Well, here it is November already (can you believe it?), and being a chef/food writer I feel compelled to offer the obligatory turkey article. And as I do, a quote comes to mind. Some years ago while attending a seminar at the New School in NYC one of the speakers was Nach Waxman, owner of the literary cookbook store, Kitchen Arts and Letters. When he sat down he gave the room a long sweeping look and then said, “We do not live in a recipe deprived society.” He paused, and then repeated himself; insinuating that there are too many recipes for the same thing and that food writing needn’t be boring nor merely a compilation of recipes. With that thought in mind I shan’t offer any recipes on roasting the bird or how to make stuffing. You need only to look at any newspaper or magazine for the “best” or “easiest” way to roast your bird. Instead, I’ll include a few recipes on what to do with leftovers, because in this eater’s opinion leftovers are as good as the initial serving.
One of the most underused leftover items is also the most fundamental: the bird’s stripped and picked-over carcass. While not the most attractive item, it’s just crying out to be used. And the easiest way to do this is to put it in a pot (along with any scraps and a few vegetables), cover it with water, and cook it. The resulting broth will be delicious and suitable for any recipe calling for chicken broth.
But as I type these words I ponder a question: why wait until Thanksgiving to eat turkey? This is a query I pose mostly to myself. Americans eat chicken often yet generally consume turkey only a few times a year. One would assume that ingrained cultural habits are at play.
While the Thanksgiving feast began centuries ago as a New England tradition and eventu-ally spread through the rest of the country, it wasn’t until 1867 that Abraham Lincoln named it a national holiday. But long before any explorer ever set foot on the Americas the Aztecs were braising wild turkey with spices, chilies, and chocolate–a dish that would not be unlike a present day molé.
The origin of the name “turkey” is interesting. Some say early colonists thought that turkey was from (were else?) Turkey. Though the more common theory is that turkey got its name through the confusion of Columbus thinking that the “New World” was somehow related to India, and that the name for the bird was tuka, the Tamil word for peacock, which is what turkeys were initially thought to be. In France turkey was originally known as d’Inde, which translates to English as from India. Over the years the apostro¬phe was dropped and d’Inde simply became known as dinde or dindon.
In comparison to other meats turkey is relatively low in saturated fat, and much of the fat is located in or just below the skin. The beauty of roasting a bird is that a great deal of the fat is rendered off during the cooking process. A three ounce portion of breast meat is a mere 160 calories (who am I kidding, when’s the last time anyone ate three ounces of anything on Thanksgiving?). Turkey is also an excellent source of protein and niacin and is an easily digested meat, which makes it an ideal choice of protein for children and the elderly. Turkey also contains L-tryptophan, which is a natural sedative. Turkey’s distinctive yet gentle flavor lends itself to any dish that calls for a mild flavored meat, such as chicken, pork or veal.
And yes, I realize that I previously stated I wouldn’t offer recipes for cooking your bird, but I can’t help myself. At any rate, here’re a few basic suggestions.
The most common state turkey is purchased is frozen, thus, before cooking a bird make sure it is completely thawed to insure even heat transfer. The USDA approves three methods in which to thaw turkeys: in a refrigerator, in cold water, and in a microwave. I feel the best method is to plan ahead and thaw it for a few days in a refrigerator; the water method requires numerous refreshments and microwaves scare me. If you purchase a fresh turkey, you needn’t concern yourself with any of this.
When roasting your bird, preheat an oven to at least 325F, and roast it until a probe thermometer reads a minimum of 170 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the inner thigh. It’s also recommended to prepare your stuffing in a pan separately to avoid bacteria risk. This, of course, would make it a dressing as it wouldn’t be stuffing anything. If you do decide to stuff the bird do so directly before roasting it, and cook it until the stuffing also reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
1 cooked turkey carcass, and any scraps, juices, and pan scrapings
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, cut into thirds
4 ribs celery, cut into thirds
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
Combine the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and cover with enough cold water to cover them by two inches. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a slow simmer. Cook for a few hours, skimming the surface as necessary. Strain and refrigerate until needed.
Shepherd’s Pie Made from Thanksgiving Dinner Leftovers
Dice leftover turkey and vegetables, combine with enough gravy to moisten. Assemble the vegetable/turkey mixture in an oven-proof casserole and “cobble” it with mashed potatoes and stuffing. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown and hot throughout.
Turkey à la King
Combine diced, cooked turkey with enough gravy to moisten it; add whatever vegetables you like. Bring to a simmer and add heavy cream. Serve over mashed potatoes, stuffing, or if you’re feeling particularly decedent, puff pastry.
Turkey Salad with Sundried Tomatoes and Chipotle Chilies
Dice leftover cooked turkey, along with fresh celery, onion, and a couple sliced sundried tomatoes. Mix it in a bowl with a few tablespoons mayonnaise and a little Dijon mustard. Add a small amount of either chipotle powder or minced chipotle in adobo. Season it with lime juice, salt, and pepper. Serve over lettuce salad or as the filling for a sandwich.
Turkey Noodle Soup
Dice 1 small onion, 2 carrots, a few ribs celery, a clove of garlic, a cup or two of cooked turkey, and one small turnip. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a soup pot and add the vegetables and turkey; cook, while stirring, for a few minutes. Add enough broth to cover the ingredients by a couple inches. Season with salt and pepper; bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook egg noodles in a separate pot, then add to the soup.
Turkey and Vegetable Stirfry
Yield: 4 servings
3/4 cup broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 thin slices ginger
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
1 pound mixed vegetables
8 ounces cooked turkey
In a small bowl, combine the broth, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar and salt, then set aside. Heat the oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add the ginger and garlic, cook for a couple of minutes, then add the vegetables and turkey; stir fry for a few minutes. Stir the broth mixture and add it to the stir-fry. Cook for a couple of minutes, until the sauce is thickened and the vegetables are cooked.
Yield: 3 quarts.
3 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 slices ginger, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 apple, diced
6 cups turkey stock
3 cups diced, cooked turkey
1/2 cup cooked white rice
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, add the onion, cel¬ery, carrot, and red bell pepper, sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, sauté 2 minutes. Stir in the sugar, curry powder, cumin, black pepper, salt, and crushed hot pepper, sauté 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 5 minutes over low heat while stirring constantly. Add the diced apple, stir in the turkey stock and diced turkey, and simmer for 20 minutes. Just before serving stir in the rice.