Monday, January 9, 2012

One lost turkey yields quite a few current and future meals

Trying to clear out the chest freezer before we defrost it later this month and found a turkey. Yes, a 22-lb turkey, in fact. I don't know where it's been hiding but I spotted it under bags of frozen nectarines and strawberries intended for smoothies.

What's worse than admitting I lost a turkey in a large chest freezer? Admitting I haven't bought a frozen turkey in at least 2 years, maybe longer.

The turkey didn't show any signs of freezer burn but our manual-defrost chest freezer will hold well-wrapped meats and most produce in good condition for a long time. Drawbacks? It needs to be defrosted every 12- to 18-months and, if you're short like me, plan on standing on your head to retrieve anything that falls to the very bottom.

Because the outside temperature stayed in the 30s during the day (lower at night), I let the turkey thaw outside for several days. Instead of taking up (a LOT of!) space in the refrigerator, it sat (still sealed in plastic) on the deck in a large enamelware dishpan covered by a laundry tub. When it had thawed enough to allow the giblets and turkey neck to be retrieved from the cavities, DH plunged the turkey into a 5-gal (food-grade) bucket of brine (recipe here), enough to cover the turkey completely and set the covered bucket outside in the cold. Overnight temp was well below freezing but the high concentration of salt and sugar in the brine keeps it from freezing. I swear by brining -- it does wonders for a turkey, especially an aged one.

After brining overnight, I drained the turkey and soaked it in buttermilk for several hours. I did this because I've found with this step the skin will turn the most gorgeous perfectly-roasted brown color, even in a roaster oven, and, perhaps more importantly, the buttermilk soak lessens the saltiness of the pan drippings. Before I started taking this extra step, I didn't like using the pan drippings to make gravy or add to stock.

Rather than use a rack, I put carrots, onion wedges and celery stalks on the bottom of the pan under the turkey. They add good flavor. When the drippings are cooled in the refrigerator, it's easy to lift off the solidified fat that rises to the top. The gelled liquid goes back in the roaster along with the bones, skin and other bits and pieces plus water to make rich turkey stock.

This time, I cut up the roast turkey immediately, while still hot, and readied about half of it for canning immediately. I heated (home-canned) seasoned chicken broth in a pot and added the turkey to it as I carved. Then transferred the hot chunks of turkey to pint jars (ended up with 8) and added the hot broth to cover. Processed for 75 minutes while we had dinner: turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, butternut squash and peas. The rest of the meat went in the refrigerator destined for several days worth of hot turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy, cold turkey sandwiches, turkey hash and, one of DS's favorites, turkey vegetable soup.

As soon as it was stripped, the turkey carcass went into the roaster oven which still contained the warm drippings and roasted vegetables. I added the roasted skin, the still-raw turkey neck and the gizzard from the giblet pack along with some fresh thyme, rosemary and sage leaves and about 3 gallons of water. The turkey stock simmered on a low setting (200ºF.?) for several hours while the canner was going and I cleaned up the kitchen. By then it was nighttime and I was ready to call it quits for the day. So DH helped me strain out the bones, skin and vegetables and set the covered roaster oven outside under the laundry tub till morning.

It was definitely cold enough overnight to chill the turkey stock thoroughly and I lifted off almost 3 cups of white turkey fat the next day. It's great for making pastry or biscuits to top a pot pie. The turkey stock I brought to a simmer, still in the roaster oven, and then jarred and processed in the pressure canner for 25 minutes. I really love the tall AA canner we have as it lets me stack jars so I could do all 11 quarts of turkey stock in one batch -- a definite time-saver.

I used part of the turkey fat to make potpie crackers which we ate with, naturally enough, turkey pot pie made from part of the leftover turkey. DH and DS also like the potpie crackers in their turkey vegetable soup instead of oyster crackers or crushed saltines but I've never been one to put crackers in my soup (served alongside, yes!) so I can't recommend that personally but even plain, as a snack, they're pretty good...

Potpie Crackers
(adapted from Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook and attributed to Doris Brubaker, Mt. Joy, PA)

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup turkey fat, other shortening or lard, or butter
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk, kefir, yogurt or buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in fat. Add eggs and milk, stir lightly and form into a ball. Divide dough into 3 or 4 parts. Roll each out on a lightly floured board, as for thin pie crust.

Either cut and transfer each 1" square or lift dough and lay in cookie sheet before cutting into small squares. Bake at 375ºF. for 10 minutes or until crackers are lightly browned. In my oven, the bottoms brown long before the tops -- check carefully.

Crackers keep well in tightly-covered container so can be made in advance. Except at my house the fact that they will keep is no guarantee that I can keep them. See note above regarding snacking...

Serve with creamed turkey or chicken, soups, anywhere you might think to serve dumplings or saltines.

Creamed turkey or chicken (like a potpie filling)
(adapted from Doris Janzen Longacre's More-with-Less Cookbook)

1/4 cup turkey or chicken fat or butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups turkey stock or chicken broth
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
2-to-3 cups diced, cooked turkey or chicken
1 cup frozen peas or peas and carrots (optional)

Melt fat in heavy saucepan. Add onion, and celery if using, and sauté until translucent. Sprinkle flour over all, stir, and cook until bubbly.

Add liquids. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add frozen peas and turkey. Heat through and serve with potpie crackers.

Instead of peas, try adding a cup or two of any favorite leftover cooked vegetable you have on hand -- chopped broccoli, diced potatoes, or green beans are ones we like to add.


Cindy C. said...

Looks delicious. And isn't it wonderful for quick meals?

Carolyn at Walnut Spinney said...

Yes! I'm trying to keep a variety of home-canned meats on hand for fast meals -- now if only Jim liked to fish... ;)