...pretty much what it is. What does it taste like?
BYLINE: Well, you know, kind of depends on what you do with it. I've visited the kitchen of Pearl Dive, a very trendy kind of fun spot here in D.C. It's a New Orleans-style restaurant. And the chef there, James Huff, who's cooked his way through some of New Orleans' top kitchens, uses pot liquor in all sorts of ways. I caught up with him as he was simmering a big pot of greens. It was collared greens, mustard greens and kale. And here's what he told me.
JAMES HUFF: The process usually takes a couple of hours, and what you're left with is this wonderful pot liquor, which has absorbed all of the wonderful flavors of the kind of seasoning meats that we put in it. It has a lot of nutritional value, as well.
BYLINE: Now, Huff told me that his first experience with pot liquor was really kind of a fluke. He was working in New Orleans and...
HUFF: I've seen a couple of guys kind of sneak the pot liquor away to their cooking stations and drink it, and so I was kind of intrigued. And I asked them about it, and then it seemed to be a staple of a lot of Southern homes. People growing up there, their grandmothers and grandfathers would never let anything go to waste, which is kind of the philosophy of Southern cooking.
HOBSON: And maybe they were going after that pot liquor because it tasted good, or maybe it has these nutritional values he was talking about.
BYLINE: That's right. Well, yeah, there's kind of - there's a lot of science around this. There are several studies that show that greens lose a lot of their nutrition during cooking, and this is basically because a lot of the vitamins are water-soluble. So, a few years back, some researchers in Spain evaluated fresh spinach. They looked at the total flavonoid count, and those are the beneficial plant compounds. They also looked at vitamin C levels, and they found that boiling extracted about 50 percent of the total flavonoids and about 60 percent of the vitamin C.
It also ends up in the cooked water, so this is, you know, a real issue. And if you save the water you cooked your greens in, you can really salvage some of the nutrients.
HOBSON: And should you just drink it, or what's the best way to consume it?
BYLINE: Well, sure, I mean that's one option. You can sort of just drink it. You can put it in a broth, blend it with some chicken stock, and it becomes sort of the base of a soup. But I should say I hung around long enough at the restaurant Pearl Dive to taste the dish that James Huff was making. He used the pot liquor from the collared greens and reduced it with this saute of garlic and shallots, and he poured it over a piece of rockfish. It was really delicious.
Wow. What I do notice is that the bitterness of these greens really comes through in the pot liquor. Is that right?
HUFF: The bitterness is actually quite nice in the completed dish. It kind of complements everything else well. You have the acidity from the tomatoes, a little bit - a splash of sherry vinegar we put in there, as well. So...
BYLINE: So it really adds this distinct flavor when you put it in a dish and, of course, all those vitamins. And, hey, if you would like a simple recipe to make a big old pot of greens, you can check it out on our food blog, The Salt. I'm writing about it today.
HOBSON: Which we will link to at hereandnow.org. Allison Aubrey, NPR's food and health correspondent, thank you so much.
BYLINE: All right. My pleasure.
HOBSON: And up next, some new concerns about the water leaking from the crippled Fukishima plant in Japan. That is next. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.