My Satisfaction I Exhibit Thus

Though this is another paean to leftovers, hear me out. Everything about this meal was spot on; the various components had been transformed beyond recognition from their original preparations, and to excellent effect.

A few days before, I had made some braised chicken legs with a Thai-inflected sauce that I don’t remember all of  but it included miso, soy and fish sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, yellow curry paste, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, lime leaves, and shredded coconut. I served it on top of roasted kabocha squash with black kale sautéed in garlic and stout vinegar for a pretty nice easy dinner. And I made extra, so there were a couple of whole legs left.

There was also a container of sweet potato gnocchi dough/batter left from another night; originally they had just been baked sweet potatoes, and then I added egg and flour and stick-blended them into a smooth goop that I piped into boiling water to make gnocchi. This time around, I figured that making crêpes with the batter would be a nice way of changing their form yet again, and provide an ideal substrate for shredded and recooked chicken. I cracked another couple of eggs into the bowl, adding some flour as well, and a bit of milk to thin the batter to a crêpe-appropriate viscosity. You don’t want thick, fluffy pancakes, you want thin, rollable crêpes like you can get on the street in Paris or Beijing.

It’s important to remember that while leftover potatoes and other starchy things like squash make excellent gnocchi and pancakes or crêpes, they have no gluten and require either a lot of eggs—way more than a normal recipe would call for, where three eggs is plenty for a cup and a half of flour—or a generous addition of flour to help them bind together and not turn into a disaster when you try to flip them (or boil them, in the case of gnocchi). Do a little test with your batter to make sure it has the requisite structural integrity to survive the cooking process.

I pulled all the meat off the chicken legs and put it in a small pan with a bit of stock and some leftover shiitake slices (that had been cooked in a beef fond-encrusted skillet and then deglazed with red wine) and heated the mixture up. I set Milo to chopping celery, carrot, fennel, and leek into approximately thin slices and had him dump them in a pan to soften and color. His knife skills are getting pretty good, and he was pleased with the result. We threw some herbs in, too, and deglazed with soy sauce and rice vinegar when they were ready. “This smells Chinese!” He said.

By this time I had a nice stack of crêpes ready, so we assembled them: vegetable mixture, topped with chicken and mushrooms, then some scallions (his first effort at cutting on the bias) and last a big spoon of homemade sambal, tangy, funky, and seriously hot. They rolled up very nicely and tasted like a million dollars. Mongrel food, no doubt, but with all of the accrued flavor of numerous days in the fridge and multiple iterations of form. And homemade sambal makes the common store-bought kind taste like tinfoil.

The beauty of cooking at home regularly is that there’s always more in your fridge than you think. And those containers of various remnants are far more than random scraps; they can be the jumping-off point for some very good food. Especially this time of year, when there’s nothing at all growing outside to be inspired by, I look to leftovers to spark my creativity, to challenge me to do them justice.

6 comments to My Satisfaction I Exhibit Thus

  • Just wanted to drop a line to say how much I love your blog and how much I look forward to reading your entries. You cook the way I cook, but the lurkers in the back of your fridge are different than mine (and perhaps more intriguing…I really want to make smoked salsa now). Your leftover posts have been my favorite blog reading of late; keep’em coming.

  • Carolynn

    Ditto me; now I’ve got to do something clever to my little seldom-used Sambal Olek, I guess.

    Maybe you already covered this somewhere else, but— how about a new name for “leftovers” (such a demoralized word)? Something that evokes the feeling of good fortune and new possibilities that one (this one, at least) gets, knowing that another delicious dinner is at least halfway made already.
    I know it’s a perfectly good word; there’s nothing inherently pejorative about it, but unfortunately it tends to be freighted with bad connotations…
    .hmmmm…maybe you are right to just go ahead and use it… Fly that Flag and change perceptions one lovely meal at a time….

  • Peter

    I don’t know; I talk regularly about how they’re value-added food with depth of flavor and pre-cooked texture that can’t be duplicated quickly, but I have not yet come up with a pithy word or phrase that would get a marketing executive excited.

    I’ll get my people to work on that.

  • Tiff

    I can only dream of cooking like this! The first meals sound fabulous, and the second life you give them can only be considered spectacular!
    Leftovers can be so lucky to become such a reincarnation!
    Love to read your blog. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

  • Peter

    Thanks for reading.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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