Story and photos by Monica Kass Rogers, Special to Tribune Newspapers
April 17, 2013
Leftovers — like whatever's in that green jar near the back of the third shelf — can be a dreaded fridge-horror specter past their prime as soon as they hit the Tupperware. But oh, those beautiful exceptions! Beef bourguignon, lamb stew, posole, chili — there are lots of soups, stews and slow-cooked braises that really do taste better after they've had a cooling stay in the fridge followed by reheating and second-day service.
Why is that? "How good leftovers taste has a lot to do with the structure of the food matrix and its flavors," explains Kantha Shelke, an Institute of Food Technologists spokeswoman, food chemist and rheologist who, among other things, specializes in the aging of ingredients: "Food matrices that don't change much over one or two days — such as soups and stews — will generally taste just as good or even better with storage."
That's especially true if a dish has lots of spices and strong-flavored elements such as garlic, onion, ginger or lemon grass — plus some fat. Day One, those strong-flavored components tend to stick out a bit too much. But Day Two, they mellow and meld, making the dish they're served in rounder and more pleasantly flavored.
Combined with meats, aromatics like garlic and onion also help slow spoilage and the occurrence of what flavor chemists call "WOFs" — those dreaded "warmed over flavors" that happen when meats oxidize.
Fats and collagens are also key to sustained good flavor. That's why lamb, beef and pork, which have plenty of both, do much better the second time around than chicken breasts or fish.
How a dish is cooked, cooled and reheated also affects how it will taste during encore performances. Take braised lamb shanks. They're seared first, combined with sauteed vegetables and then slow-cooked with stock in the even heat of an oven.
"If you were to just heat that hunk of meat in a slow cooker, it might come out tender but you wouldn't have the Maillard reactions that happen between sugars and amino acids to produce the darker, more flavorful and aromatic compounds we crave in a slow-cooked dish," Shelke explains. You also wouldn't have caramelization that adds even more color and aroma — all important for the second- and third-time-around flavors.
When cooled, starches, fats and fibers in a dish reabsorb flavor compounds, trapping them until the dish is reheated. Because those compounds are so volatile, rapid cooling with the lid on is the best way to keep more of them from flitting off into the atmosphere. And when reheating, prolonged high heat is a flavor-zapping no-no. Instead, reheat to a boil, then simmer until internal food temperatures reach a safe 165 degrees.
When reheating, you can also add things in. Chicago chef Bill Kim of BellyQ, UrbanBelly and Belly Shack, says his favorite home leftover dish is his mother-in-law Lola's sancocho, a flavorful Puerto Rican soup of mixed meats with tomatoes, root vegetables, squash and plantains that Kim enlivens with Korean accents. The flavors deepen over time, making the soup base well-rounded. "But everybody always picks out the parts they like best, like the meats, when you first serve the soup," Kim says, "so after a day, I usually just cook more meat to add in."
He garnishes each bowl with a drizzle of Korean hot sauce, some fresh cilantro, avocado slices and fried plantain chips. "Garnishing is really important to add brightness and fresh flavor contrast to soups or stews that have mellowed out over time," he says. "You want that mellow roundness, but adding the right accents is what really makes it sing."
Leftovers and food safety
You want to get the most bang out of your food buck by making good use of leftovers, but cooling and reheating brings some food-safety risk. To stay safe, follow these simple storage and heating rules:
Immediately refrigerate cooked foods that have not been consumed within 2 hours of preparation
Divide cooked foods into smaller containers to allow for rapid cooling and also to facilitate rapid reheating of smaller portions
Use a thermometer to ensure leftovers have been heated to a safe temperature, above 165 degrees in the center
Bring sauces, soups and gravies to a boil before re-serving
Never reheat leftovers in crock pots, slow cookers or chafing dishes
Source: Institute of Food Technologists
Prep: 45 minutes
Cook: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Makes: 8 quarts, about 12 servings
Note: Chef Bill Kim adapted his mother-in-law's recipe for a classic Puerto Rican soup, and added his own Korean accents.
3 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
1 large Spanish onion, diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cubed
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
3 cups chopped tomatoes or 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) chopped tomatoes, drained
4 quarts chicken or pork stock
1 sweet potato, peeled, cubed
2 medium potatoes, peeled, cubed
½ pound pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, cubed
1 green plantain, peeled, cubed
4 ears sweet corn, cut into 2-inch slices
2 teaspoons oregano
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup fish sauce
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges
Steamed long-grain white rice
Plantain chips, Korean hot sauce and sliced avocado
1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook until translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add chicken thighs and sausage; cook until browned on all sides, breaking up sausage as it cooks.
2. Stir in tomatoes; simmer until tomatoes are cooked down somewhat, 5 minutes.
3. Add stock and both kinds of potatoes; heat to a boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer, 1 hour. Add more stock if necessary.
4. Add pumpkin or squash, plantain, corn, oregano and pepper to taste; simmer until meat is tender and vegetables have begun to break down a bit, 30-45 minutes. Allow soup to cool; refrigerate overnight.
5. To serve, heat soup slowly. Add fish sauce, adjust seasoning to taste and stir in cilantro. Squeeze one lime wedge into pot. Serve hot with rice, garnished with cilantro, lime, fried plantain chips, Korean hot sauce and avocado.
