Mondays are ideal for discussing the mechanics of leftovers. Presumably the weekend has produced some food and, unless you wish to be like my former teammate from Part I, now is the time to consider what to do with it.
Of course dictating specific dishes is only so helpful; a suggestion of fricasseed cod won’t go very far if cod wasn’t on the previous night’s menu. What really needs to be established is a broad matrix consisting of categories of leftovers and methods for transforming those leftovers. I’m rubbish with spreadsheets though, so I’ve jotted down a chart on the adjacent cocktail napkin. Happily, leftovers fall rather neatly into four categories, as do techniques for their management.
The ideal leftover meat is a roast: seasoned, relatively lean, neutral. Beef, pork, lamb—doesn’t matter. The meat needs only be sliced from the bone (if present) or diced for use in several of the techniques to follow. Braised and stewed meats are excellent leftovers too, but if the idea is to have a neutral meat for use in a leftover dish of a different direction than the original, some caution should be taken to first rinse away strongly-flavored cooking liquids. Chicken meat should be pulled from the carcass; using forks makes this easy, although your hands are better if the intended application requires larger pieces. Fish universally flakes.
Bones come next. Pork and beef bones add excellent flavor to soups, stews and broths. I have a friend who cleans and freezes all his leftover bones until sufficient for stock, although I’ve always found fresh bones preferable there. A chicken carcass is a different matter. I like to re-roast mine until golden before plunging, along with aromatics, into cold water for broth. There is really no excuse for discarding a chicken carcass. Lamb bones are rather gamey, and recycling fish bones is a step too far. I understand either can add richness to a compost heap though.
Vegetables. Sides seem simple but can be difficult to transform. This is because thought has often gone into flavoring a vegetable side dish and reworking it can be either counterproductive or a shame. I am very fond of classic blanched and buttered vegetable sides; whether this is because I am subconsciously envisioning transforming the leftovers I do not know. The point is the more neutral your vegetable leftover, the more suited to reworking; the ultimate vegetable leftover are small boiled potatoes.
This leaves grains and starches (other than potatoes). There really is only one thing to do with leftover pasta that has already been mixed with its sauce—which we’ll get to in a moment. But unadorned noodles and plain boiled or pilaf rice are very versatile. The one crucial step here is to add some oil or butter before storing or you will end up with something glutinous and bowl-shaped.
The most satisfying leftover technique must be the hash. A small amount of leftover roast pork or chicken can be made to stretch into a filling meal if the preparer takes a few careful steps. Chop the leftover meat into a medium to small dice and in a large pan fry until well-browned on all sides. This step is as much about developing flavor in the pan as it is about transforming the leftover meat. Follow with diced raw potatoes, mirepoix or other leftover vegetable, taking care to preserve the structural integrity of all that is added. The result should be a savory jumble of browned meat and vegetable, not a mush. Mind things don’t become greasy, and make sure to season generously with ground black pepper.
Unadorned leftover vegetables are ideal for soups and sauces of every description, from chowder to veloute, but pulverization is an exercise in control. Carrots demonstrate this nicely. A side dish of blanched and buttered rondelles can be added to broth with other vegetables for a rustic soup or permitted to simmer with potato until both begin to disintegrate for a chowder. But when confronted with leftover carrots I find it difficult to do anything other than make a rich bisque: sauté carrots with a fine dice of onion, season with salt, white pepper and bay, adding broth along the way; liquify in a blender, adding heavy cream until smooth. Lobster, quite unnecessary.
The minimalist approach can be fun too—although the technique leaves little to be said. Cold chicken? Wheat toast and mayonnaise. A few ounces of salmon? Flake over salad with vinaigrette. Cold roast beef? Answer: Coleman’s English Mustard.
And then there is binding, and by extension, a brief homage to the necessary egg. If the creative juices are ever ebbing, simply fry an egg and put it on your leftovers. No one will complain. But to unlock the greater potential of the egg is to know its agglomerative ability. Leftover rice, mashed potatoes, chopped or shredded vegetables—all these and others can be mixed with beaten eggs to form a batter: deep fry at will, putting your faith in the albumen. Fritters are terrific, but something eggy and delicious lurks still. If you regularly make pasta that isn’t drenched in sauce—say spaghetti studded with pork, spinach and onion, the best (and only) thing to do with the leftovers is this: add four or five beaten eggs, a little milk or cream to loosen and a generous grating of parmigiano reggiano. Fry in butter, finishing in a hot oven. Let cool; turn out onto a plate. You can serve as-is, slice into wedges for starters, or cut smaller and insert toothpicks for hors d’oeuvres. Whatever you choose, leftovers are unlikely.