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Nov 21, 2007

The Versatile Turkey

When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner I’m a perennial guest—much happier bringing a dish or two to somebody else’s home, pitching in to assist the day’s (usually frantic) head chef, and helping to clean up afterward.
Nonetheless, I always keep an eye out around now for a medium-sized turkey—15 pounds, say. November turkeys are inexpensive, and I like transforming a big bird into the basis for future meals: slices of turkey breast; a rich soup broth; and a generous amount of Pulled Turkey Breast (which, when tucked into a roll and topped with coleslaw, is a healthier, dead-ringer version of the luscious barbecued pork sandwich found in the south).
Once the bird is defrosted, I remove as much skin as possible—discarding it—and carefully carve out the breast. I’ll need 4-½ to 5 pounds of meat (mostly breast) for the turkey pull. I remove the loins from the breast, wrap them tightly, and plop them into the freezer for a future meal. Then, if I don’t have quite enough breast for the pull, I’ll carve out a bit of thigh or leg meat and add it to the pull pile. I place that meat in a bowl, cover with wrap, and store in the fridge until I’m ready to make the turkey pull (you’ll find the recipe below).
Back to the turkey—or what remains of it, anyway. It now lacks a breast and, probably, some thigh and/or leg meat. It's perfect for a broth. I find that browning meat lends a rich complexity to a broth, so preheat the oven to 400ยบ. Remove and discard as much skin as possible from the turkey. Place the meaty carcass on a rack in a roasting pan. Insert the neck, liver, and gizzards into the cavity. Brush with canola oil, salt & pepper to taste. Cover. Place in the oven for about half an hour, and then remove the cover. Continue roasting another half an hour, or until the meat has developed a nice brown color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
When the carcass can be handled, get out your deepest stockpot. Carefully dismantle the carcass, arranging the pieces in the bottom of the pot (leave the meat on the bones—you definitely want the bones in there). Add enough cold water to cover the dismantled carcass, a large onion, 2 bay leaves, carrots, celery, garlic cloves, whole peppercorns, and some kosher salt. Bring just to a boil, and then allow to simmer for at least 2 hours. Turn off the heat and allow to cool completely. Strain into a large container. The turkey meat that’s been simmering still has plenty of flavor, so put aside likely-looking pieces before discarding the rest of the strainer’s contents. You can now make your favorite turkey soup, or else store the rich broth and meat in the freezer for future use.
The Pulled Turkey Breast, below, is a fabulous standby. I keep it in the freezer in portions, so that it’s always ready for unexpected company. To serve it in a traditional way, whip up a simple coleslaw (or buy one at your local deli). Place the Pull on a sliced onion or kaiser roll, top with coleslaw, and dig in. Health-nuts like me might prefer using a 100% whole wheat bun and topping with simple shredded cabbage. Serve with dark greens like swiss chard or kale; and black beans, black-eyed peas, or corn on the cob. A dark beer goes great with this.
Pulled Turkey Breast
2 large onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup dark beer
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup ketchup
4 TB Worcestershire sauce
2 TB Tabasco
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 tsp each salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4-½ to 5-lb turkey breast, skinned
Combine all ingredients except the breast in a heavy saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce to a mild simmer, and allow to cook 15 minutes. Add the turkey breast, cover, and cook at the barest of simmers for about 2-½ hours. Turn off heat and allow to cool.

Transfer the breast to a cutting board. Shred the meat, discarding bones. Stir shredded breast back into the sauce. Heat it again and simmer, covered, for another hour or so. Season to taste with salt & pepper; and add additional Tabasco if you like. Keeps exceedingly well in the freezer.

Happy Turkey Day, everyone!
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