Lovely leftovers

Lovely Leftovers

Honestly, I mean it… I love using up leftovers! I realise not everyone feels the same. I have one friend who, as soon as she can summon the energy to rise from the sofa post Christmas dinner, strips every bit of meat from the turkey carcase and puts it all in the freezer. Only then, she says, can she relax and look forward to the rest of Christmas knowing she won’t have to face the turkey again until she is ready!

I, on the other hand, go all Victorian at Christmas, imagining I am presiding over some enormous household (when, in fact, most of the time there are just the two of us!) enjoying every bit of the cold table with all my homemade pickles until finally I make stock from the turkey carcase – the best stock of the year.

It has also become something of a matter of pride to see how long I can last before I have to shop for food again. I can now get through to the end of January without a major shop – bliss! I realise this also marks me out as a bit strange when it seems that everyone else has suffered such withdrawal symptoms following the shops being closed for Christmas Day that they get up extra early for the Boxing Day sales – well each to their own. But in addition to our growing awareness and guilt about how much food goes to waste, there are numerous other reasons – illness, extreme weather conditions, or a lack of money for example, why it is worthwhile having a few recipes that utilise leftovers up your sleeve.

Most food cultures have recipes that came about in just this way but have become so loved that meals are planned to ensure the necessary leftovers will be available. Bubble and Squeak is one such from Britain, Shepherd’s Pie another, although more often these days made with fresh minced meat rather than the leftovers from the Sunday roast. Incidentally, if your Christmas leftovers repertoire runs only to Turkey curry, you can take heart from knowing that you are cooking another British classic. The first recipe for “Currey the India way” was published by Hannah Glasse in 1747, who was responding to the demand from those returning from positions with the East India Company.

However, for real inspiration relating to leftovers I look to one of my greatest food heroes, the late George Perry-Smith. He was really the grandfather of the British restaurant culture, although I don’t suppose he would make much of a lot that is served today. He founded the Hole in the Wall restaurant in Bath following the Second World War, a time when virtually the only places where one could eat out were in posh hotels and rationing was still in place. Of course, eating out was a rare treat, for special anniversaries only, not something we expect to do at least once a week when we can’t be bothered to cook. George was a self taught cook, inspired, at least initially, by Elizabeth David and his own experience of French bistros. There was really no template for him to follow in Britain. Certainly no concept of portion control that has so much to answer for in today’s way of buying food for restaurants. George tended to cook whole joints, on the bone, and people were offered as little or as much as they wanted. This should have spelt financial disaster, although actually evened out pretty well, but he also learnt to make full use of the leftovers. So much so that his Cold Table, where many of the leftovers were reincarnated, became the most popular feature of the whole meal.

George was an inspirational teacher (his first profession) who created a network of disciples throughout the Southwest and beyond. In his book The British at Table written in 1983, former Good Food Guide Editor Christopher Driver lists 12 George Perry-Smith protégés whose own restaurants had also featured in the guide and that didn’t include others with successful food businesses like private catering. Stephen Markwick of Culinaria in Bristol is the last chef to have worked directly with George who is still cooking professionally today. Thankfully Fiona Beckett has recently persuaded Stephen to allow her to write a book documenting his remarkable 35 years at the stove and in it Stephen fully acknowledges the enduring influence that George has had on his approach to cooking. The book includes a recipe for the George Perry-Smith classic of Pheasant braised with Port and celery, which is immediately followed, in true Perry-Smith fashion, with suggestions for using the leftovers: fantastic deep-fried rissoles served with a consommé and a glass of Madeira. Using leftovers is all about improvisation so it occurs to me that it would work equally well with turkey, perhaps with a few leftover chestnuts included in the rillettes, and with Stephen’s permission I am pleased to give the recipe here.

