The end of the trip or charter is approaching and you are out of food. Sure, there are a few staples in the pantry, but there really is nothing left. All that sits in the galley fridge is leftovers, with maybe a few “seen better times” vegetables.
This happened to me when my boss chartered a new yacht to see whether he wanted to buy it. We were at least one meal out from reaching the dock. It wasn’t that I was a poor planner but rather, the guests ate more than expected, even with preference sheets filled out.
Plus, with my experience on yachts, I’ve come to expect that there will always be one heavy hitter at each meal, the one who still wants more after you’ve served the meal. So I always make a little extra, hence the leftovers.
I have found that extra protein is the key. You can do a lot with protein, and it’ll keep uncooked longer than most vegetables or salad fixin’s that will wilt in two days. I also have an assortment of hardy vegetables, too, especially butternut or acorn squash, which last for weeks.
So how do you turn what is left into a final meal that everyone will love? Enter a food rehab, of sorts. Don’t balk at leftovers; they have saved many a chef in many a hard time.
Food rehab is all about being creative and breathing life into what is left by repurposing it. Yesterday’s beef or lamb can be turned into a shepherd’s pie. The beef stir fry can be put into mini wraps or mini tacos topped with fried vegetable strips as garnish.
If you have leftover chicken, pull it for chicken pasta salad or chicken stuffed lettuce wraps. If you are really trying to stretch what little there is, consider a chicken pot pie with some of the vegetables you wouldn’t serve alone.
If you can sense the coming food shortage, make up a few sauces to use with the protein left over from a previous meal. Most meats don’t look that great the next day after the drying effects of the cold air in a refrigerator so pairing them with a sauce is the perfect answer. Make a red wine sauce, a marinara or white wine shallot and champagne sauce to cover just about any protein you might have left over.
If you have leftover avocados, throw it in a food processor with agave, fresh or frozen fruit with 1/2 cup of cocoa powder for a truly healthy “faux mousse” if you don’t have anything left for a dessert. Or use the avocados with any leftover fruits to make a salsa using vinegar and chopped garlic and onions to add to your leftover protein.
Make rice cakes by binding some cooked rice with either eggs or flax seed boiled in water, mixed with any leftover vegetables you have. Pan fry them and top with salsa or one of the sauces you made. These can work with or without leftover protein.
Even leftover bread can be brought back to life. Spritz it with water or milk, wrap it in aluminum foil and put in a low-heat oven until warm.
If you have vegetables such as yellow squash or zucchini that are beyond their prime, take a serrated peeler and make spaghetti noodles for a vegetarian take on the old classic spaghetti. You can make a pesto out of anything for a sauce or use one of your favorites if you have it tucked away somewhere. Remember it won’t last long as it tends to brown so if you are lucky enough to have some fresh arugula or spinach, throw the pesto and the greens in the food processor. It will brighten it up.
One last note: Be careful with leftovers. Always cover and wrap them tightly to prevent moisture loss and air burn in the fridge, and chill immediately. And know how old your leftovers are. More than two days of cooling and reheating renders them dangerous and very tough. When in doubt about a leftover, toss it out.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 20 years. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.