Per serving: 255 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 46 mg cholesterol, 24 g carbohydrates, 15 g protein, 1,821 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Duck, andouille sausage gumbo with pot-luck garlic bread
Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 2 hours, 45 hours
Note: This recipe comes from chef Ford Fry of JCT Kitchen, No. 246 and The Optimist in Atlanta. Good local sources for fresh duck are the Harrison Poultry Farm, 1201 Waukegan Road, Glenview, and Paulina Market, 3501 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
1 whole fresh duck cut into 8 pieces, bones reserved
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces good-quality andouille sausage, sliced
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup canola oil
3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large or 2 small poblano pepper(s), seeded, finely diced
1 large yellow onion peeled, finely diced
1 ½ cups finely diced celery
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 quarts good-quality chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons hot sauce
Steamed long-grain white rice
Green onions, chopped fine
Potluck garlic bread, see recipe below
1. Season the duck with the salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Brown the duck and bones in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When browned, push duck to the side. Add sausage to the skillet; cook until browned. Turn off heat; transfer duck, bones and sausage to a bowl, leaving fat in the skillet. This will be the start of the roux.
2. In the same skillet over low heat, add the flour and oil; whisk until smooth. Cook, whisking very frequently, until the roux is slightly lighter than dark chocolate, about 45 minutes. Immediately transfer roux to a bowl; set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a large soup pot; add the peppers, onion, celery and garlic. Cook until soft. Add the chicken broth; heat to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; whisk in the reserved roux. Add the bay leaves, paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and reserved duck, bones and sausage, stirring to combine. Simmer until duck is fully cooked.
4. Remove duck pieces from the gumbo; cool slightly. Pick the meat off the bones, discarding the bones and slicing meat into bite-size bits; set aside. Simmer gumbo, about 1 hour. Check seasoning, adding more salt and hot sauce if you like. Add the reserved duck; cool the soup. Refrigerate overnight.
5. To serve, scrape off the solid fat which has risen to the top; heat the gumbo slowly. Serve with steamed rice, a sprinkling of green onion and garlic bread for sopping up the sauce.
Per serving (for 8 servings): 348 calories, 24 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 69 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, 19 g protein, 889 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Potluck garlic bread
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 6 minutes
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 a large baguette
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, mix together all ingredients but the bread. Slice vertical slits into the bread about 1/2 inch apart, without slicing all the way through. Spread butter mixture into the slits. Cut the loaf into 4 pieces. Wrap each piece with parchment paper; tie with butcher's twine. Just before serving, bake, 5-7 minutes.
Per serving: 234 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 39 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 546 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
Ancho-braised lamb shanks with couscous, Greek yogurt and lemon
Prep: 40 minutes
Cook: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Note: This recipe is from chef Ryan Clark of Lodge on the Desert in Tucson, Ariz. Clark has this recipe serving four, but it would easily serve six or eight. To divvy up the lamb, either debone it before serving over the couscous, or have your butcher cut the shanks in half. For the wine, Clark suggests a full-bodied malbec. For preserved lemon, look in ethnic markets or try The Spice House, 1941 Central St., Evanston.
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
4 lamb shanks, 16 to 20 ounces each
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
1 to 2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 large white onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry red wine
1 gallon veal or beef stock
4 whole dried ancho chilies
1 package Israeli couscous
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons finely minced preserved lemons, optional
3 teaspoons fresh chopped mint
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Arugula or radish sprouts, optional
1. Heat oven to 325. Place garlic cloves with 1 teaspoon water in a foil packet in oven. Roast, 20-30 minutes
2. Stir salt, pepper and cumin together in a small bowl. Rub mixture into the lamb shanks.
3. Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet. Cook lamb shanks, in batches if necessary, until well-browned on all sides, 12 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate, leaving the fat in the skillet.
4. In the same skillet, saute onion, carrot and celery until softened and golden brown, 10 minutes.
5. Remove garlic cloves from oven; squeeze pulp from skins. Add garlic to skillet. Pour in wine; cook, stirring up browned bits from the pan as it reduces. Add as much beef stock as will fit in the pan along with bay leaf; heat to a boil.
6. Place the lamb shanks in a large roasting pan. Pour hot stock and vegetables over the meat; add ancho chilies. Heat remaining beef or veal stock until boiling; add to the roasting pan. Cover roasting pan tightly with foil; roast in 325 oven, 4 hours.
7. Remove pan from oven; cool shanks and vegetables in braising liquid. Refrigerate overnight.
8. The next day, heat oven to 350. Skim off the fat. Remove the shanks. Strain the vegetables from the braising liquid, discarding vegetables. In an oven-proof pan over medium heat, reduce braising liquid by one-third. Add shanks to a roasting pan; place in oven. Spoon braising liquid over shanks every 5 minutes until shanks are heated through and glazed with the braising liquid.
9. Meanwhile, toast couscous in a hot skillet until golden brown. Cook couscous in chicken broth or well-salted boiling water following package directions.
10. Mix yogurt, preserved lemons, mint and garlic together to make a sauce.
11. To serve, place a mound of couscous in a serving dish, top with a lamb shank or several pieces of the de-boned meat. Spoon braising sauce over all. Dollop with yogurt sauce, lemon zest and a sprinkling of fresh sprouts.
Per serving (for 8 servings): 660 calories, 25 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 160 mg cholesterol, 45 g carbohydrates, 57 g protein, 1,890 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
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