Leftover cooked beef, lamb, pork, veal and ham, chefs say, can be used in almost any dish that calls for ground meat. Recipes: Steak 'N' Bacon Cheddar Meatballs and Veal Pojarski

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Holiday cooking is finally over, but many refrigerators are still in hangover mode: stuffed with the remains of Christmas beef, the country ham from New Year’s Day, the rest of that disappointing crown roast of pork or spectacular leg of lamb. The holidays generate a special genre of leftovers: too boring to eat, too expensive to toss.

Leftover luxuries may be the very definition of a first-world problem, but a lot of cooks are coping with it this week.

“I can’t believe I have a whole other turkey to deal with,” plus about a foot of filet mignon and a pound of smoked salmon, said Kristin MacNamara, who posted a cry for help on Chowhound last week.

She said she had been advised at her local Whole Foods, in Laguna Beach, Calif., to buy a pound of beef tenderloin for each guest.

Beyond sandwiches and soup, repurposing top-quality proteins into dinner is easier than it seems. Restaurant chefs are often faced with this conundrum, especially at places like Joe Beef in Montreal, where eating to excess is a specialty.

“We always have a little foie-gras fat hanging around the kitchen, or the trimmings from a terrine, or a couple of confit duck legs,” said David McMillan, a chef and owner with Frederic Morin.

As long as the meat isn’t dry and overcooked in the first place, chefs say, leftover beef, lamb, pork, veal and ham can be used in almost any dish that calls for ground meat. Boneless chicken breasts are too dry, but moist dark-meat chicken, duck or turkey meat will work, too. The trick is to combine the cooked meat with some raw; and although this sounds odd, it’s the key to some of the juiciest, most flavorful dishes around.

One of the most popular dishes at Joe Beef is a retro indulgence called Pojarski de veau (veal Pojarski), supposedly a favorite of Czar Nicholas I. The classic is made with diced veal, mushrooms and butter, formed into a plump, flat-topped meatball and then stuck with a roasted bone, so that the dish looks like a chop but tastes richer and more tender.

On any given day in the Joe Beef kitchen, the dish might also include ends of charcuterie, bacon, ham and seared duck livers; its essence is the succulent combination of cured, cooked and raw meat.

“It’s one of those great dishes from the attic of cooking,” said McMillan, who started cooking it, he said, at age 18 (he is now 42).

Pojarski became popular in Montreal after the city hosted Expo in 1967, he said, along with other “Continental” classics like chicken Kiev.

“Mixing up meat and cheese and butter is not something chefs worried about then,” he notes.

At the Meatball Shop on the Lower East Side of New York, the chef Daniel Holzman uses combinations of raw and cooked meat in some of the most popular meatballs on the menu, which change daily and seasonally, and sometimes according to the holidays, like the rabbit balls served at Easter time.

“Sometimes you want that distinct cooked-meat flavor,” he said.

In the mix for the chicken cordon bleu meatball, there is moist roast chicken and cooked ham along with ground raw chicken, and there are chunks of grilled sirloin in the Steak ‘n’ Bacon Cheddar, essentially a bacon cheeseburger in meatball form.

“We call that one ‘the heart stopper,”‘ Holzman said.

The proportion of cooked to raw meat can be as high as 2 to 1, he said. The cooked meat should be diced into small bites, not ground, for the best texture.

In traditional kitchens before refrigeration and meat grinders, any recipe that called for chopped meat was often made with cooked meat. Leftovers made classic stuffings for tortellini, shepherd’s pie, pot pies, and meatloaf.

Meatballs cooked in broth (like Neapolitan wedding soup), sauce or gravy (like Swedish meatballs) were especially likely to be made from cooked meat; the added liquid brings moisture, tenderness and flavor back to the meat. So do intensely flavored ingredients like caramelized onions, cheese or mushrooms; extra fat like cream or bacon; and binders like bread, ricotta, mashed potatoes or eggs.

