Friday, January 21, 2011

A meal for all seasons

Of all the tricks in a cook's repertoire, one thing that has to be developed is a handful of meals that are easy to assemble, cost little and are flexible to allow for variety of whim and supplies. Particularly useful is the dish that uses pantry staples and leftovers. And it has to be so be so easy to do that you can pull it out of your hat even if you're tired and too broke to afford takeout.

One of my stand-byes is a dish I got from my mom called fricassee. According to the webs, a fricassee is a dish made up of white meat, which is stewed in a thick sauce, sometimes with vegetables. There are numerous variations, but mine is one of those blue-collar low-income heart-warmer that anybody can dish out with a minimum of fuss in a very short time, and it requires a single cooking vessel, so the cleanup is minimal as well.

So what is my version of fricassee then? Well, for one thing it starts with leftover meat, and that's the beauty of it. It could be chicken, turkey, pork or beef, it could have been roasted or braised, you can mix it up, depending on what you've got on hand. You could also easily stretch it by adding a sausage, fresh or cured (quartered and diced), thick chunks of bacon or ham, or a simple can of beans.

Add to this an onion, quartered and sliced. The last necessary solid ingredient is your roots: rutabaga, potato, carrots, parsnips, yam even. You want twice as much of those as you have meat. Besides your cooking liquid, that's it. You don't really need more stuff besides a bit of flavoring: salt, pepper, some herbs if you have any. I'd definitely add some chopped garlic, as much as you can stand.

Start by sweating the onion in a bit of cooking fat at medium-low in a pot or pan that's going to be large enough to contain the lot. When then onion gets translucent add the coarsely chopped meat (bite size) and warm up. Add the garlic and stir for half a minute, just enough to spread the love without burning it. Add the vegetables and cover with cooking liquid. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the roots are cooked and there's just a little bit of liquid for a touch of sauce. Serve and enjoy!

As you can see, this is basic enough that it can easily be scaled according to the number of guests. Just tossing a can of beans will probably double the amount of proteins. You can spruce up the vegetable intake by tossing in a few handfuls of frozen peas or corn, or you could add some button mushrooms. If you have a piece of tomato that needs to be used, or there's one that on the bruised side of things, just clean, chop up and toss in.

As for the cooking liquid, you could well use just water. But if you have stock, then by all means use it. You could add a spoonful of the powdered stuff, or a bouillon cube. Or you could pour in a beer and top it up with water. The liquid you'll use will add to the flavors and can help compensate for the lack of spices, and you now have a use for that beer leftover that went flat! Same thing with that leftover wine that's been left on the table for a few days too long.

Once prepared this is a dish that will be easy to portion and freeze, a useful thing to have kicking around in your freezer when you need a quick and easy lunch. If you really need some side dish, especially in the summer, all I'd add to that is a green salad. Keep it simple, but make the simple extraordinary!

1 comment:

  1. This is extremely useful tips. I don't typically make a new meal with left over meat. I just would throw it on a salad or it it plain. I will def do this.