Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Let's Talk Turkey

I know there are some people out there who don't like turkey. I know there are some who think that the bird is the worst part of the Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. I know that the turkey is fraught with drama: people hate dark meat, people hate brining, people hate the obligatory dishes and guests.  The bird carries some serious baggage.

The bird
But I love turkey. I love the way it tastes and I love doing interesting things with the leftovers. I have one turkey sandwich - which should be on good bread spread with softened butter (yes! that's it!). And then I go nuts thinking about the various leftover permutations.

I began my preparation early this year by making a brown turkey stock a week in advance of Thanksgiving. Now, we actually did not host the big day this year, but, as I mentioned, I love leftovers so much that I resolved to make my very own small bird either before or after celebrating the actual Turkey Day with others elsewhere. Crazy? Perhaps.

The traditional, bird-centered meal was good. The bird itself came out good. I brined it AND let it dry out in the fridge for three days. See, I haven't made enough of these things to be married to one method, so I have tried something new every year. Last year the skin was flabby, so I tried the drying technique and it worked. The skin came out bronzed and sort of crisp. BUT, lean in a little: I think turkey skin just isn't as good as chicken skin, so I really am not going to worry about it anymore. *gasp*  It looks nice all browned, but it doesn't bring anything to the flavor party. Let's all just stop pretending it's as good as chicken skin or that it is anything more than cosmetic. I hope I remember this next year. Please remind me.

baked stuffing bits as crouton-like garnish

Something else I learned from last year was to buy turkey wings separately to do two things: make a stock and flavor your stuffing ... er ... dressing, since I don't stuff the bird. Last year, I fabricated my bird to use the wings and to try a new cooking method, and it was not a job I care to repeat. This year, I roasted whole and bought wings to roast atop the stuffing - good idea, take heed. I got it from the Test Kitchen.
sunchoke soup with dressing garnish
I love stuffing the most as a side dish - another plate fraught with drama. I think I am alone on the dry-and-crisp side, whereas most people happily congregate over in the moist area. That didn't come out right. What I mean is that I like to make stuffing, er ... dressing, in a baking dish so that I get a crispy top and browned corners. My mother confessed this year - and I subsequently found out that my position is really the minority - that she likes the stuffing in the bird because of the flavor and moisture. Oh, well, I didn't realize ... So much talk about the stuffing is really to say that I believe one of my most inspired leftover dishes wasn't a dish at all, but rather a condiment of sorts. I spread stuffing bits out on a sheet pan and roasted them until they were browned and crunchy. Great on soup, salad, vegetables, and even ravioli. Okay, a little weird on ravioli, but really great on the other dishes.

ravioli stuffed with pureed turkey and stuffing

ravioli with dressing garnish

turkey pho
I always make a couple of soups, too. This year I managed one from brown stock and one from the carcass stock, enriched with Asian spices like star anise.
turkey chilaquiles
And you just have to do chilaquiles with the very last of the meat. Since the dish is so ridiculously easy, I made it a little harder by making my own tortilla chips. But, no, I didn't make the tortillas. Oh! Inspiration for next year: tamales!

I think I went all Iron Chef on my leftovers, really. I am all puffed up with deserved hubris. The empanadas were my favorite, the pho was the most satisfying, and the stuffing-cum-garnish the most inspired.