Pheasant Rissoles

In the restaurant we make rissoles from the meat from the pheasant legs and sometimes an extra whole bird. You simply pass the cooked meat through a mincer and add this to some finely chopped shallot sweated off with some finely chopped mushrooms (you can chop these in a Robot Coupe or other food processor). You can also add some of the bacon bits and vegetables from the sauce. Add some reduced pheasant stock, sauce or gravy – just enough to moisten the mixture, season it well and refrigerate it. We cut circles of pastry with a cutter and fill them with the mixture – a bit like a baby pasty – then deep fry them and serve them with a cup of consommé and a glass of dry Madeira.

(From A Very Honest Cook by Stephen Markwick and Fiona Beckett)

The instructions for making a consommé are not given in the book, but you should remember that this is an improvised recipe, making use of what you have to hand. Therefore, at its most simple, a consommé is just a clear stock. A “double consommé” is richer, usually involving the same stock making process, but starting with a stock rather than water, hence the “double”. Likewise, ensuring that the stock is clear can also be a simple process of just lifting the solidified fat from the surface of the chilled stock and pouring the bulk carefully so that any residue is left in the bottom. If you have made the stock carefully in the first place, i.e. not allowing it to boil and skimming regularly, this should be sufficient but if not, whisked egg whites can be added to the cold stock to help gather up the impurities when it is gently re-heated and then strained through muslin.

Rather than getting hung up on the ultimate consommé, what I would like to consider here is basic stock making. I recently saw someone described as “the sort of woman who makes her own stock”. What sort of image does that conjure up I wonder? In a world of enlightened agriculture, where we eat “Plenty of plants, not much meat, and maximum variety” I think all women, and men, will want to be the sort of people who make their own stock.

So why is proper stock so important? Well, our taste buds are capable of distinguishing 5 categories of taste – salt, sour, bitter, sweet and – the most recently identified one – umami. You may never have heard of umami before but you will certainly have experienced the effect when your umami sensors have been activated. The umami experience can best be described as intensely savoury, an enhancement of the sweet or salty tastes of other ingredients as well as a modifier of the bitter or sour. The food trade often tries to achieve this by including monosodium glutamate but glutamates are an amino acid that occurs naturally in protein rich foods. They can, however, only activate our umami sensors when they are in their free form – that is not bound with other protein molecules. In order for protein to be broken down to release the glutamates it needs to go through a process of ageing, maturing, long cooking or fermentation. Although there are non-meat sources of free glutamates, for example shiitake mushrooms or Parmesan cheese, one of the most effective sources comes from cooking meat. So, for example, a chicken stock will enhance the flavours of a vegetable soup far better than a vegetable stock can, and without any chemical additives. Therefore, when you have roasted a joint of meat it seems criminal to throw away the makings of one of the best flavour enhancers that there is – the bones.

In addition to the superb flavour you get from stock, it is widely regarded to have health-giving properties, although I am not sure of the science behind this! However, if you are feeling under the weather, having either succumbed to one of winter’s illnesses or perhaps a glass too many, test out the theory for yourself.

Once you are in the habit of making stock there is really very little to it. Admittedly it takes time, but you do not have to be present for most of it. I generally find that when I am clearing away the remains of a roast it takes no more than 5 minutes to add a few flavourings to the bones and the water can be brought up to simmering point in less time than it takes to complete the rest of the clearing away. If you are not going to be around at all during the 3-4 hours it takes to complete the stock you could put it in a very low oven rather than using the stove top. Don’t worry if you haven’t got all of the usual flavouring ingredients – you’ll still be getting a very worthwhile flavour from just the bones.

Without using any further meat, if you utilise the bones, you will automatically have at least one further meal from every joint of meat you cook. I have already mentioned soup as a one example, whilst a risotto is another, and perhaps more substantial meal, that just doesn’t taste the same unless you make it with a proper stock. Stock also plays a vital supporting role in most casseroles and many sauces.

Hopefully this has been enough to persuade you to add stock-making to your list of resolutions for the New Year and if you would like more information about the process you can find it here.

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