Monday, November 06, 2006

Turkey I: A Bowl of White

We here at anapestic are all about tradition (except, of course, for when we're not), so we are perhaps in error to suggest that at least one major Thanksgiving tradition needs to die a quick -- though not necessarily painless -- death. We have, however, had just about enough of the annual whinging about leftover turkey*. You all know how this goes. You can pretty much picture the overwrought homemaker: she is wearing a sweater set and a strand of pearls, which she is clutching, and she is wondering, "Whatever shall I do with all this turkey?" Her husband, you see, is tired of turkey sandwiches, and the children simply will not eat her turkey croquettes, and if she has to choke down one more bowl of turkey soup, she will simply perish from the accompanying ennui. The turkey, we are given to understand, is almost single handedly responsible for the cultural extinction of Donna Reed.

I have, at various times, seen perhaps a dozen episodes of The Donna Reed Show, and to be honest, I am unable to work up much sympathy for Ms. Reed's passing. (You are to understand, as no doubt you already do, that I am speaking antonomasially here. It is the Donna Reed archetype that I am unable to mourn. Ms. Reed herself, who died in 1986, was doubtless a wonderful person and is equally doubtless much missed by her friends, family, and fans.)

While I have no desire to see the return of the stereotypical homemaker to either our televisions or our lives, I nonetheless have the answers to her turkey dilemma. Yes, yes, I know: you think that such answers can be obtained only by trekking through the lower Himalayas and humbling oneself before a cave-dwelling hermit, or, perhaps, through the state of enlightenment that is achieved only after twenty straight hours of vacuuming. But I have saved you, and Donna Reed, the effort:

1. Learn to cook the turkey properly so that your family will happily eat it in all of its various manifestations, or

2. Buy a smaller turkey.

Anyway, now that I'm back from showering off the sarcasm that I was dripping with, let me say that I adore turkey, and the idea of complaining about leftover turkey is so foreign to me that I view it more with curiosity than with disdain, though it is clearly deserving of both. November may be the month for others to write a novel, but for me it's the month to celebrate turkey. I will certainly have a substantial bird on the Thanksgiving table, but I started this weekend with a substantial turkey breast.

A nice five- or six-pound turkey breast will provide three substantial meals for four to six people. These days you can buy prepared turkey cutlets, but they are very expensive. You can find the turkey breast, especially at this time of year, for around ten dollars, and if you are willing to deal with raw poultry yourself, you'll save a lot of money by removing the breast meat from the bone yourself. You'll also ensure the third meal by having a meaty bone left over to make the stock for your soup.

(Right here is where I was going to transcribe the conversation that V. and I had when he came into the kitchen while I was boning the turkey breast and asked him to grab a plate for me to put the first half of the breast on so that I'd have room to remove the second half of the breast and he asked me why I was going to all of this trouble to get a boneless breast and I told him that they didn't come already prepared and he looked very confused and I explained to him that this was a turkey breast, not a chicken breast, and I asked him whether the size wasn't something of a giveaway, and he muttered something about chicken farmers using steroids before retiring from the kitchen in shame, but that would just be mean, even though it really happened.)

The perfect bowl of turkey chili is something that I've been after for a long time. I haven't quite found it yet, but I got very close with this recipe that I adapted from one over at and that apparently was originally from Bon Appetit. The original recipe calls for some ground turkey as well as the cubed turkey, and that would probably give some additional flavor, since ground turkey tends to have a higher amount of dark meat and fat. I'm trying to avoid fat, and I really don't think it's missed here. What is missed is some hint of smokiness and perhaps a bit of heat. I think that the next time I make this, I'll add a smoked chili of some sort, and I think that I'll be more careful not to remove the ribs from the jalapenos when I'm removing the seeds. Nonetheless, this is a very good bowl of chili, particularly on the second day and with the liberal addition of some hot sauce.

The original recipe also does not have celery, lime, or cilantro. The celery I added mainly to get a little more vegetable content: it is fully optional. The cilantro and lime are, I think, valuable additions.

White Bean Turkey Chili

1 c. dried small white beans
1 c. dried chick peas
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onions
2 T. minced garlic
2 T. cumin
1/2 c. minced celery
1/2 turkey breast, cut into half-inch dice
2 T. minced jalapenos, without their seeds
1 t. dried marjoram
1 t. dried savory
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 c. pearled barley
2 T. chopped fresh cilantro
The juice of one lime

Put the dried beans and chick peas in a bowl that can handle boiling water and that holds at least 8 cups. Pour six cups of boiling water over them and let sit for two hours. Drain and rinse well.

In a heavy pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, stir, cover, and let cook for five minutes or so, until the onions and garlic are soft but not brown. Add the cumin and stir well until fragrant. Add the celery and turkey breast and cook, stirring constantly, until the turkey is cooked on all sides.

Add the jalapenos, marjoram, and savory, and stir well. Add the chicken broth and the rinsed beans and chick peas, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and let simmer, covered, for about two hours. Add the barley, and continue simmering for another hour, until the barley and beans are all tender. Add water if the chili becomes too thick. Add the cilantro and lime juice and taste carefully for seasoning. Serve with hot sauce and lime wedges.

The original recipe calls for canned beans, and there's no reason why you can't make it that way. Just substitute a can of chick peas and a can of another bean of your choice. Put the barley in when you add the chicken broth and other ingredients, and the beans (well drained, please) about fifteen minutes before the barley is tender. I like for my chili to cook a long time, and, in fact, it simmered for about an extra hour after the barley was tender because about half an hour before the barley was done, I asked V. if he wanted to go with me to Tower Records to check out their going out of business sale. The classical section was pretty well picked over, so I didn't get the Bach cantata that I wanted, but I did score a copy of a Dolly Parton bluegrass album at a very good price. And when I got home, the chili was so thick that it would soon have started scorching. But I added some water, and everything was just fine, though I think it's clear that Donna Reed wouldn't have approved.

*The annual whinging about the leftover turkey, of course, is the warm-up act for the annual whinging about fruitcake. I'll spare you yet another rant about that topic, but only for now.


Anonymous lindy said...

And any one who has leftover turkey they do not want can stop by here and drop it off. I made a small turkey last week for just me- so I'd have some leftovers. I used to do Thanksgiving here, but the Aged Parent can no longer climb my steps. Now all the holidays are at my brother's place. Sigh.

4:43 PM  

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