Whey-Brined Pork Leftovers

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I cook too much. I don't mean I spend too much time in the kitchen; I'm talking quantity. Nearly every time I make a meal, there's enough leftover to warrant another. It's both a blessing and a curse, and has been with me since I first stepped into the kitchen. Sometimes, it's on purpose. Every time I cook chili, for example, I plan for leftovers. Frito Chili Pie is half the point in the first place. Other times, it just sort of happens.

I love leftovers, but my family is of a slightly different opinion. It's not that they won't eat leftovers, exactly, it's just that they won't eat them in their original form. This odd quirk of my family's dining habits has forced me to become a little bit of a leftovers whiz. This is an embarrassing little tidbit that I probably shouldn't reveal, but some years ago, I even harbored a small fantasy of hosting a cooking show called Chef'd Over, wherein I would go into people's homes and show them how to re-purpose last night's meatloaf or roasted chicken into something exciting to eat. Let's face it, leftovers might be convenient and cheap, but last night's dinner isn't exactly a thrilling invitation to the table.

Recently, I wrote about my first attempt at brining with whey. While it was a truly delicious meal, we barely put a dent in it. My wife and kids had eaten a late lunch, and they just weren't very hungry when dinner was ready. That meant leftovers, and I began putting a plan into motion even before the dishes were cleared.

The remainder of the pork roast went into a braising pot, along with the roasted vegetables, a can of San Marzano tomatoes, and the better part of a bottle of white wine. I grabbed a package of dried shiitake mushrooms and threw it in, as well. The whole shebang went into the still-hot oven, which I turned back on as low as it would go. It stayed there for about 18 hours. The pork got beyond fork tender, falling apart into shreddy bits and pieces into the slightly thickened braising liquid.

After I put the braise in the oven, I turned my attention to the polenta. I greased a casserole and poured the polenta out into it, smoothing it into an even layer. Covered with plastic wrap, it went into the fridge to set overnight. For dinner the following evening, I cut the polenta into wedges and pan-fried them until crispy on both sides, and warmed through. A spoonful of braised, shredded pork went down into each bowl, topped with a couple of wedges of crispy polenta. The braise was deeply savory, slightly sweet, and carried just a touch of acidity from the tomatoes. The polenta cakes were crispy on the outside, almost custardy on the inside. It was as delicious as the previous night's dinner, maybe more so.

As my family sat down to dinner, there was no grumbling about eating leftovers, no "not that again" wailing out of the mouths of my children. In fact, there were no sounds at all, save for the happy sounds of chewing, and the occasional grunt of pleasure. Especially for a meal comprised largely of leftovers, I'd say that's a pretty good sign.

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