Feasting on culinary leftovers

Follow some recipes and you'll end up with a fridge full of half-used ingredients unless you go back to basics, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's a safe bet that at any given time a keen cook's fridge will be home to at least one of the following: egg whites, the remains of a bunch of parsley, some crusting-over cream at the bottom of the pot, or half a cabbage. These are what's left after you've cooked something that only called for part of the ingredients you bought; now they sit there reproachfully until you remember to throw them out.

Maybe you made mayonnaise (using egg yolks) and never got round to meringues (with the whites). Or you followed a recipe - perhaps one of mine, even I plead guilty here - that used a tablespoon of crème fraîche, leaving you with most of the rest of the pot. Sometimes it's just not convenient for us recipe writers to come up with something that uses the full pot or carton.

It's not just packaged food that can be a problem. There's the semi-circle of white cabbage that will go grey, then blue, then into the bin, after the first half has been turned into coleslaw. Those cabbages are so big and tightly packed that once you you've shredded enough for coleslaw to slay the hungry hordes, you'll still have half a head left over. If you step in to save it in time it would make a fantastic curry, or be turned into spiced white cabbage with caraway seeds to go with grilled meat or fish.

Being ingenious with leftovers is one of the pleasures of cooking. It's the old-fashioned way - once, nothing was wasted and every part of the beast or vegetable would be used in some form or other. I like having odds and ends in the fridge and freezer to inspire me to come up with ways of using them.

Crème brûlée

Serves 4-6

Crème brûlée is such a simple, comforting and indulgent way to end a meal. In a restaurant it's something you order when you can't quite make up your mind what to have. An old English equivalent is Trinity burnt cream, which originated at Trinity College, Cambridge. It's less sweet than the French counterpart. Make crème brûlée individually, or - the way I prefer it - as one large one. Then you'll be left with the egg whites. If you're clever you can use them in consommé as your starter. Otherwise freeze them for later.

600ml double or Jersey cream
Half a vanilla pod, split lengthways
5 egg yolks
1tbsp caster sugar
3-4tbsp Demerara sugar to glaze

Put the cream in a saucepan, scrape the seeds from the vanilla into it and add the pods. Bring gently to the boil, whisking every so often to really infuse the milk with the seeds. Remove from the heat and leave for about 10 minutes. Mix the egg yolks and caster sugar together then pour on the cream, removing the vanilla pods. Return the mix to a clean heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens - don't let it boil.

While it cooks, give it an occasional whisk and return it to the heat. This should take about 7-8 minutes but it's important to get in the corners of the pan and keep the custard moving.

Pour into a large round shallow dish or individual ramekins and leave to set overnight. Spread the Demerara sugar evenly over the surface of the set custard and spray lightly with water. Light a blow torch and work the flame evenly over the sugar until it caramelises. If you don't have a blow torch or a brûlée iron put the crème under an extremely hot grill. Return to the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.

Chicken consommé

Serves 6-8

This is the companion dish to the crème brûlée, using the egg whites left behind by the custard to clarify the soup. It makes more than enough but you can freeze any that's left. Clear soups have rather gone out of fashion but it's time they came back in as they have a grand, classical glamour and intense flavour. They're good for dieters too.

for the consommé

4 medium chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs), or 6 small
5 egg whites
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
Half a large leek (save the other half for the garnish) or one small one, chopped and washed
A few sprigs of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 litres cold chicken stock (from cubes if necessary)

to garnish

1 small leek or the other half, finely shredded

Remove the skin from the chicken legs and cut away all the meat from the bone. Put the meat from two thighs to one side and put the rest into a food processor with the onion, leek and thyme and a little seasoning. Coarsely chop it then stop the machine, add the egg whites and give it another quick mix.

Remove the mixture from the machine and mix it in a large saucepan with the cold stock. Place it on the stove on a low flame and slowly heat it up, stirring every so often for the first 5 minutes, then when you see the mixture starting to form a crust leave it to float to the top and leave it on a low heat to barely simmer for 45 minutes. It helps if you have a simmer plate for this.

