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.