Johannes Mario Simmel’s Es muss nicht immer Kaviar sein is a juicy WWII spy novel that, in every other paragraph, features a new and unexpected turn (followed by a bold-face cliff hanger), and supplies cooking recipes throughout. On p. 333 (in the Knaur pocket edition), we learn how, in Paris, Thomas Lieven (the cooking hero) saves a perch that Therese (the clumsy kitchen maid in the service of the banker Ferroud [a crook]), had dropped so it broke apart: He makes a gratin.
“Cook a whole fish, drain it well, discard the skin and the bones and divide it into pieces,” the recipe begins. Then, a lot of other cooking goes on, while the bits of fish get cold – finally they are incorporated into a sauce (white sauce, white mushrooms, capers, white wine, crème fraiche and parmesan) and the whole is put into the oven. Check the finest recipes in your favorite cookbook. They almost always require some preparation on top of another, or the process must be very simple indeed:
Fry the chicken livers in olive oil with the onion rings, add white wine, sage and pepper, mince them using the biggest chef’s knife you have, add breadcrumbs, chopped garlic and parsley etc. etc.;
Slice the turkey breasts in thin layers, bread them thoroughly, fry them in oil, and slice these slivers diagonally as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Put these on top of the salad;
Quickly sear the cubes of tuna and immerse them in a mix of soy sauce with chopped garlic and ginger, while the other preparations go on;
Roast the hippopotamus and set aside to cool.
From such real recipes, we can learn how to administrate our daily leftovers. Here is an example: prepare a risotto, using a quarter litre of broth from the freezer, a handful thinly sliced fennel, a teaspoonful of mushroom powder, and appropriate amounts of rice, onion snippets, black pepper, butter and freshly ground parmiggiano reggiano. Eat two thirds of it when hot, set the rest into the fridge for a day for the aromas to blend. Prepare a chicken roast. From the meatier part of the thighs and the fillet that you don’t manage to eat right away, rip thin strips, check seasoning and set aside. Prepare, additionally, a batch of sauteed eggplant cubes with garlic, olive oil and parsley and keep two cups full for the next day. Half an hour before serving on that next day, heat up the risotto carefully in a large cast-iron frying pan. Stir in the chicken strips, and later the cubes of eggplant. Serve while hot.
Smart management of leftovers can help to produce the most satisfying meals. The problem is that one normally lacks the foresight for doing things well organized. One thinks one needs to tell oneself “I haven’t got the time bothering collecting meat cutoffs, bones, parsley stems and celery ends in the freezer for stock,” while simultaneously, three plastic containers full of once delicious food rests are having a most unpleasant orgy behind the milk and the orange juice in the fridge. No wonder: modern life is too full of must-dos anyway, so naturally, one wants to keep that concept out of one’s kitchen.
So I am really not talking about must-dos. What we need is two automatisms.
1) every day, before checking the fresh supplies, I go through the plastic containers in my fridge. There’s always something there that can be worked into a soup or a fried rice combo or something similar. Otherwise, I will have to decide there and then whether the item in question ought to be kept for later use (that is: put into the freezer) or discarded.
2) Large batches of leftovers are frozen right away and serve as welcome hey-we’ve-got-one-of-these! items on days where nobody wants to cook.
Additionally, I do indeed have the habit of chucking every bit of cut-off bone, scraps from the meat grinder, discarded bits of fat and skin and all sorts of vegetable trimmings into the freezer, and to cook a huge pot of stock every other month or so. What nonsense to even consider the use of stock cubes! They make everything taste the same, and why should I want that?