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Leftovers, 2008/05/28:15:13

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Reviving Leftover Meat

An Indispensible Skill For Home Cooks Who Don'T Have Unlimited Time.

What most people call 'leftovers', I think of as essential supplies. Open my freezer door. You will see a tightly-packed, neatly-organized filing cabinet of "leftovers", including blocks of homemade tomato sauce, stock, and gravy; Ziplocs full of roasted chicken; and blocks of cooked pumpkin flesh ready for off-season pie. There are also sometimes chicken bones in there, being saved either for soup/stock preparation, or for chew toys for my rats. When the freezer is less than half full of leftovers, I begin a shopping expedition. To me, being without these leftovers is like having an empty gas tank.

But, I admit, leftover meats have some problems. They can have a very distinctive taste that I don't like if certain reheating methods, such as microwaving, are used. There is an even worse taste, if you have an unclean or garlic-scented refrigerator and store them cold rather than frozen. Usually, frozen meat can be defrosted and taste fine right out of its Ziplock; refrigerated meats also taste fine cold within a few days of cooking. Reheating is different. To eliminate the leftover tastes and odors in reheated meats, you have to do something to the meat before you can use it in your dish.

When I go into a restaurant(*) and I am served leftovers, I know it immediately and I am offended proportionately to the amount I spend on the meal. The famous Kansas City Barbeque had the unbelievable nerve to serve me dry, leftover pork, chicken, and beef with some barbeque sauce on them--as a topping, for $17.00. Though the restaurant was not crowded that day for lunch, it took them 1.5 hours to get this food to me after ordering. I thought they were back in the kitchen butchering whole animals and making bbq sauce from scratch. They weren't. They were microwaving my meal. All three meats clearly had the strong, stale taste of having been stored in the refrigerator for at least several days, perhaps a week or two. As I had come in after a 30 mile bike ride with a group, I was famished when the meal was served. You'd think that being that hungry would make the food taste better--ooo, scary thought! Maybe it did taste better to me than it would otherwise! Yikes. Anyway, I considered this an outrage. I didn't send the food back only because we still had another 10 miles to ride, and I didn't want to wait, fainting, another 1.5 hours for a replacement dish. Apparently, Kansas City Barbeque is famous for one and only one reason: parts of the movie Top Gun were filmed there. Yea for them. Don't eat there.

Eat your leftovers at home. Eat well. Here's how.

Reheating Frozen Chicken, Sauteeing Method

In a stainless steel frying pan or saucepan or in a nonstick frying pan (depending on the plan for the entire meal), place about 1 tablespoon of butter, and about one half to one cup of frozen cooked chicken (do not thaw).

Lightly sprinkle onto the meat the following:

poultry seasoning (highly recommended, for any nationality dish)
black pepper
salt or vegesal
monosodium glutamate (optional)
cayenne pepper (optional)

If I am in a foreign mood, I also sprinkle one or more of these:

ginger powder
Thai seasoning
Chinese 5 spice

Cover the pot tightly, and sizzle lightly (at quarter power) until browned, maybe 5 to 10 minutes. If your chicken lands in a big lump, occasionally come back to the pot to poke it into smaller pieces with a fork.

The chicken is now delicious again, won't taste leftover or reheated, and is spiced appropriately to the dish you are planning to make with it. For your first easy experiment, try cooling it and adding it to a big green salad. If this hasn't been too much for you already, stir in cut vegetables such as bell peppers, green beans, corn, summer squash, carrot slivers, and maybe some almonds or walnuts.

Reheating Frozen Chicken, Boiling Method

This method is strictly for soups and stews. Just use the amount of water you need, throw the frozen chicken in there, and boil it for 10 minutes. This is great for superquick lunches: don't eat plain ramen noodles, they will put you to sleep. Balance the carbs with chicken. Boil the chicken first, then add the noodles and cook as usual. If you have some frozen peas, throw them in too. Melt cheeze on top after turning off the heat.

You will see calls for pre-cooked meats in many forthcoming recipes. You can of course cook all your meat fresh for every snack and dinner you make, no matter how complicated. But I'm not gonna. I'm too busy for that. I have code to write and theories to concoct.

* Note about BBQ:

Myth: "That's what BBQ is! It's leftovers!"

Truth: No. No, it's not.

Proof: On the bike ride that day, we passed at least 3 pavillion vendors who were barbequing raw chicken and beef over open flames. The aroma was intoxicating. Enviable people were eating food that had just been raw 45 minutes before. This is barbeque. This is how I make it at home, and this is what it is honest and fair for someone to charge you money to eat. Don't let people lie to you. You are eating sub-standard food and paying 17 times as much for it as you should. Stop it.
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