Medieval European cookbooks, widely available in translation on the Web, can be fun; among other things, one finds recipes for swan. There’s good reason we don’t eat swan anymore: it is said to be stringy and taste somewhat like mud and a bit fishy, too. When the mild, tender domestic turkey was brought back from the Aztec lands by the Spaniards, they supposedly very quickly became the bird of choice for large feasts. Even as late as the 1800s it was luxury fare–there’s a reason why Scooge brought Bob Cratchit a turkey to replace his nowadays more expensive goose.
However tender and tasty turkey can be when first roasted or braised, the question remains of what to do with leftovers. (One can only imagine how bad leftover swan was!) Turkey sandwiches get old after a while, and the meat tends to dry out if reheated. Casseroles, soups, and stews work very well; among the best is turkey gumbo, which is semi-traditional in the New Orleans area.
To prepare to make turkey gumbo, clean the meat from the carcass, set aside the skin, and either refrigerate the latter two or make stock immediately. Leftover turkey stock is flavorful but somewhat thin, since the bones and connective tissue have already cooked. Addition of a second or third carcass to the stock pot makes the stock richer; since most people throw the carcass away, it’s worth asking ahead of time.
Leftover turkey stock
Bones from turkey carcass
Leftover turkey skin
One onion, cut in eighths
Two celery ribs, with leaves, coarsely chopped
Two carrots, coarsely chopped, greens attached
One head of garlic, cut in half
Leftover white or rosé wine
Stock seasoning spices of choice, in a tea ball or tied up.
Cut the turkey carcass into manageable pieces with poultry shears. Add turkey. mirepoix vegetables, and spices to stock pot with wine and water to cover. Common spices include parsley, bay leaves, black pepper, and thyme; other herbs and spices including oregano, basil, fennel, and tarragon, may be added at the cook’s discretion. If in doubt, try three stems of parsley, two bay leaves, two sprigs of thyme, and two teaspoons of black peppercorns. Add water to the stock pot and simmer–do not boil!–for two and a half hours. Do not stir, as this will make the stock cloudy and gritty-textured. Skim the foam periodically.
Remove as much fat as possible from the top. If making gumbo immediately, ladle stock directly from the stock pot to the gumbo. If not, strain the stock into a second pot and either pressure can immediately or quickly chill by immersing in a sink half filled with ice cubes and water and stirring, then transfer to sealable containers and refrigerate or freeze. If you know how to clarify a stock using an egg-white foam and wish to do so, do this before chilling.
The rapid chilling process is necessary because although the stock can be said to have been pasteurized by the long simmering process, unless all kitchen utensils–ladles, spoons, cheesecloth, strainers, second pot–are kept aseptic it is likely to be exposed to bacteria, and in the refrigerator it will slowly cool through temperatures very amenable to bacterial growth.
However you are preserving your stock, be sure to set aside four quarts to make the gumbo.
Leftover Turkey Gumbo
1 cup oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 ribs celery, chopped, with leaves.
2 bell peppers, chopped
2 medium or 1 large onion, in large dice
6 cloves garlic, diced
2 lbs leftover turkey meat, diced. Dark meat works best, but a mix of light and dark meat is OK.
2 lbs andouille or similar smoked sausage, cut on the bias into half-inch slices
2-3 bay leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
small handful of parsley, chopped
Creole spice blend of your choice
1 bunch green onions, chopped, bottoms and tops separated
Salt to taste
Hot sauce to taste
4 quarts of turkey stock, as above.
Steamed white rice.
Real smoked polska kielbasa, the shrink-wrapped national brand stuff passed off as “smoked kielbasa”, and linguisa will all work if andouille is not available. These are all closer to Louisiana andouille than Bruce Aidells brand “andouille”, which will work, as well. Do not use French andouille, as that’s a completely different sausage made primarily of pork stomachs and intestines.
The best filé powder is nothing but filé powder: ground sassafras leaves, a thickener and seasoning that was used even in preColumbian times. Some brands contain spices and fillers. Zatarain’s is pure filé and isn’t too hard to find even outside the gumbo-eating South; it and others can be ordered on the Web, as well. Prepared creole spice blends are more consistent, although some contain more nutmeg and other aromatics than I like. It’s really a matter of taste. The formula given in my Barbecue Shrimp recipe will work here. Stay away from Tony Chachere‘s, which is relatively bland and contains salt. Either Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce will work in this recipe.
Brown the sausage, drain and discard the fat, and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, make a roux by adding the flour to the oil, a quarter cup at a time, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with the spoon, whisk, or spatula. Continue this process until the roux is the color of peanut butter (New Orleans style, tasting of toasted nuts), or milk chocolate (Cajun style, tasting not unlike dark-roast coffee). High heat will darken the roux more quickly but necessitates faster stirring and more meticulous scraping. If the roux burns, throw it out and start over.
Scrape the roux into a large pot set over medium heat. Cook the green pepper, garlic, onion, celery, and green onion bottoms in the roux, stirring, until the onions are half-done. Add the stock, sausage, thyme, and two teaspoons of creole seasoning and stir. Simmer for forty-five minutes or until it tastes done.
Season the leftover turkey with the creole seasoning by tossing or rubbing and add to the gumbo. Simmer for ten minutes and adjust the seasoning by adding salt, creole seasoning, and hot sauce. Add parsley and green onion tops and simmer an additional five minutes.
Serve in bowls, ladled over white rice, with bread on the side and filé powder available for thickening at the table. Do not add filé to the pot of gumbo at the stove; it will turn stringy and ruin the dish. Wine pairing with gumbo is very difficult, but try it with cider, lager, or pale ale, or with a roasty stout if made with a dark roux.