Second life

Sometimes a chef or manager is left with some food that was meant for the dining table. It could be that there was a run on pork in the carvery leaving the beef, or a bus load of no-shows. Someone could have accidentally ordered the wrong item or somehow you end up with a box of protein you were not expecting.

But with the words ‘cost of living crisis’ on everyone’s lips it would be wrong not to re-purpose that food into something delicious that could bring joy to someone else, either for profit or to create lasting goodwill. So, in the unlikely circumstance that you find yourself with some leftover or excess food, here are a few tips about converting those morsels into profit or generosity. Chalk these up on the specials board to turn leftovers into valuable little dishes that offer variety and a little fun at a good price. 

Any excess raw meat, from lamb to chicken to beef, can be cooked to form the filling for a pie. Pies are popular yearround, especially in the pub world and can be made into a meal when served with salad and chips. Slow-cook red meats with plenty of mirepoix, stock, wine or stout, and thicken the gravy with starch. Allow to cool and spoon into pastry-lined pie tins, cover with puff pastry, glaze and bake. Chicken can be simmered in stock and milk, perhaps with some leek, thickened and baked in a pie. Uncooked pies can be carefully wrapped and frozen for up to three months. 

Summer curries are great fun and, when served with rice, roti or chapati, they make a great-looking dish with a sense of theatre. Cube raw meat or fish and cook with a mix of minced ginger, garlic, chilli and lemongrass and simmer in stock, coconut milk and a little fish sauce to make a Thai-style curry. Raw meat can also be minced for burgers or sausage rolls where they can be blended with breadcrumbs and minced carrots to really stretch out that animal protein. Mince chicken and cook with spices and roasted rice and sliced veg and serve in lettuce cups for a crunchy, fresh Thai larb salad. 

Cooked meat is another matter as much of the moisture and flavour could have been cooked out of the meat. So, always consider preparing and serving the meat in some kind of sauce or gravy or in a method that will add some moisture. Cooked pork can be diced and added to sliced cabbage, veg and spice, rolled in a pastry wrapper and deep fried for an Asian spring roll or rolled in rice paper with prawn and vermicelli – then served with peanut sauce for goi cuon or Vietnamese rice paper rolls. Add cooked pork to a pressure cooker with loads of garlic, onion, orange flesh and spices then pull apart with forks to make pulled pork to use in tacos or to layer with cheese and ham in a buttery toasted Cubano sandwich. 

Cooked beef of any sort can be quite dry and limits its second life. But consider making a Reuben-style filling by putting fatty pieces of beef into a slow cooker with cracked pepper, cracked coriander and paprika for a few hours and forking apart. Add it hot to a crusty roll with cheese, sauerkraut and pickles for a different take on a Reuben. Serve hot slices of beef in a crusty roll with plenty of slaw and gravy for a hot beef roll – add chips and salad to make a meal out of it. 

Making the most of cooked chook is as easy as stripping it from the bone into morsel-sized pieces and folding it through cold steamed veg and a rich creamy dressing to make a summer dish for the salad bar. Then there is the dish Coronation Chicken, a 1950s British classic with shredded chicken, mayo, curry powder and mango chutney – suitable as a quirky retro dish perhaps. Mexican dishes love cooked chicken and it works perfectly in tacos with a colourful summer salsa, or rolled into a burrito wrap with cheese, spiced beans and hot chillis, then baked until browned for chimichangas. 

And don’t forget the staff. With staff retention a hot issue, consider rewarding the staff with some great-tasting dishes made from leftover high-end protein or offer some to be taken home for them to enjoy with the family or housemates. Most importantly, keep food safety at the heart of the offer, making sure that food is handled safely and kept at the correct temperatures for the right amount of time.

As seen in Summer 23/24

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Bidfood Australias appetiser 2023 year in review magazine includes australias best bar and how to handle the press. The magazine frontpage image features a dusted rim cocktail topped with half a green jalapeño on a vivid canary yellow table cloth.