Feasting on Christmas dinner leftovers

It's probably not the done thing to admit it, but while I was in the feverish business of planning the Christmas day menu this year, I was really thinking about what could be done with all the food that would not be eaten on the day.

Yes, as inevitable as the fact that there will be several sprouts left on someone's dinner plate after the meal, is the Word of Mouth discussion about Christmas dinner leftovers.

Did I really need the huge three bird roast – a goose stuffed with a pheasant stuffed with a chicken, all held in place with an apricot farce? Well no, probably not. Did I really need a six kilo ham, which was so large I had to borrow an aluminium baby's bath from a neighbour to braise it in? Again, perhaps not. But why waste such brilliant eating opportunities when, frankly, it takes no more effort to over-cater? And when the outcomes can be so damn good?

Curiously, this is a phenomenon reserved solely for this time in the calendar. For most of the year, cooking with leftovers is rarely something to be celebrated out of greed. Oh sure, we laud it because it makes sense, but not because the food it produces is really really good. It is either priggish or sordid. It is gross indulgence's pious cousin. We cook with leftovers because it is wrong to waste; because we must atone for our unnecessary largesse the day before. We fill our fridges with cling-film covered bowls – of stews and cold pasta, unneeded boiled rice and unwanted gnarly bits of roasted chicken – because this is what our mothers taught us to do. And some of it does get eaten, especially by those of us who work from home; we furtively spoon bowls of something cold but edible straight from the fridge. The rest of it lingers for three or four days, far to the back behind the milk in what, for leftovers, has become death's waiting room, only then to hit the bin.

Ah, but Christmas is a game changer, both because of the volume of the leftovers and, more importantly, because of the quality of the prime ingredients. Don't get me wrong. I loved slices of my baby pink ham (unsettling colour, given the bath) braised in coke a la Nigella, with its chewy honey Dijon glaze (sans cloves; who really wants a mouthful of those?) on the day itself. But, if I'm honest, the slices I had a couple of days later, fried in olive oil until the hardened fat had gone crisp and translucent and the meat was a burnished bronze, the whole plateful lubricated with a fried egg, was better still. I loved cubing it, sautéing it with a few mushrooms, braising in a little stock and then mixing with a white sauce, flavoured with some of the monolith of cheese we bought 'just to see us through', the whole lot to be baked in a pie.

I have fried off slices of the three bird roast, the goose skin crisping nicely, and have to confess it is better that way than when first prepared. I have, of course, made bubble and squeak, with the uneaten roasties and the Savoy cabbage with apples and bacon. And still there is more. In my future there is cheese on toast topped with slices of the ham, and more pies and, at the end, a pearl and barley soup in which even the bone will get a last hurrah. The three bird roast may yet find itself in a Thai green curry; why the hell not, eh? And if I mix all the leftover whipped cream with the leftover Christmas pudding and put it in the freezer won't I have Christmas pudding ice cream? I doubt it, but hell, it's worth a try.

Indeed, trying is now an imperative. For we are now a few days post-Christmas and the bitter truth is that time is against us. Just how much longer can those leftovers survive, before they start to take on a personality and culture (in the yoghurt sense of the word) all of their own? How much longer do we have before we open the fridge door, stare into its over-packed innards and worry about the health aspect? Not very long at all, is the answer. So we must crack on. Tell us then what you've been doing with your leftovers. Have you made the obligatory turkey curry? Have you a killer recipe for goose risotto? Is there anything served on Christmas day which cannot be eaten, five days later, having been fried off in butter? We need to know.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jay Rayner, for guardian.co.uk on Wednesday 29th December 2010 14.52 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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