Feature How can you turn what's left of your Christmas dinner into a Boxing Day feast?
Leftovers done right
"I'd throw them away, to be honest," says Paul Lupton, with a trace of repugnance in his voice. These aren't quite the words I am expecting from Gary Rhodes' right-hand man in the Middle East. My conversation about Christmas leftovers with the head chef of Dubai's Rhodes Mezzanine has taken an unexpected twist. But when I go in search of a second opinion from Gabriele Kurz, the chef de cuisine at the Magnolia vegetarian restaurant at Dubai's Al Qasr hotel, I get much the same response: "It's better if you throw them because if you eat them you will not feel very good afterwards."
They're talking about Brussels sprouts. And since the population of the world is generally divided into two camps - sprout devotees and sprout detractors - at least half of you will breathe a sigh of relief at the news. "Sprouts are like Marmite," opines Lupton almost philosophically. "You either love them or you hate them. I've never been a huge fan. Actually, I do like sprouts cooked just right with a Christmas dinner, but there's nothing worse than a bowl full of soggy sprouts on Boxing Day."
Kurz, a passionate advocate of wholesome vegetarian food and nutritional balance, is in agreement. "It's difficult because, when reheated, sprouts can be difficult to digest. I would not cook more than you need." Over at Abu Dhabi's Beach Rotana Hotel, there's no such compunction towards giving those plucky Brussels sprouts a second chance. Ankur Chakraborty, the executive chef of Indigo Indian restaurant, has a solution for sprout lovers like me who can't bear to see their favourite leftover vegetables get tossed into the bin - although he is wary about transforming them into sprout tikka masala.
"If you do the vegetable curry with Brussels sprouts, the texture gets very, very soft," he warns in a cautious voice. "Instead, heat some mustard oil until it begins to smoke, add some cumin seeds until they begin to crackle, then add the leftover sprouts. Put some turmeric powder in there or some very mild spices, and then toss them into a salad. Think of it as a warm salad." The Brussels sprout conundrum seemingly put to bed, Chakraborty starts talking turkey. "Since we're talking Indian food here, you can make very good kebabs out of the turkey," he reveals. "This is something that has not been tried by many people at home. Take some turkey off the bones, chop it up finely with some onions, some nice finely chopped ginger, some green chillies if you feel like, then mix it up. Add some breadcrumbs to bind it and make into small round patties. Season with salt, red chilli powder and turmeric powder, and shallow fry them over a small to medium flame. There you will have some nice turkey patties or shammi kebabs."
While my imagination begins to goad my taste buds, Chakraborty invites me back to the here and now with some sound practical advice on the storage of cooked meat. "You can keep the cooked turkey for up to two days maximum in the refrigerator. You must consume it within those two days, otherwise it won't be safe any more. The main thing is, the food should be safe either reheated or cold - but that doesn't mean you should have turkey sandwiches for the whole Christmas weekend!"
Of course that doesn't stop him from reciting a mightily tempting turkey sandwich recipe. "If you want to do a turkey sandwich, you take white or brown bread, as you choose, spread some mayonnaise on it, add some coleslaw and some spring onion - because spring onion goes very well with turkey - cut the meat into strips, apply some mustard and there's a turkey sandwich for you." And though his recipe was good, it wasn't a turkey sandwich recipe that I was after. "Turkey can be made into a similar dish to butter chicken," says Chakraborty. "The concept of cooking butter chicken or tandoori chicken masala would be the same as the roasted turkey.
"The first thing to do is to make a sauce separately, then cook the turkey slowly in the sauce. That's turkey masala. Cut the leftover turkey into smaller pieces. Slow-stew some tomatoes with curry leaves, chopped green chillies, garlic and red chillies and then strain it very finely. Once you've strained it, emulsify it with some butter, some sweet fenugreek and other Indian spices like garam masala. Then add the turkey meat. Finish it with a little cream and there is the turkey masala."
While I'm salivating, Chakraborty begins thinking up ways to use each and every remaining scrap of turkey, bones and all. "Leftover turkey would make some very nice salads. If you have some leftover rice, add some shallots and shredded turkey then sprinkle some sumac powder on top to give it a local touch. Add some spring onions and cucumbers and it all goes very nicely with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. It becomes a nice salad.
"Once they have used the flesh of the turkey in various preparations, usually people throw away the bones," he continues. "But you can use the bones. They are very flavourful in soup, which can be made out of them. Just put the bones in boiling water and slow-cook them for three hours, so that the gelatin content really comes out and the stock becomes flavourful. Add some celery, potatoes and carrots to make it a little rich. Strain the soup, thicken it with some cornflour, add some vegetables and there you go - you have a soup. If you have any turkey meat left, you can add that to the soup."
I ask Chakraborty about boiling up the bones to make a stock. "Turkey stock is a very strong stock to be used along with other dishes," he says. "A chicken stock can be used with any other dish because it's very neutral. Turkey stock on the other hand will mask the flavour of any dish you try to cook with it. You boil it until it's concentrated. Then you let it cool down and freeze it in small batches in an ice cube tray. Next time you're cooking something with turkey, just take out one or two ice cubes and there you have your frozen turkey stock. After Christmas, you have new year coming, so you can use your stock again."
While Chakraborty has a whole cookbook of uses for leftover turkey, Lupton suggests a novel way of preparing the bird before it has been cooked - especially if you know there's going to be too much meat for Christmas dinner. "You could always cook the breast separately by taking the legs off. When you cook the whole turkey, the legs take longer to cook than the breast or crown, so the breast can go dry. Keep the legs aside and make a nice turkey ballotine on Boxing Day. You take the bones out of the legs and wrap them up with some apricot or chestnut stuffing."
Turkey might be the centrepiece of Christmas dinners, but not for Kurz. The vegetarian chef from Germany has long been a champion of healthy and organic vegetarian food in both her homeland and, more recently, in the UAE. The concept of leftovers might be a far cry from the gourmet food at her Magnolia restaurant, but Kurz is happy to offer her expertise. "You can keep vegetables chilled for two days, but I would not recommend keeping them for any longer," she begins tentatively, before telling me what to do with my leftovers. "Carrots are easy - they make a very nice soup. If the carrots have already been cooked, carrot puree would be too much like something that reminds you of baby food. But soup, yes. Chop the cooked carrots and blend them with vegetable stock, a little bit of fresh ginger and chilli, and salt. After blending, add a little bit of whipped cream, that's very nice. The ginger and chilli has a little bit of acidity that balances very nicely with the carrots' sweetness."
Kurz may be averse to eating reheated Brussels sprouts, but her enthusiasm for an alternative and rather unusual Christmas vegetable somehow makes up for that fact. "Beetroot is a very nice winter vegetable. I think it's a little bit underrated in the restaurant world, somehow. It's cleansing for the blood, and it's good to have a nice detox from time to time. You can make a beetroot carpaccio, beetroot salad or beetroot risotto for your Christmas dinner starter. And on Boxing Day you can have a beetroot cocktail."
Later, she sends me a copy of her beetroot cocktail recipe, which is crammed with a fresh and bountiful array of wholesome ingredients from red apple and onion, to lettuce, parsley and pickled cucumber. There's Dijon mustard and acacia honey in there, garlic, hazelnut oil and rock salt with the earthy flavour of the iron-rich beetroot, the sweetness of the apples and honey, and the savoury hints of mustard and pickled cucumbers.
And suddenly, the prospect of a batch of day-old Brussels sprouts tumbling into the dustbin on Boxing Day becomes somewhat easier to bear.