Remove from the heat and leave to settle for 10 minutes. Use a double layer of muslin or a clean tea towel to line a colander that will fit over a saucepan. Then without disturbing the crust too much strain the consommé a few ladles at a time.

Take a ladle or so of the consommé and poach the remaining chicken thigh meat for 2-3 minutes, remove from the liquid and leave to cool. Blanch the shredded leeks for a minute in the same consommé and remove. If this poaching consommé is still clear add it back to the rest, if not discard or save it for a gravy or soup.

Shred the chicken thigh and add it back to the consommé with the leeks, taste it and season more if necessary before reheating and serving.

Parsley and wild garlic soup

Serves 4-6

Supermarket herbs often come in little packets that are still too much for most recipes. An old-fashioned bunch of parsley from a market or greengrocer is much better value but you end up with way more than you need for most dishes. After you've taken out what you need for the parsley sauce below (or for any recipe that uses a couple of tablespoons of parsley) you'll still have lots left, and a bowl of beautiful green parsley soup is a satisfying way to use up the rest of the bunch.

Wild garlic is plentiful and you will smell it if you're out in the woods. Don't be afraid of garlic in a soup like this, especially if you are using wild garlic, as the cooking kills all those scary odours but leaves the subtle flavour intact. I've put in new season garlic as an alternative if you can't get hold of the wild stuff.

2 small onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 head of new season fresh garlic, or a couple of handfuls of wild garlic leaves
A good knob of butter
1 medium potato, peeled and roughly chopped
1.5 litres vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of parsley, weighing about 50-60g, washed
2tbsp double cream to finish (optional)

If you are using fresh, new season bulbs of garlic, just peel the outer layer of skin and roughly chop it (otherwise, peel all outer layers, as you usually would with garlic). Heat the butter in a pan and gently cook the onion and garlic for 4-5 minutes with a lid on, stirring every so often without colouring. Add the potato and stock, bring to the boil, season and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Add the parsley torn into smaller pieces (and wild garlic leaves if using) and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.

Blend in a liquidiser until smooth then re-season and adjust the consistency with a little water or more stock if necessary. Add cream if you wish and serve.

If you're not eating the soup immediately, cool it down over a bowl of iced water so that it keeps its green colour.

Fillet of huss with parsley sauce

Serves 4

I thought that I hadn't seen hoki around for a while, and a month or so ago when I was in Australia I read in one of the nationals that it was now an endangered species. My question was answered. There is something to be learnt from this because at one time when people were beginning to be concerned about the sustainability of fish, the poor old hoki was being touted as the way to take the pressure off endangered species. Supermarkets especially, started flogging it, and we were innocently buying it under the impression that there was plenty around and it would give other species a break. Now it turns out that hoki has been over fished too.

I'm always looking for fish that we can use and I've given recipes for huss before. You will find it called this in fishmongers and supermarkets, but the name applies to members of the dog fish family also called smooth hound, spur dog and occasionally, by fishermen, tope. Huss used to be sold as rock salmon in chippies though it was nothing to do with the king of fish, the poor old salmon.

Anyway apart from using some of a bunch of parsley in this recipe, I thought it was time to give you a gentle reminder of the state of our ocean. And I wonder which fish will take the place of the poor hoki as the supposedly sustainable choice. Whoever you are, beware.

4 fillet portions of huss weighing about 180g, or 4 chunks on the bone weighing double
A good knob of butter

for the parsley sauce

A good knob of butter
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
60-80ml white wine
150ml fish stock,(or half a good-quality fish stock cube dissolved in 150ml hot water)
400ml double cream
3tbsp chopped parsley (the rest of the bunch goes in the soup above)
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

First make the sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan and gently cook the shallots over a low heat for a minute or so, until soft. Add the wine and stock, and simmer until reduced to a couple tablespoons. Add the cream and simmer until reduced at least by half and the sauce has thickened. Add the parsley and simmer for a minute or so to infuse and season to taste.

Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Season the huss fillets with salt and freshly ground white pepper, and put them in an ovenproof dish. Rub with butter and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove and drain on kitchen paper, then serve with the sauce spooned over them. Serve with buttered spinach or mash.

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