Sunday brunch. Now those are two words that just sound wonderful together, the thought of wearing your Sunday best, relaxing at an oversized table in a beautiful restaurant with a cup of coffee or tea, sampling a wide variety of delectable dishes and made to order offerings, and true serenity: no distractions to impede hours of quality, meaningful conversation. So back to reality… an opportunity to overindulge knowing that lunch isn’t going to happen and if you truly get your money’s worth from the experience, dinner will become optional as well.
Interestingly enough, Sunday brunch and the discipline of charcuterie that it grew out of are nothing more than a fancy approach to recycling. Charcuterie is the art and science of transforming and preserving leftover scraps into desirable emulsifications and food-products. You probably would not consider the raw ingredients of your favorite sausages all that appetizing, I’ll spare you, but you probably do like to eat hot dogs, salami and hundreds of other tubular products enclosed in a casing and smoked. Find a restaurant or deli that makes their own sausages and they are not only creating things that are tasty, they are following sound business practices by not letting anything go waste.
Food is something we should all learn to recycle and indeed, look forward to recycling. My culinary education and a few jobs in industry have taught me the incredible value of the byproducts that many discard. Restaurants don’t discard bacon fat – or any other fat with flavor. The “discards” of celery, carrots and onions, the parts that wouldn’t look appealing when served in a stew or as a side dish are used to make stocks and soup bases. After all, they contain the same, if not more flavor – and multiple times the color pigment, especially the peels. Got a bunch of leftover bread or pastries? Mix it with some of those pre-scrambled eggs that weren’t used and add some dairy, sugar and sweet spices, and call it bread pudding. And bones aren’t for the dogs; they’re for flavoring stocks and soups.
Some additional words on soups, recycling at its finest. Cream of potato soup usually means there were leftover mashed potatoes last night, which can be topped with the bacon that didn’t get plated at breakfast. There are a multitude of chicken soup creations; what else can a chef do with chicken scraps, the bones after de-boning, leftover pasta and whatever diced vegetables happen to be around. Chicken soup after all is very forgiving. In Chinese restaurants, yesterday’s wonton soup broth becomes today’s egg drop. Cheese soups usually use the rinds. Did you ever wonder why chef’s say that soup tastes better the next day?
In the bakeshop, virtually every pastry formula includes a small portion of cake crumbs. What else are you going to do with them? We can thank the thriftiness of bakers for sourdough, which is leftover dough that didn’t get baked yesterday or the day before. The one that surprised me the most; cereal crumbs, especially frosted flakes give an added crunch in places they can be hidden.
So lets get back to Sunday brunch. There is no culinary offering more despised by chefs and more prized by restaurant managers. It is use it or lose it at its finest; enter the walk in cooler, pull everything out that hasn’t gone bad and order the chefs to get creative. Aside from sausages there are terrines, fancy sorts of meatloaf made from anything you can find that becomes ground up and prepared with an artists touch. The word forcemeat that is used to describe sausages and terrines doesn’t mean that it is forced through a pipe into a casing; it comes from the French word farce, which means “false”.
If you looked through the past week’s lunch and dinner menu, you’d find all the ingredients for all those salads. Mix anything with mayonnaise, or a reasonably good tasting oil and vinegar and voila – today’s special salad. Or if you have some time to spare, some vinegar, salt and a pickling spice for another variation. There are a lot of creations that become pasta salads. Salad isn’t supposed to have pasta in it, at least that is the point of antipasto, which is commonly spelled antipasta.
There is bound to be a roast or two being thinly sliced… thinly sliced because it isn’t the best cut of meat, which by the way, when run through the slicer will make a nice roast beef sandwich in the days to come. You have to cook that in advance anyway and chill, which means the oven is going to be running anyway. Why not plan ahead?
Then there are all those wonderful desserts. Thankfully most sweets have a very long shelf life. Cut it into small pieces and put it on a platter, and your guests will want to try one of every type. Even the sugar-free ones that didn’t interest any of your diners on previous evenings will interest somebody at brunch, even if it only occurs because they missed the sign that identified it or you forgot to put one out. There is no right or wrong way to make a fruit salad, is there? And your guests will gladly eat whatever flavors of ice cream you have left with that scrapbook of a dessert plate they put together.
Despite it all, most Sunday brunches are actually pretty good. We don’t know what to expect, we eat with our eyes and noses first and, well, the bar is often set pretty low since buffets are for quantity of quality. But it is the pinnacle of recycling, no other way to dice it, slice it or cut it.