"Savory Bread Pudding Algorithm"
2 cups stale bread
1 pound meat
1/2 cup allium
2 1/2 cups shredded cheese (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup fresh (or 1/4 cup dried) green leaves
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon herbs/spices
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Tear up some stale bread until it almost fills a 9x13" baking dish. This takes about 2 cups. Then transfer the bread bits into a large mixing bowl.
Wipe out the 9x13" baking dish, grease it, and set it aside.
If the meat is raw, you will need to brown it in a little butter or other cooking fat using a large skillet and medium heat. Stir with a slotted spatula to break the meat into tiny pieces. Transfer the meat into the big mixing bowl, leaving the fat behind.
Chop the allium. Saute it in the remaining fat from the meat. (If you used precooked meat, you'll need to saute the allium in a different fat such as butter.) Cook until soft and translucent, about five minutes. Add the allium to the big mixing bowl. Fold gently to combine.
Grate enough cheese to make about 2 1/2 cups. This usually takes a little over 1/2 pound of block cheese. Add the cheese to the big mixing bowl and fold it in.
Add a leafy green herb or vegetable. You'll need about 1/2 cup fresh or 1/4 cup dried green leaves. Fold this into the filling in the big mixing bowl.
Carefully scoop the meat and bread filling mix into the 9x13" baking dish and spread it around until level.
Get out another mixing bowl, preferably a batter bowl with a spout on it. Put in six eggs and whisk them together. Add 2 cups of half-and-half and whisk it in.
Sprinkle in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper. Additional herbs or spices should total another teaspoon. Whisk all that together with the batter.
Pour the batter over the meat and bread filling in a zig-zag pattern to saturate the filling as much as possible. Put the savory bread pudding into the oven and bake at 350ºF for 45 minutes.
When the timer rings, check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center. If the toothpick comes out moist but not wet, it's done. Usually at this stage, the top will be toasty brown but the interior will still be wet. Put aluminum foil loosely over the top to keep it from burning, and cook for another 15 minutes.
Serves 4-6 people.
An algorithm differs from an ordinary recipe in that it consists of proportions and instructions for combining them, rather than specific ingredients. You can therefore produce a great many individual recipes from one algorithm. If you have a handful of kitchen algorithms and a reasonably stocked pantry, you can cook with whatever ingredients you have on hand.
Almost any kind of bread will work. Soft sandwich bread or hamburger buns will give you a softer bread pudding that just about melts in your mouth. For more texture, use hard rolls or crusty bread. If you do not have stale bread, you can use fresh bread. To stiffen it up, run it through the toaster briefly, microwave on low heat for a couple of minutes, or leave it sitting out for a few hours. For more flavor, consider whole wheat or rye bread, or anything with nuts/seeds in it. If you use herbed bread, then you should probably reduce the extra spices.
Ground or finely chopped meat works best for a savory bread pudding. You can use pretty much any kind of meat, just adjust the other ingredients to match it. Raw or cooked works fine. If you're using leftover meat, you may want to reduce other flavorings. Also if you are bringing home restaurant leftovers, remember that many meat entrees now come on a bed of lightly grilled vegetables. Save those to chop into your savory bread pudding!
Cooking fat can be whatever you like. Butter or olive oil add nice flavor. Clarified butter, or ghee, is ideal for cooking because it's almost impossible to burn. If you save bacon grease, it is terrific for occasions like this where you want to add flavor to whatever you are frying up. Try to avoid highly processed things with synthetic ingredients, which are not good for you nor do they taste very good.
Allium is the onion family. You can use half of a root onion (any color), several shallots, green onions (including the green part), leeks, etc. If you want to use chives or garlic chives, they combine beautifully with pearl onions or shallots. If you want to use garlic, try a couple of cloves plus something else green such as bell peppers or celery to make up the vegetable mass until you have half a cup. Another option is to use a tablespoon of dried onion chips, plus some other vegetables, because dried onion gives a lot of flavor for not much volume. You can, obviously, use any kind of baking vegetable in this recipe; and if you want to do that, here is a good place to put them.
Cheese is one of the main flavors in this recipe. You can use preshredded cheese or grate your own from a block. Any shredded cheese blend such as Mexican or Italian tends to work well in this recipe. You can also mix your own by combining a strong flavor such as aged cheddar with a good melting cheese such as gouda. This is a good dish for rich, mellow cheese or fancy robust cheese, because the other ingredients won't overshadow the flavor.
Leafy green herbs include parsley and cilantro, both available dried. These have a relatively mild flavor. For more kick you could use fresh sweet basil. In vegetables consider fresh chopped spinach or swiss chard. Cooked spinach, collards, turnip greens, etc. should also work. These have a stronger flavor. Some sea vegetables such as dulse come in flakes, and others in sheets or chips that can be crumbled up. Taste to figure out how much you want to use, and since most sea vegetables are salty, you should probably not add more salt.
You can use plain table salt in this dish. However, sea salt has better flavor and trace elements. Fancy salts such as Hawaiian red (my favorite for anything pork, also good with beef and other robust meats), Himalayan pink (nice with delicate meats like chicken or fish), or sel gris (a good general salt) are ideal. Smoked salts bring out the smoked or grilled flavor in cooked meats.
Ground black pepper works fine. Fancy peppercorns are worth using, though. For this dish the green ones with their leafy note add a lot of charm. Use white peppercorns if you dislike black specks in your eggy dishes. Red peppercorns are less ideal for this context because of their fruity flavor. However, most peppercorn blends will add welcome complexity.
Choose herbs to match the meat and cheese. Some good choices include sweet basil, sweet marjoram, thyme, oregano, and sage. If you are using an ethnic meat and cheese combo, then try to find herbs and spices from the same culture to go along with those. This is a terrific place to use blends of herbs/spices such as southwest, cajun, jerk spice, herbes de Provence, fines herbs, poultry seasoning, garam masala, curry powder, chili powder, ras el hanout, adobo, Chinese five-spice powder, and so forth.
We usually use plain bread, half an onion, and dried parsley flakes. Some favorite combinations of other ingredients include ...
1 pound ground turkey
2 1/2 cups smoked gouda
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1 pound tandoori chicken (from 5 pieces)
plus the mix of chopped onions and bell peppers it is served upon
combination of shredded Italian cheeses plus smoked gouda
1 teaspoon garam masala
applewood smoked salt
smoked black pepper