Some people look at a recipe like my teriyaki-glazed chicken and scallion skewers and think, I have to make a full cup of teriyaki sauce only to use half of it?
Not me. I think, Sweet! That's the hardest part of dinner tonight, and it takes care of next week, too.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned in my years working in restaurant kitchens is that preparing things 100% from scratch for every meal is a surefire way to burn out. Even with a relatively simple list of ingredients and preparation, there are times when I'd rather just pick up the phone and order a pizza than be bothered starting a new project from square one. At least, that's what I would do, if I didn't realize that leftover bits and pieces from recipes are all culinary gifts, just waiting to be unwrapped and repurposed.
It's an inevitable part of restaurant life: That flavorful oil I have left over after frying shallots? You can bet your butt it's gonna go into the walk-in and will get pulled out again later in the week as the base for a vinaigrette, or perhaps as a drizzle on a soup course. The chiles I pickled for that fish dish are going to last for months after the fish is out of season, and that's great! One less item to prep down the line.
This lesson, this method of making future meals easier, is so strongly ingrained in me that I often intentionally double or triple the quantities of a base preparation so that I'll have an ample supply to deploy down the line.
That's what allows me to pull together a dinner like this rice bowl with teriyaki-glazed salmon and avocado in the amount of time it takes to steam a pot of rice, with plenty of standing-around-and-whiling-away-on-the-internet time built in. Once I have the rice on, all I have to do is sear the salmon (I use this technique, developed for my book), dice up some avocado and cucumber, slice a couple of scallions, and pull that leftover teriyaki sauce out of the fridge. (A couple of spare shishito peppers from my pepper bush out back may have also slipped their way into the bowls.)
The one question this does bring up is: How do I know something is going to last a long time in the fridge? What's the point of making a lot of extra sauce or curry paste or pickles or whatever if it's just gonna go bad?
That's a good question. The long answer is that, well, it's complicated. We can do all kinds of calculations based on water activity, inclusion of antimicrobial ingredients, the temperature of your fridge, et cetera. The short answer is my basic rule of thumb: If it tastes too salty, too sweet, too acidic, too smoky, too fatty, or too spicy to be enjoyable on its own in any quantity of more than a taste, it's probably equally unenjoyable to microscopic baddies. The corollary enforcement method is the basic sniff test. If it smells remotely bad when you revisit it, just cut your losses, toss it, and move on. But, using my rule of thumb, I rarely have to get rid of anything in my fridge.
Of course, if you or someone you're cooking are immunocompromised or pregnant, you should exercise an appropriate level of caution.
Teriyaki sauce, for the record, will last indefinitely. Some eel shops in Japan have been using the same pot of sauce—replenished occasionally with a fresh splash of soy sauce and mirin—for centuries, and, while I might have some things hiding in the recesses of my fridge that look like they could plausibly be that old, the teriyaki sauce is as fresh as the day I made it, every time I go in for a dip.
Also, who am I kidding? I still get lazy and order in pizza from time to time.