Normal people look at a 20-pound turkey and see Thanksgiving dinner. I see gumbo.
I'll roast a whole bird any time of year just to get the carcass. The white meat is nice enough under gravy, or in sandwiches, and the dark meat is the best building block for burritos or enchiladas. But the fleshy bones converted into gumbo will take you to another state: if not Louisiana, at least close to bliss.
Gumbo is one of the greatest dishes ever invented, but outside southern Louisiana, it's almost impossible to taste one that's made well. The only way I can ever simulate what I have eaten along the bayous from New Orleans to Eunice is to make it myself.
Because it starts with dark and smoky roux, gumbo is a far better final destination for a turkey carcass than plain old soup. There's an element of mystery that makes the odd chunks of meat seem like tantalizing morsels, rather than the usual don't ask, don't tell scraps.
The secret to great gumbo is mostly the roux: flour and oil cooked together with steady whisking until the two meld completely and turn Brazil nut brown. The roux acts as seasoning and thickener. The darker the roux, the deeper the flavor. But you can't cheat and raise the heat. Cooking a roux is like caramelizing onions: If you want optimum flavor, you have to take it slow.
Garlic, celery, onions and sweet peppers intensify the taste, along with such spices as thyme, bay leaves and cayenne.
All on its own, turkey will produce an excellent gumbo, but I like this richer and jazzier version made with andouille sausage and artichoke hearts (the frozen ones are fine). The extra ingredients make gumbo seem stew-like, even without the traditional okra or file (powdered sassafras), both of which thicken the broth and whose appeal mystifies me.
As a bonus for making gumbo, I get a freezer full of rich and aromatic turkey stock. Put the carved-up turkey into a pot of water and let it simmer awhile, then pull it out and cut off all the bits of meat you didn't recycle in potpies or tetrazzini. Once the bones go back in the water with the usual aromatics -- onion, celery, carrots -- you're halfway to a winter's worth of homemade soups. This gumbo recipe uses less than half a gallon of stock; I freeze the remainder in one-cup plastic containers that, when thawed, yield just enough for a sauce.
I serve gumbo in shallow bowls over wild pecan rice, a Louisiana variety with an almost popcorn flavor, but basmati is good too. All you need beyond that is plenty of hot sauce. Unlike the turkey from which it's made, gumbo should make you feel anything but sleepy.
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Turkey gumbo with artichokes and andouille
Total time: 4 to 7 hours for stock, about 1 1/2 hours for gumbo
Servings: 8 to 10
1 roasted turkey carcass
2 onions, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled or scrubbed and chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
1 bunch parsley, leaves and stems, rinsed well and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1. Place the turkey carcass, meatiest side down, in a large stockpot. Fill the pot halfway with water. Bring to a boil and skim any scum off the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the carcass to a carving board; let it sit until cool enough to handle.
2. Add the onion, carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns and bay leaf to the water in the stockpot and continue simmering.
3. Shred or cut any remaining meat off the carcass and set it aside in a bowl; cover and refrigerate.
4. Return the bones to the stockpot and continue simmering, adding just enough water every hour to cover. Cook until the stock is rich and aromatic, at least 3 hours or up to 6.
5. Cool, then strain, discarding solids. (If you have time, refrigerate the stock until it's well-chilled, then lift off the fatty top layer and discard.)
1/2cup olive or vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 green pepper, cored, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2to 1 teaspoon cayenne
Pinch ground allspice
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
7 cups stock
Turkey bits reserved from stock-making
4 links andouille sausage, diced (about 3 cups diced)
20 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups cooked rice
1/2cup chopped green onions
Hot sauce to taste
1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat until bubbly. Add the flour all at once and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture turns deep mahogany brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Do not allow it to burn or you will have to start over.
2. When the roux is sufficiently colored, add the garlic, onion, celery, red and green pepper, thyme, cayenne, allspice and bay leaf. Stir quickly until the roux cools slightly and the vegetables start to soften. Stir in the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are well-wilted, about 20 minutes.
5. If the stock has cooled, heat it in a saucepan. Raise the heat under the Dutch oven and pour in the hot stock. Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring rapidly.
6. Add the reserved turkey bits and the diced andouille. Reduce the heat and simmer until the flavors blend and the liquid is somewhat thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in the artichoke hearts and simmer 5 minutes longer.
7. Season with pepper to taste and more salt if needed. Serve hot over rice, with chopped green onions for garnish and hot sauce for extra heat, or cool and refrigerate and serve the following day (the flavor only improves). Or cool the gumbo completely and freeze for up to six months.
Each of 10 servings: 371 calories; 15 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 22 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 39 mg. cholesterol; 1,096 mg. sodium.