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SEASONAL PANTRY

Don't waste the turkey carcass

Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 19, 2012 at 2:52 p.m.

Food-wise, one of the saddest things I've seen on Thanksgiving is a meaty turkey carcass in the trash. I've seen this more times than I can count and in most cases it hasn't been appropriate for me to rescue it. I look longingly at the poor thing and then walk away.

It's just so wrong, for so many reasons. It's wasteful, it's a missed opportunity and it just seems creepy to put something like this in the trash, especially if you are a conscientious recycler, as I am.

Here's my suggestion: If you're hosting Thanksgiving but don't want the carcass, ask your guests. Surely someone will be thrilled to take it home. On the off chance that no one wants it, refrigerate it and call the best cook you know, who will likely welcome it with great enthusiasm. I certainly would.

Transforming a turkey carcass into delicious stock for soup, risotto, gumbo, curry and other stews is really easy and is best done during clean-up after dinner, so you don't have to make room for it in the refrigerator. Simply strip off the biggest pieces of meat, put the carcass and any pan or plate drippings, including little pieces of turkey, into a large pot, cover it with cold water and set the pot over medium heat. Add the neck and giblets if you have them. If you have a couple of bay leaves, toss them in, too, along with a stalk of celery, a small carrot and a quartered onion. If you don't want to bother with these ingredients, don't. The stock will still be delicious. (Be sure to wrap the turkey meat and refrigerate it right away.)

As foam rises to the surface of the water, use a broad spoon to remove it and the moment the water begins to simmer, reduce the heat to low. Let the stock simmer very gently for several hours or even overnight, if you have the type of stove that is safe to leave on. The stock is done when the carcass has totally collapsed on itself into separate pieces of bone. It is best not to stir the stock as it cooks.

Let the stock cool and then pour it through a large strainer set over a deep bowl or pot. Refrigerate the stock for several hours and then remove and discard the layer of fat that will have congealed on the top.

At this point, the stock is ready to be used or to be frozen. I freeze stock in 2-cup and 4-cup batches.

If you have a large slow-cooker, you can use it to make the stock, if the carcass will fit. Simply add the carcass and whatever additional ingredients you want, cover with water, set on low, cover and cook for 12 hours. Few things are simpler.

For recipes that call for turkey stock from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com, where you'll find links to my favorite turkey-barley soup, turkey risotto and other yummy seasonal dishes. I've also posted several of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, including cranberry salsa, chestnut risotto, sauteed Brussels sprout leaves and, yes, spaghetti carbonara, at “Eat This Now,” just in case you need last minute inspiration.

For today's recipe, I'm returning to an old New Orleans-inspired favorite that I've revised to make even more traditional than it was originally. It might seem counter-intuitive, especially in California, to use garlic powder, onion powder and ground pepper but these ingredients are necessary for authentic flavor. You can certainly use their fresh counterparts and have great results, so don't rush out to the store if you don't keep these items on hand.

Turkey Gumbo

Makes 6 to 8 servings

8 cups turkey stock

½ cup duck fat, lard, peanut oil or clarified butter

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 yellow onion, cut into small dice

1 green bell pepper, cut into small dice

4 large celery ribs, cut into small dice

2 tablespoons file powder (ground dried sassafras, also known as gumbo file)

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder or ground cayenne

1 pound andouille, kielbasa or other smoked sausage, cut into medium dice

6 to 8 garlic cloves, minced

8 ounces okra, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds, optional

4 cups leftover turkey, preferably dark meat, cut into medium dice

6½ to 7 cups steamed white rice (from 2 cups raw rice), hot

— Fresh sage leaves and minced fresh sage, for garnish, optional

— Tabasco Sauce or Crystal hot sauce

Put the turkey stock in a large pot, set it over medium heat, bring it to a boil and cook until it is reduced to just four cups. Set aside.

Put the fat, butter or oil in a large heavy skillet or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. When it just begins to smoke, use a long-handled whisk to stir the flour, about 2 tablespoons at a time, into the hot oil. Stir constantly as the flour begins to color. (If black specks appear, the flour has burned; discard the mixture and begin again.)

When the mixture is a dark reddish-brown, remove it from the heat and immediately use a wooden spoon to stir in the onion, green pepper and celery, holding your head back and protecting your stirring arm so that the cloud of hot steam that rises does not burn you. Continue to stir as the roux cools and ceases to darken, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the file powder, 1 teaspoon of the salt, the onion powder, the garlic powder, the black and white pepper and the chipotle powder or cayenne.

Return the stock to the heat and bring it to a boil. Add the roux, a large spoonful at a time, whisking after each addition. Add the sausage and garlic, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the gumbo simmers, fry the okra, if using, in a heavy pan set over medium heat until it releases its liquid and that liquid evaporates. Remove from the heat.

Add the turkey and the sauteed okra to the stock and simmer 20 minutes more. Taste and correct for salt and pepper. The gumbo is best after it has rested for a day so, if you can, let it cool and refrigerate it, covered, overnight.

Remove the gumbo from the refrigerator and transfer it to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat through over medium heat; stir frequently so that the gumbo does not burn. When it is heated through, taste and correct for salt.

To serve, ladle the gumbo into individual soup plates and top each portion with a generous scoop of rice. Garnish with sage leaves and minced sage, if using, and serve, with hot sauce alongside.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.

E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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