One of my recently purchased baking books is The Italian Baker, Revised: The Classic Tastes of the Italian Countryside–Its Breads, Pizza, Focaccia, Cakes, Pastries, and Cookies. I shall be reviewing it soon. One of the things that I have taken from it so far is that the Italians will not waste bread. Bread is Life and not to be squandered.
It has made me feel a little guilty.
I was born and raised in frugal times and learned well the lessons of use and avoidance of waste. I have made many a Bread Pudding in my lifetime! It is however many years since I routinely dried all my bread ends and made and stored breadcrumbs. I admit to being quite casual about chucking out crusts and allowing loaves to go mouldy. These days I have the chooks and I can feel relaxed about feeding my leftover bread to them – after all, they are producing the eggs to go into my next enriched dough, how could I begrudge them a crust or two?
All the same… that book really has me reviewing my habits. If I elect to include uses for leftover bread in this blog, perhaps I shall pay more attention to what I am doing in the kitchen.
The Festive season is a great user of bread – breadcrumbs are fundamental to the Xmas Pud, for a start. Crumbs are also de rigeur for stuffing mixes. My favourite use, bar none, is that culinary delight… bread sauce.
Oh, all well and good, you may look askance, as I believe that the French do, but you may take it from me that Bread Sauce is the next best thing to Ambrosia (and I do not mean rice pudding.)
To my mind, bread sauce is the only possibly good reason for eating that roast Christmas fowl. Just heap it onto my plate, please. In fact – keep the plate and just give me a bowl of bread sauce and a spoon. Yes. That delicious. I do not need the Chicken, and I would far rather not eat Turkey at any time of year. Bread sauce is all that makes Turkey edible. Smother it, please.
Really, do not knock it until you have tried it… with roast Chicken, Turkey or Pheasant. Possibly even with duck… well, maybe no.
Get yourself some soft white breadcrumbs, preferably day-old or older and then progress as follows.
Plumbum’s Bread Sauce Guidelines (Pirate Territory, revisited)
- Peel an onion. A generously-sized one. A big juicy Spanish one would be a good plan.
- Cut the onion in half about its equator.
- Discard one half (set aside for the stuffing or the gravy or whatever you wish) if you don’t have an onion fetish – feel free to use the pair if you are more like me and cannot get enough of the humble allium.
- Take some whole cloves – 4 is a usual number, but if you like the flavour feel free to crank the number up (I like to use half a dozen or more) – and stud the onion with the cloves. (DECODE: Put the long stalk end into the onion, and push it home until only the head remains proud of the onion, like a wee stud – it’s easy.)
- Put the onion, cut side down, in a heavy bottomed saucepan
- Add some whole black peppercorns to the pan – 6 is normal, feel free to add more if you like them.
- Chuck in a bay leaf (or two.. I like two). Fresh or dried (I won’t tell)
- Pour in some milk. You do not need to cover the onion – just add half a pint or so for the base quantity. Crank up the flavourings if you need to make more sauce from a greater quantity of milk.
- Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and leave to infuse, with the milk barely shivering, until the onion is soft and has yielded its essence to the milk.
- You can set it aside, covered, until needed or carry straight on.
- Strain the milk.
- I normally give the pan a swish before returning the strained milk, it helps to avoid burning the final sauce. Just get rid of any milk deposits on the base of the pan.
- Most recipes would have you chuck the onion at this stage. Onion junkies don’t do that. We roughly chop the onion and add it to the pan, dispensing only with the whole spices at this stage. What you do is entirely up to you.
(You can apparently judge future life compatibility with a member of the opposite sex by establishing that they too favour chopping the onion into the sauce. I know this for a fact. You could ask me, but I’d have to kill you.)
- Add the breadcrumbs to the flavoured milk, together with a goodly knob of butter. How many breadcrumbs, I am not sure. I cook by instinct and doubt that I have ever measured at this stage. I grab a couple of handfuls and strew them in. I’d guess around 50 grams per 250 mls of milk, or thereabouts but don’t try to hold me to that… go ask Delia or Nigella or somebody. (Actually I am not sure that bread sauce is very Nigella, best stick to Delia.) The sauce will look thin and unappetising at the stage but don’t be tempted to keep adding crumbs to make it thicker.
- On a low heat, leave the sauce to cook. Stir it occasionally. The breadcrumbs will swell and thicken the sauce. This will take around 15 to 20 minutes.
- The finished sauce should be thick and coating, but pourable. If you plan to make it ahead of time, be aware that it will continue to thicken as it stands, so don’t cook it down too far now.
- Reheat to serve, if necessary. If the sauce is now too thick, you can add extra milk to thin it down – with practice and familiarity, you should be able to avoid this step.
- Taste before serving and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg if desired. Personally, I have been known to say Yes to nutmeg on occasion, but the sauce should not need salt if it has been well-buttered, and the peppercorns should have been sufficient. If you would like your sauce a little richer, beat in more butter (I would) or add a little cream (I wouldn’t).
If you have never had home-made bread sauce, I urge you to try this. The sauce is oh-so-much-more than you can possibly imagine from its description.
You will thank me.
Do not be tempted to substitute a packet mix. It is not the same product. Oh, no. Not at all.
What do you do with fresh breadcrumbs, to avoid wasting bread? Leave a comment and tell me.