Leftovers – Bread

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The problem with certain foods when we buy them is not what to do with them initially but how to get the most out of them later.

What was yesterday a beautiful whole roasted chicken is today a scantily clad carcass set in a few remaining tablespoons of delicious juices at the bottom of the baking dish.

The freezer if used wisely, discreetly, can be a useful place to store ideas not yet fully realised. Flavours yet to be built.

That expensive loaf of sourdough looks at you longingly the next morning, wanting nothing more than to become your toast but you are out the door before giving it a second glance. Before you know it, what was once fresh food has become your nemesis seemingly requiring disposal leaving you with nothing but guilt from the waste and a reluctance to spend your good money on good food.

Let’s continue with bread as it is such a staple and it warrants closer attention. Firstly, storing your bread investment in an airtight zip lock bag in a cool dry place will prolong its freshness. I find that a good loaf will last at least 5 days if cared for properly in this way. As each day passes it is still perfect for a light toasting and makes a delicious Crooked Madam or sliced and dried in the oven to make biscuits. We did this at Bird Cow Fish from fruit bread and called them “Fruitons”, as pictured here with cheese.

Alex Herbert Leftover Bread Croutons Image
Image credit: Gordon Hammond

Once this time has passed there are many secondary uses. As much as from a desire to not waste the resource it is a potential essential ingredient which plays such an important part in so many of my favourite recipes like Brandade fritters. At this point I often freeze my bread remnants for later use. Like my chicken carcasses I wait till I have enough to make the job worthwhile or run out of freezer space.

Several days old bread is ideal for all manner of crumbs.

Crusts removed and composted, the bread is roughly torn into small nuggets , these can be soaked in a little milk to soften, then the excess squeezed out and the soaked bread added to sauces such as Rouille and Mayonnaise to give a thicker texture.

These nuggets can become a chunky pangrattato, essentially a rustic crouton. Shallow fried in olive oil to become golden on the outside but still a little chewy on the inside they are delicious and provide a wonderful textural addition to all manner of salads.

For a finish where something more delicate yet not too fine is required the bread nuggets can be further processed using a food processor. These smaller uncooked crumbs are perfect for stuffing. They can also be shallow fried in olive oil, perfect for adding to gratins or poached asparagus.

And then there are plain dried finer crumbs. Who doesn’t like crumbed deep fried food? Older bread can be further dried out in a low oven and processed to a finer texture. These crumbs are ideal for coating foods to be fried such as savoury fritters or schnitzels.

Cultures where fresh bread is an important daily ritual such as France and Italy still value, not forsake, the previous day’s loaves from which they create many wonderful dishes.

Panzanella is a delicious Tuscan salad where slices of old bread such as Ciabatta and sourdough are soaked in a little water to cover until they are very moist and then the excess liquid is gently squeezed out and the bread is torn into chunks. This bread is then joined by sliced ripe tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, celery, basil and parsley leaves, olive oil, red wine vinegar and seasoned with salt and pepper. Capers, parsley, anchovies, boiled egg, garlic and chilli are further optional additions. All or just some.

Leftover bread can also be the hero of an entire dish such as with pain perdu. This ‘Lost Bread’, also known as French Toast is perfect for leftover brioche or a yeast leavened plain white bread. It comes back to life as it soaks up the rich egg and cream batter and is then fried in butter. It can be served at breakfast or even as a dessert with the addition of leftover poached fruits from a previous dessert.

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