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How to clean out your fridge for the New Year

Matt Gross/Bon Appetit

If you’re anything like me—i.e., a person with a freezer too full of pig parts to close properly and an entire refrigerator shelf devoted to pickling—then New Year’s is the perfect time to get your culinary house in order.

I don’t really dig on “resolutions,” but there’s something real and important about starting the year with all of your ducks, duck carcasses, and tubs of rendered duck fat in a row.

I like to start on New Year’s Eve, and I like to start with lots and lots of ice-cold vodka. Here’s how it works: Haul out all of those jars of tangy, salty pickled things (homemade or otherwise), and bring them with you to whatever fête you happen to be going to. Lay out a spread of fermented deliciousness, and stick a couple of bottles of decent vodka (nothing in a plastic bottle, but nothing that has figured prominently in a pop song, either) in a bucket of ice. Then, do like my Slavic brethren before me: Pour short shots of freezing liquor for anyone you can cajole into joining you, toast loudly, throw it back and chase with something zippy. Pickled garlic. Olives. Salted anchovies. Repeat until the vodka, pickles, or guests are finished.

Once I’ve succeeded in ruining enhancing the evening, and freeing up precious refrigerator space, I like to wake up, shake off the first hangover of the year, and get busy with the freezer. I take everything out, lay it on the counter, and survey my frosty domain. Such possibility. Such mystery. 

First order of business: pitch all of the Unlabeled Curiosities (I’m looking at you, lentil-y “thing”). Then I’ll thaw out a few of those clever Time-Saving Meal Solutions that I’ve been stockpiling over the course of the year (leftover bolognese! chicken soup!) to be eaten that night and over the course of the next week.

Next, I take stock of my Project Proteins—the lamb shanks, the beef tongue, the stock-bound chicken carcasses. The largest specimen (yes, a deer leg) will go into the fridge to thaw—call it motivation to host a weekend dinner party—while the rest get inventoried along with any other freezer treats that pass muster. I’ll post that list on the fridge, to be consulted on rainy Sundays and before trips to the grocery store. And voilà. A dark, frozen cave has been transformed into a glowing wellspring of possibility.

I find this whole process, from the vodka-and-pickle-pushing to the frozen-pig-part-sorting, to be soothing and deeply restorative. It’s the best way to reflect on a year of cooking—the successes, the failures, the excesses—and to look forward to a year of delicious possibilities. 

After all, now that that deer leg is thawing, there’s so much space in the freezer…

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