I'm really into thrifty cooking. There are few things I love as much as stretching ingredients or using up the bits and pieces that usually get thrown away. This is less out of a desire to save money (although that's never a bad thing) than it is an almost hereditary urge.
My great-grandmother (we call her MawMaw) is a huge role model of mine. Not only is she all the things you want in a role model--kind, loving, savvy, experienced--but she's also an incredible cook and the image of frugality. She grew up during the Great Depression, but apart from that she came from a family of farmers who took nothing for granted.
As I've written in previous posts, my great-grandmother (now 95 years old) saves not only used (but clean) scraps of tin foil and plastic containers, but even the last two cups of coffee from a brewed pot.
In the intrepid spirit of MawMaw, and in the interest of my budget, I too try to make the most of what's in my fridge. This has led me to cook beet and turnip greens, make bread salad, use carrot tops for pesto, and even use cheese scraps to make fromage fort. But there are so many ways to extend the usefulness of ingredients. Why stop with the obvious?
All of this is why, when we were recently given a Dungeness crab by a relative, we decided to turn the shells into a deeply flavored butter. This is not a new thing. Shellfish butter is actually quite a classic preparation, but the flavor is anything but stodgy and old-fashioned.
The crushed shells of crab or lobster add a tremendous, rich flavor and a light pink hue to the butter. This is an instance of something being greater than the sum of its parts. Shellfish butter tastes way more complicated than it is.
Use shellfish butter anywhere you want to add richness--to sauces and cream-based soups, on toast or biscuits, or drizzled over grilled meats.
Spread on a baking sheet and dry in a 250°F oven for 20 to 30 minutes:
Shells (uncooked or cooked) from 1 pound shrimp or crayfish or one 1 1/2- to 2-pound lobster, well rinsed and drained
Break up the shells as fine as possible with a wooden mallet or rolling pin. Melt in the top of a double boiler over simmering water:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
Add the shells and cook over the simmering water for 10 minutes. Set aside for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse. Pour into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl; let stand for up to 20 minutes to strain out all the butter. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water to cool quickly, or refrigerate until chilled. Skim off the butter when the mixture has solidified; discard any liquid.