It’s the time of year when we cook more than usual, and that leads to leftovers. Some people enjoy nibbling their way through morsels of yesterday’s meat, mashed up with warmed-over bread. Others would rather smear peanut butter on a store-bought cracker than touch anything that was cooked, chilled and re-heated.
Not surprisingly, our feelings about leftovers can be tied to our experiences with abundance or the lack of it. For people who grew up seeing bits of Sunday dinner on their plates Monday, Tuesday and beyond, leftovers can remind them of tedium and hard times.
Thanks to refrigeration, most of us here in the United States have the ability to buy cheap food and replenish it often. As a result, we can cook more than we need, save leftovers safely and discard what we dislike. That’s ironic when you consider that modern life enables us to both keep food longer and discard it more freely.
During World Wars I and II, the U.S. government launched large, public campaigns that instructed people to be frugal with food. Cutting back and avoiding waste was patriotic because it meant more resources for the troops. Cookbooks boasted imaginative ways to stretch leftovers (which led to a peculiar period of gelatin-based recipes for awful things such as molded ham, mayonnaise and vegetable salads).
It takes skill to make something appealing from a picked-apart chicken carcass and a few lumps of vegetables. This is where home cooks really shine. Soups, stews and all sorts of gratifying dishes rely on trimmings and peelings. It’s possible that people who hate leftovers have just been deprived of good, solid home cooking.
Of course, we can’t talk about leftovers without discussing food waste, a global problem that's being addressed with some innovative solutions. (We’ll be looking at that topic in an upcoming story here on WFAEats.)
In the meantime, we're headed into the holidays. Sure, you can joke about having to eat turkey or ham for a solid week. But don’t forget there are some dishes that actually improve overnight. If you’re skeptical, try this brisket. My friend Jenny Rosenthal got the recipe from her mother Ida Marie Berman decades ago. It just might change the way you think about leftovers.
Ida Marie Berman's Brisket: Serves 12
One 6-pound brisket
Fresh garlic, chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 cup of strong coffee
1/4 cup sugar
Fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Rub the roast with garlic, then put it in a roasting pan with the water. Bake 2 hours uncovered. If the pan has gotten dry add a little more water (or wine), then cover with foil and bake 2 hours longer.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a jar and shake well. During the last hour of cooking, pour about half the sauce over the meat and let it finish cooking.
Remove the brisket from the oven, slice it, place the slices on a large dish or platter, and cover with the remaining sauce. Cover and refrigerate overnight so the fat will rise to the top. The next day, skim off the fat, re-heat and serve.