In the silted depths of a recession it would be entirely possible to structure a sturdy argument, heavy with lexicographical sinew and bone, about the moral imperative to eat leftovers.
We waste too much food in Britain. We need to reduce costs. Doing otherwise is an obscenity. And so on. All of that is true, in a water-is-wet, let's-state-the-bloody-obvious sort of way. But underlying that is another far greater truth: you need to be proper greedy to do leftovers well.
For a start, leftovers don't happen unless you know how to over-cater. Portion control may be a vital skill if you're running a restaurant, but I'm not running a restaurant. I'm feeding people at home, and there, courtesy of something buried deep in the Jewish DNA, a nagging tension which insists that the Cossacks are probably coming tomorrow, and if not tomorrow then certainly the day after so you need to eat NOW. I live in fear of the phrase "just enough". I regard just enough as nowhere near enough. Just enough means too little. It means one each. And only one each. That is plain wrong.
So you cook twice what you need, and are left at the end of proceedings staring at piles of food, not with self-disgust but with the anticipation at the prospect of good meals to come. For here is one of the great food rules: almost all dishes made from leftovers are far less virtuous than the dish which begat them. Sure, there are exceptions, the boiling up in stock and the blitzing of vegetables to make soup, the shredding of roast chicken for a salad. These are all the fallbacks of the hard-browed cook simply trying to make room in the fridge. They have their own virtues but they show a lack of imagination and appetite.
Almost all proper leftovers require a hot pan, and a knob of fizzing butter. Or a white sauce flavoured with hard cheese and Dijon mustard, and a glazed dome of puff pastry. Or a well-seasoned wok, thin egg noodles, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and the brisk slap of chilli. Think leftover potato and cabbage, crusting up nicely in a nimbus of frothy butter for bubble and squeak. Think a mushroom and ham pie, from what remains of your huge baked gammon, or a stir fry of indeterminate provenance, designed to use up fragments of last night's bird, flavoured with the contents of almost every bottle in the cupboard.
My love of leftovers has reached such a point that regularly I miss out the original dish stage and go straight to its leftover incarnation. Once, having made a linguine with mussels, the seafood opened in a generous glug of wine, I found at the bottom of the serving bowl a boisterously rich fishy, boozy liquor. I couldn't throw that away. I added chicken stock, fresh ginger, sliced spring onions, lemon zest, noodles and handfuls of fresh coriander and realised I had invented an Asiatic soup dish of genius. I no longer make the pasta dish. I cut straight to the soup. Likewise, while I love long-braising ribs of beef in a sauce of red wine, chorizo and brown sugar, eating them after five hours in the oven now seems a waste. They need to go in the fridge overnight, like all great leftovers, only to be sliced up the next day and then grilled over fierce heat for a minute or two, ideally on a barbecue. My only problem: what to do with the leftovers. Don't worry. I'll think of something. All it takes is imagination. And a big, fat dollop of greed.
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