I’ve said it before.
I will say it again.
I’ll repeat myself as many times as I have to, in order to get the point across on the home front.
The traditional holiday meal of roasted turkey and all the fixins is mundane — boring, unappealing dreck.
Given that other opinions in the family are set resolutely at the opposite extreme, I will probably end up making my point until I suffer a massive ischemic event and can no longer say anything.
But, please, be honest. Once you cease singing the praises of this absolutely ordinary fare, this roasted turkey and standard accompaniments, tell me: How many other times during the year do you make the meal?
Come on, be honest.
Granted, there are a few poor souls out there who don’t know any better, but other than for the Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, how many times do most folks whip up the cherished roasted turkey dinner?
If I were placing a bet in Vegas, I know where I would put my money.
One thing for sure: Roasted turkey with all the fixins is the last meal I want to prepare. Well, among the last — there are always stews that incorporate unspeakably icky items from the back end of the animal.
My point about the traditional treatment established … I’ll admit I do like turkey in several other forms.
I occasionally heap some store-bought, thinly-sliced turkey on a piece of bread — given there is enough cheese and mayo to balance the invariably dry meat (if it’s not dry, it is due to a miracle of modern chemistry, and we probably shouldn’t eat it).
I admit to using ground turkey in a taco mix. Not bad, with enough onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, Espanola red, etc. But only if one doesn’t ask what parts of the turkey are included in the grind.
I like certain parts of the turkey. When it comes to parts, it’s the moist dark meat of the bird that tastes best, and is most adaptable. So, if I am going to include turkey in a recipe, it is the dark meat I will use.
I recently watched a video in which Mark Bittman demonstrated a braised turkey recipe. Looked great: a batch of thighs browned off and braised for two hours with aromatics, Italian sausage and pancetta. A couple of boned, half breasts were, likewise, browned off then braised atop the thighs until done — another half hour or so. (I assume Bittman included the breast to pacify diners who prefer food without a lot of flavor.)
The point: the fattier, dark meat needs to cook longer than the lean breast meat, which, as we know from those horrific Thanksgiving dinners, can get a bit dusty. Each part of the bird requires a different treatment if it is to shine.
Thus we have the fact that roasting the whole bird is problematic and not worth the trouble.
The other thing about turkey I like is the stock that can be made from the carcass. (Odd, isn’t it?, when the best thing you say about a meal is that it provides scraps that can be made part of something palatable.)
The stock is good stuff. This mutant product of the American ag industry has a wealth of connective tissue and collagen-rich components that produce a superior brew — a stock that maximizes turkey taste. The stock is a dandy component in all sorts of appealing dishes.
First, of course, is a fortifying turkey noodle soup.
That might be enough for some, but not for me. I am thinking about using the stock in a take on turkey pot pie and, of course, in turkey molé.
I will have a chance to turn my attention to one of these concoctions the day after Thanksgiving. I am sure to have the ingredients, since five or six family members are journeying to Siberia With a View to join, me, Kathy, Ivy and Jon for the holiday. I will prepare a big bird or, if I can get away with it, a lot of braised bird parts plus a bunch of extra thighs cooked up just for the extra meat. With the turkey at Thanksgiving: twice-baked potatoes, stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts and root vegetables, gravy made with chicken stock and turkey drippings, and anything else that comes to mind that will distract the purists. It really doesn’t matter, since I’ll be looking ahead, to something better.
Task one, right after the Thanksgiving meal: create the stock.
No problemo. The cracked bones and some of the scraps go into a stockpot with water, a bit of chicken stock, a hunk of celery and a halved onion. Since I don’t cook stuffing inside the bird, I won’t have to worry about stuffing pollution. If I can manage to do the braise, there will be no trouble at all. In fact, the vegetables from the braise can be pressed through a sieve into the stock.
Bring the liquid to a boil, turn down to a simmer, skim occasionally, cook down, strain, refrigerate.
Yow. If the stock is prepared correctly, it emerges from the fridge the next day jelled and golden brown. Take off a bit of the fat and turkey stock has a spectacular mouth feel, doesn’t it?
I think I’ll make the turkey pot pie on November 28.
Ingredients: leftover turkey meat, turkey stock, white onion, pearl onions, garlic, pancetta, peas, celery, potato, rutabaga, mushrooms, carrot, butter, cream, store-bought puff pastry.
Oven preheated to 375. Puff pastry out of the freezer and thawing at room temp.
The meat should be in bite-size pieces. The pearl onions should be cooked as per package instructions, and drained.
The carrot, potato and rutabaga are cubed and cooked in gently boiling salted water until just barely tender, then drained. The peas are plunged into the hot water two minutes before the other veggies are done and are drained at the same time. Voila — a dish full of filler, ready to go.
Thinly sliced white onion, finely diced celery (not too much) and pancetta are cooked over medium heat in a bit of olive oil, until the pancetta has given up its porky goodness and the onion is soft. Take out the onion, celery and pancetta, add a bit of oil to the pan if needed, raise the heat to medium high, toss in the pearl onions and sliced mushrooms and cook until the onions begin to caramelize and the mushrooms lose their moisture. In goes a batch of mushed garlic, and maybe a bit of minced parsley, for a minute or so, and off the heat comes the pan. The mess is mixed with the onion and pancetta.
Make a blond roux with five tablespoons of flour whisked into five tablespoons melted, unsalted butter, cooking the flour/fat mix over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it turns a golden color. Add warm stock a bit at a time, up to two cups, whisking the sauce to thick consistency. Add some cream, keeping the sauce thick. Add turkey meat and cook for a minute or two before incorporating all the other ingredients. Taste, season. Thyme is fine. Tarragon works. Just keep the herbs to a minimum.
Pour the mix into a buttered baking dish. Roll out a sheet of puff pastry dough to the dimensions of the pan and place the sheet of dough over the saucy mix. Cut a bunch of slits in the dough, pop the pan in the oven and cook until the crust is toasty golden brown.
Serve with a salad loaded with whatever vegetable matter is at hand, dressed with a balsamic/Dijon vinaigrette. Despite the puff pastry, a load of crusty bread with butter won’t hurt anything. Wine? Personally, I might head for a vouvray.
And, for sure, I’ll head for the brazier.
Anything to avoid a “classic.”