“Those traditional cooks knew what they were doing,” said Bruce Aidells, the meat expert, who is revising his classic guide to meat cookery to reflect modern ingredients. Reached in his kitchen in Healdsburg, Calif., last week, his holiday-cooking hangover was a surplus of borscht. “Cooking denatures the proteins and removes fat and moisture, so you add those things back in to make it delicious again.”

Amanda Rettke, a food blogger and mother of four in Shafer, Minn., makes two big batches of her mother-in-law’s “ham balls” each year: one after Easter and one after Christmas. To a mountain of diced leftover ham, she adds eggs, breadcrumbs, mustard, pepper and raw ground meat like pork, chicken or whatever is in the freezer.

“One year, my husband shot a buffalo, so I used that,” she said. (The buffalo was killed legally, on a ranch in South Dakota.) “And we always have elk and venison around the house.”

One holiday dish transcends leftover status, according to Stephanie Pierson, author of “The Brisket Book: A Love Story With Recipes.” All kinds of brisket make magnificent leftovers, because of the extreme succulence of the cut.

At barbecue places in the Midwest, leftover smoked brisket is used to stuff baked potatoes, made into sandwiches or mixed with spaghetti and sweet barbecue sauce. Chopped pot-roasted brisket, which has a pretty universal flavor profile, can fill everything from enchiladas to empanadas to kreplach. Aidells said his grandmother made potato knishes stuffed with brisket leftovers and wrapped in strudel dough after the holidays.

“Once people are making the dish in order to have leftovers, which is the case with brisket,” Pierson said, “I think we can say that the term ‘leftover’ has become meaningless.”


Adapted from “The Art of Living According to Joe Beef,” by David McMillan, Frederic Morin and Meredith Erickson (Ten Speed Press)

Time: 1 hour

Yield: 2 servings

¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

¼ cup torn, day-old white-bread pieces (no crusts)

¼ cup milk

8 ounces diced roasted veal, pork or beef

8 ounces ground veal

Leaves of 1 thyme sprig

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt


2 clean veal or lamb chop bones (optional; available at butcher shops)

4 thin slices bacon

1. Soak the mushrooms in warm water to cover until soft (about 30 minutes), then drain and coarsely chop.

2. Heat oven to 450 degrees.

3. In a large skillet, melt ½ the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring, until shallot is translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. (Do not brown.) Transfer to a plate and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

4. Soak bread in milk for 15 minutes, then lightly squeeze dry.

5. In a large bowl, combine porcini mixture, soaked bread, roasted meat, ground veal, thyme, egg and salt. To taste for seasoning, heat a small skillet and fry a chunk of the mixture until browned. Add salt and pepper to mixture, to taste.

6. Divide the mixture in half and shape each half into a ball, with a slightly flattened top and bottom. If using bones, poke a hole in one side of each ball and stick a bone into the hole.

7. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy baking dish and gently lay the balls side by side. Lay 2 pieces of bacon on each and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, basting every 4 or 5 minutes, until sizzling and fragrant. Remove bacon for last 5 minutes of cooking. Serve hot.


Adapted from “The Meatball Shop Cookbook” by Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow with Lauren Deen (Random House, 2011)

Time: About 45 minutes

Yield: About 2 dozen meatballs, 6 to 8 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, minced

Scant 8 ounces bacon, cut into ¼-inch dice

1 pound cooked steak, diced

1 pound ground beef, 80 percent lean

6 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

3 large eggs

½ cup unseasoned breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons salt

Black pepper

1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add onion and bacon, and cook, stirring, until bacon has browned and onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer onion and bacon to a plate and cool in refrigerator.

2. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Use the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

3. In a large bowl, combine steak, ground beef, cooled bacon and onions, cheese, eggs, breadcrumbs and salt, and mix lightly but thoroughly by hand. To taste for seasoning, heat a small skillet and fry a chunk of the mixture until browned. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Roll mixture into golf-ball-size balls, packing firmly. Pack snugly into the prepared dish, making even rows to form a grid. Roast for 20 minutes, or until firm and cooked through. (The center should be at 165 degrees.)

5. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.