Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Truth Behind Leftovers!

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not writing this as a warning or an expose.  I am just writing this as an informative piece on the business that is running a professional kitchen.  I just want to provide a little insight into how things work behind the scenes give everyone a little peek.  So, with that being said, I want to address leftovers.  On more than one occasion I have been asked by a patron at many of the places I have worked at what exactly happens to all the food that is leftover at the end of the day.  The truth is that the answer is not cut and dry.  There are a variety of things that can and do happen to leftover food depending on many factors. 

At the end of the day most kitchens are part of a business that is trying to make money.  One of the biggest expenses that a  culinary operation has is that of food cost and anyone running a kitchen is always trying to keep that food cost down.  A chef will try to take advantage and squeeze out as much production out of all food products purchased.  A very easy way to do that is to use up leftovers as much as possible and in as many creative ways as possible. Now when I say use up leftovers there are a couple of things you must understand.  A good chef will never sacrifice safety or quality for the sake making money.   The leftovers being used must be up to the standards of anything that would be served as if it were being prepared that day.  Those leftovers must also be safe to consume.  All decent establishments with a good record of safety and sanitation will have a use by date for their leftovers (usually 3-4 days).  If leftovers don't meet these quality or safety standards they will not be used and will be thrown out.

When leftovers are being used the easiest way to use them up is to reheat and serve them as is.  However there are a few problems with doing this.  First of all you have the problem of possibly compromising the quality of the product upon reheating.  Proteins have a tendency to dry out when reheated.  Vegetables tend to overcook and just not look as appetizing.  So if the plan is to just reheat and serve, special care is taken to reheat so as to not compromise that quality.  The second problem with just reheating and serving is that someone might recognize the food, especially if the customer base is daily repeat customers such as at a cafeteria or a dining hall.  Some observant guest might recognize the meatloaf you are serving today as the same one you had yesterday. A great way to avoid this predicament is to hold off on serving those leftovers and/or serve them at another station. 

French toast that was reheated and served the next day.

Of coarse the easiest way to avoid those pitfalls of using leftovers is to just reappropriate them and use them for something that was not their original use.  Soups are probably the most common way to do this.   Soups are cheap to make and very versatile.  They can use up most leftovers, including vegetables that normally would not be good for anything else do to the poor quality that they were in.  Chicken or beef that would dry out of reheated can easily be put into a soup.  Leftover rice or pasta also works well in a soup.   That soup of the day you love so much at your local eatery is probably made mostly from leftovers.

Leftovers make great soup.

Soups aren't  the only way to use up leftovers.  Another common destination for leftovers, especially meats, is the deli or as a sandwich filling in general.  Most of the time when assembling a sandwich it will be served cold and if it is not, there will be enough accompaniments that if the meat is a little dry it will not be too noticeable.  Sandwiches can also use up any unused sauces or cheeses from different dishes.  Sandwiches are just a great way to disguise leftovers as a completely different thing. 

Leftover Pork Loin
Turned into Cuban sandwiches

The truth is that leftovers can and are used all over an operation. The way the chef sees it is just free money, or at the very least money has already been spent and can still be taken advantage of.  It is just a matter of being creative and finding different ways to use up what is already there.  I have seen leftover grilled salmon mixed with capers, lemon juice, and mayonnaise and turned into a salmon salad that was then served from the salad bar.  I have seen unused meatballs chopped up and then added to a meat lovers pizza.  I recently ordered some seafood enchiladas from a restaurant.  When I asked the waiter what seafood was in them he told me a little bit of all the different seafood they served.  To me that indicated that more than likely they were just using leftovers to make the enchiladas.  But ultimately that is ok because I know that as long as the quality of the food was still good (they were quite tasty) and my safety was not at risk then the restaurant is just trying to be profitable.  Really that is what using leftovers is all about. Kitchens are just trying to use up and take advantage of what they have on hand. 

Pretty sure these were made with leftovers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Two Hour Ribs

Now that the weather is turning cooler some might think that BBQ season is over.  I mean who wants to stand out in the cold over a grill for hours?  Well, for the most part I would agree with them.  BBQ is definitely more of a Spring, Summer, and here in Texas, Fall activity.  But what if I told you you could still achieve some measure of BBQ goodness without leaving the comfort of your own heated kitchen?  It is possible to make ribs with only your oven and in only two hours no less.  Now these are not truly BBQ ribs since neither smoke nor a grill are involved.   But they are a good cold weather substitute. They are so easy you can make them any time of year you feel like having some delicious ribs.

This technique works well with either pork spare ribs or baby back ribs.  I usually buy them when they are on special at the grocery store and just freeze them until I am ready to cook them.  When I am feeling like making ribs, I just take them out of the freezer (usually two days ahead of time) and let them thaw.

When you are ready to start preheat your oven to 375 degrees.


While the oven warms up you can prep your ribs.  Some will say you need to trim off access meat and fat, but I find this step unnecessary.  I like my ribs as meaty as possible and I find the fat adds more flavor. The first thing you have to do is to score your ribs.   There is a membrane on the back of the ribs that you can either remove entirely or, what I do, is just cut cross hatched marks on the back of the ribs.

You know what the score is.

After the ribs have been scored you want to season your ribs.  You can keep it as simple as salt and pepper or use your favorite rub.  I have used a wide variety of rubs including a Southwest, Cajun and BBQ rubs.  Make sure your ribs are well seasoned.

Season with abandon.

Once your ribs are ready you will need to place them in an aluminum roasting pan with a rack to hold the ribs.  The rack will keep the ribs elevated above the cooking liquid.

The hardware.
Place the ribs in the roasting pan.  Depending on the size of your pan I would do two to three so that there is minimal overlap.  I usually only do two racks of ribs so I only really need one pan.  After the ribs are in add enough liquid to the bottom of the pan so it come up to but does not cover the wire rack.  You can simply use water, but I like to use beer for some extra flavor.  Shiner Bock Beer works really well. Once this is all assembled, simply cover your roasting pan with aluminum foil (make sure it is sealed tight) and put it in the oven for an hour. 

A tasty package!

My wife being a goof!
After the hour is up remove the pan from the oven and uncover it.  Be careful as steam will have accumulated with the cooking process!


These ribs just got out of the sauna and are not dressed. Do you mind!

Next you will need a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce.  I personally love Stubb's BBQ Sauce.  Simply brush on the BBQ sauce liberally.  The ribs are not done yet, but they will look and smell delicious!  Now just put them back in the oven.

Like Picasso or Michelangelo.

Back in the hot!

At the half hour mark you will want to take them out and reapply more BBQ sauce, and back into the oven for another half hour.

Getting close.


Once the next half and hour goes by pull out your ribs.  They should be done.  What I mean by this is that they should be nice and tender and juicy.  That being said not all ribs and ovens are created equally.  If you find out your ribs need a little more time, just pop them back in the oven for in fifteen minute intervals until they are done.  When your ribs are done you have two choices.  You can cut them as is, or if you like your ribs extra saucy, just apply another coat of BBQ sauce.  Either way I would let the ribs rest for about fifteen minutes before cutting them.

Almost ready.

It is now time to slice up your ribs! The easiest way is to flip them over so the concave side is up towards you and follow the bone.  This can get tricky sometimes, especially on the ends, as the bones begin to fan out.

Use a sharp knife.

Ready for consumption!

 Now that you have cut your ribs make yourself a plate and enjoy!!

You know you want some!!