One of the marks of a great chef is the ability to make something out of nothing. Or, turn a less-than-inspirational dish into something fantastic. I remember one of the first times I ever made lobster bisque. At 21 years of age, I still found it hard to admit that I didn't know everything. So when required by my new position as Chef de Partie for the Garde Manger station to use up all the lobster and shrimp shells in a bisque, I got a few simple instructions from a co-worker, and tackled the task without further guidance. (These days I would look up a recipe or ask the chef from some specific instructions.)
After roasting all the shells, I put them together with the mise and the soup was on it's way. I would grump around the kitchen, swearing under my breath about making this complicated soup. I announced to everyone that I hated the taste of lobster, forcing them to taste and season my soup. (I think it was a form of self-preservation- if I hated the taste of lobster, then may be I could be forgiven for making a horrid tasting bisque?) Anyway, nine times out of ten, the bisque came out tasting fine. Not excellent, but passable. Until one day when I threw in a tablespoon of peppercorns with the mise, not thinking about what the result might be after the whole soup goes through the blender. So I ended up with a spicy soup. I didn't know what to do- it was exactly as I'd feared- I fu*ked up the bisque. And a huge pot of it- easily 20 liters.
So I hunted down Martin, the Executive chef and owner, and told him what I'd done. He tasted the soup and gave me a lecture. Is it bad that I don't remember what he said? He basically told me to get lost while he figured out what to do with the mess I made. You see, in restaurants, you just can't throw stuff out. You've got to find a way to use everything, or else you will go broke. The lobster shells, for example, are leftovers from using the meat. But when you use them to make a bisque, then sell the bisque for $11 a bowl, you'll make a crapload of money on something that is 'leftover'. Anyway, Twenty minutes later, Martin had added coconut cream, chili peppers and cilantro, and called it "Cajun creamy lobster soup". And we sold every drop of it.
So I was channeling my Martin when I attempted to make something else out of the Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops I made last Wednesday. They were ok, but a little heavy for me, and really not as exciting as I wanted them to be. So I had to think of something to do with the leftovers, because I certainly didn't want to get stuck eating it for days. On Thursday I pulled the lamb out of the sauce, chopped it into bite sized pieces and made "Yellow Rice", one of G's favorites. It's an Arab's version of stir-fried rice, but with less fat and more spiciness.
I still had a gallon of sauce to deal with. Using up the rich lamby sauce was not a problem. I made it into the best meat sauce I have ever tasted. Really, I mean it. It has so much flavor from the lamb, the mise, and the wine, it's perfect on top of a bland pasta, so it can really shine. I froze half of it for some night that I just don't want to cook!
Braised Lamb Shoulder Chops
4 shoulder chops
3/4 cup onion, small dice
1 tb minced garlic
1/2 cup carrot, small dice
1/2 cup celery, small dice
1 tb cumin
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp dried mint
1 tb fresh thyme
1 tb tomato paste
1 cup white wine or red wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 tsp salt
1. Sear the chops over high heat until evenly browned on both sides. Remove from pan. Remove fat except for 1 tablespoon.
2. Saute onion, garlic, carrot and celery in fat until onion is translucent. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 minute.
3. Stir in all spices. Deglaze with wine, stirring to scrape up any bits stuck to the pan. Stir in salt.
4. Add chicken stock and tomatoes. Return lamb to the pot and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes-1 hour. Skim off excess fat. Taste for seasoning and serve with white rice or mashed potatoes.
Yellow Rice with Lamb
1 cup diced cooked lamb
1 tb vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
1 tb minced garlic
3 cups cooked white rice
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp tumeric
2 tsp dried ginger
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat oil in a large frying pan or pot. Saute onion, carrot, celery and garlic until onion is translucent. Add rice, spices, and water. You may need more or less water depending on how dry the rice is.
2. Allow to simmer until all the water is absorbed. Stir in lamb, and cilantro. Taste for seasoning and enjoy!
Lamby pasta sauce
1 lb ground meat
about 20 small white or cremini mushrooms
4 cups crushed tomato (1 large can)
leftover sauce from braised lamb shoulders
6 cups cooked pasta (shells or penne)
1. Slice mushrooms.
2. Brown meat in a large pot over high heat. Stir in mushrooms.
3. Cook over medium heat until mushrooms are soft. Strain to remove fat. Return meat and mushrooms to the pot, and add tomatoes and lamb sauce.
4. Simmer over low heat for ten minutes.
5. Serve with cooked pasta.