Tuesday, November 27, 2007

three degrees of separation

Lot's of hot-shot chefs want you to believe that unless you know what to do with organ meat, or tripe, or stomach fat you're part of a lesser breed of chefs. Bullshit. Try serving brain to your friends and family one night and see how far you get.

No. A much more challenging venture is what to do with leftovers. I grew up eating leftovers which is maybe why I'm so fond of them. We had cycles of lefovers. First the holiday ham. Then ham and cheese grilled sandwiches. Followed by beans and ham with mustard greens. Lastly, bean soup with hot, buttered cornbread. Each one was just an iteration of the previous. And each was better than the last.

If you cook all (or most) of your meals, and you want to eat healthy, you'll have to find a way to deal with leftovers or you'll spend all your time in the kitchen. I had a girlfriend once who was previously married to a chef and restaurant owner. She refused to eat leftovers and didn't cook often. She was very labor intensive. We parted ways.

On one level all of fine dining is based on a series of leftovers. What is consomme but leftovers thrice removed? So then what to do with the leftover leg of lamb from Thanksgiving?

Here's my shot at it.

Lamb and carrot soup.

For this you will need.

1 quart of lamb stock. Most of the work for this dish goes into the stock. I did this the day before Thanksgiving so today, it's really only a matter of finishing the dish. But here's how it's done. You can substitute chicken stock if you must. Store bought stocks are no good for soups. Too salty. Plus they lack the proper acid balance. Also, leftovers (like a cooked turkey carcass) should never form the base of any stock unless you're making stock for gravy or to flavor stuffing. Not for soups. Soups are different. You can add a few leftover scraps to an ongoing stock, but for a real, vibrant stock you're going to want to start from scratch.

Ask the butcher for some stock bones. You can mix some pork neck bones with the lamb bones (or shanks) to save a little money. In a large roasting pan, place the bones along with several whole cleaned carrots, the end of a celery stalk, 1 large onion, skin on and split in half, and one whole garlic bulb in the husk. A few beets are fine as well. 3 or 4 tomatoes yes, but only if in season. Sprinkle all the ingredients liberally with cracked pepper and sea salt. Roast the ingredients uncovered at 375 for 45 minutes until brown turning as necessary.

Pull the roasting pan from the oven and dump them into a large 12-quart non-oxidizing stock pan and cover with cold water. Season additionally with fresh rosemary, tarragon, and parsley. Bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat and let simmer. Skim off the fat as it comes to the surface. Turn the heat down as far as it will go on your stove without the fire going out. Pull your pot to the side so that only about one-third is touching the flame. Let the stock simmer overnight. First thing in the morning. Remove from the heat, pull out all the large pieces and strain everything into another stock pot or large Pyrex bowl. Clean the grit from the sides of the dirty stock pot. Now strain the stock again, this time through a chinois or fine mesh filter lined with a clean tea towel, coffee filters, or paper towels back into your original stock pan. Of all of these, the coffee filter is the most likely to clog. All of the flavor has been extracted from the ingredients so at this point you are trying to concentrate and intensify the flavors. Impurities will eventually impart off flavors during the final reduction as the proteins begin to break down. Let the strained stock cool for an hour. Then skim off all the fat that comes to the surface and discard.

Place the stock back on the heat and simmer on medium for 2 hours with enough vigor to reduce the orginal volume by half. If there were no tomatoes in your original ingredients, you'll need to add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste to balance the stock. If you've done your skimming and filtering well you can increase the heat but don't go crazy with it. This seems like a lot of work and it is but a fine stock can form the basis of many meals. There is no substitute. And it will keep for at least a week in the fridge.

To finish the dish.

Bone out the remaining lamb from the leg. If it was initially cooked mid-rare (and it should have been) then place the boned meat in some heavy-duty aluminum foil and sprinkle several tablespoons of the stock over the meat, seal the foil, and place in a 325 degree oven for 25 minutes. The meat should be steaming when you pull it from the oven.

While you re-heating the lamb, in a non-oxidizing sauce pan, for every 2 cups of lamb stock, add 1 cup of fresh carrot juice. Bring to boil. Stop. Cover. Over cooking will cause color loss.

Place 1/4 cup of the meat in a bowl, cover with stock, garnish with bowtie pasta or homemade croutons (also made with leftovers! recipe to follow) and serve.

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