The Story of post-Thanksgiving Gumbo

There has been a tradition in our family for a number of years now of making gumbo with our leftover turkey on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I’m not sure exactly when it started, but Thanksgiving just isn’t Thanksgiving until we’ve made gumbo.

My aunt even brings her own container to take it home in when she comes to visit.  This year she was unable to join us, but we were thinking of her while we made it.  If we could ship it long distances, it would be on its way to Florida as I type.

I claim a pretty mixed-bag of southern roots.  I was born in Mississippi and  raised in Georgia (spending large portions of my childhood summers in the Mississippi countryside).  My mother was born in Texas and grew up between Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  Her mother was born and raised in Louisiana, and her father was born and raised in Mississippi.  My father’s people are strictly Mississippi as far as I know (although now we’re all scattered throughout the US).  Needless to say, my heritage is southern, through and through.
This particular recipe hearkens back to my Louisiana decedents.  It is a pretty even mixture of the Cajun and Creole versions as it uses both a brown roux and file powder as thickeners, and it has a tomato base.  Sometimes we add shrimp, sometimes not (this version is completely sans seafood), but we always add andouille sausage for extra flavor – this year we’re using my house-made andouille and fresh turkey stock.
Turkey neck, backbones and carcass simmering away with celery, onion and carrot to make a lovely dark turkey stock.
You can throw in pretty much anything you might have on hand, meat-wise.  One year we added wild duck to the mix because my cousin had bagged a few on a recent hunting trip.  When we are in Florida for the holiday (although it has been admittedly too long since we’ve gotten down there for Thanksgiving), we add lots of seafood.  If you’ve got venison, toss it in there.  The beauty of gumbo is that it’s a perfect vehicle for using up various bits of leftovers you might have lying around the fridge and freezer.
Now, I like okra in my gumbo, but my mother does not.  As she will be enjoying the final product with us, we will not be adding okra to this pot.  However, please feel free to add it to yours – it can only make it better (in my oh-so humble opinion).
The bones of this recipe are adapted from David Rosengarten’s Dean and Deluca cookbook.  If you’re familiar with Mr. Rosengarten, you know he is quite the food historian; therefore, I trust his recipes for their authenticity and their consistency. The adaptations here are that I use turkey stock in place of seafood stock or clam juice, and I use turkey in place of the crawfish he suggests.  Otherwise, I follow his recipe pretty closely.
Spicy Red File-Thickened Gumbo
with Turkey and Andouille
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 4 hours
serves: 8-10
Ingredients
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup minced garlic
2 cups minced onion
2 cups minced celery
1 cup minced green bell pepper
1 cup minced red bell pepper
1 cup minced scallions or green onions
2 quarts plus 1 cup turkey stock
two 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 cloves
1/2 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1-2 pounds andouille sausage, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1-2 pounds cooked turkey meat
1-2 tablespoons file powder
cooked rice as an accompaniment

Heat stock in a large stock-pot.

Flour and oil, before they have become a dark roux

In a large skillet, make roux by combining oil and flour.  Stir constantly with a flat wooden spoon or a roux whisk over medium-low heat until mixture turns a redish-brown color.  If you think it is getting too brown or about to burn, immediately remove it from the heat.

Dark, reddish brown roux

Add chopped garlic, onions, peppers, celery and green onion to the roux to stop the cooking.

Add the roux to the hot stock and whisk to combine.  Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cayenne and cloves.  Now add the sausage and the turkey.

Let simmer over low heat for 3 hours or more.

Serve over boiled rice.  Add hot-sauce, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of file powder to individual bowls.  Do not add file powder to gumbo while it is cooking, as it will result in a stringy-textured end product.

I recommend this as a different way to use up that leftover turkey you’ve got taking up space in your fridge.  You’ll probably still have some left for turkey sandwiches, but this will give new life to what might otherwise be considered boring Thanksgiving leftovers.

Enjoy!

The tart that replaced pecan pie in my Thanksgiving repertoire

As a child, I hated pecan pie.  I think it was because (as I’ve come to understand in my adult years) the filling was often overcooked to the point of being curdled.

There is a delicate balance in pecan pie, a fine line that bakers walk between silky smooth custard filling and curdled eggy mess.  I’ve encountered very few pecan pies in my life that have been perfectly silky smooth, and have only been able to personally achieve it once.

It really relies on the baker taking the pie out of the oven when the center is still almost liquid, and most home cooks (myself sometimes included) are wary of serving undercooked custard to their friends and family.

Luckily, I discovered a tart about six years ago that incorporates nuts without using an egg-based filling to hold them all together.  It was featured in the October 2004 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, and I think it was the photo that really drew me in.  Those lovely green pistachios, suspended in creamy caramel, nestled tightly between chunks of walnut and slivers of almond, just spoke to me.  The combination of honey and rosewater in the caramel, and the orange zest in the crust, makes for a flavor profile reminiscent of baklava, but so much more complex.

Over the years, I’ve adapted the recipe to suit my tastes (I replaced the walnuts with cashews, and sometimes I use store-bought pie crusts that I roll orange zest into to mimic the original. You could also use your favorite short-crust recipe here), and it has become a staple of our Thanksgiving dessert table.  Since we’ve incorporated this tart into our menu, the pecan pie has sadly gone by the wayside.

This year, I almost forewent making it, simply because shelled pistachios were $1 an ounce at the grocery store.  It almost seemed ludicrous to spend that much money on a single ingredient.  I decided instead to buy unshelled pistachios and shell them myself.  It added 15 or 20 minutes to my prep time, and my fingertips are sore, but it was totally worth it.

Caramelized Pistachio, Cashew and Almond Tart
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 35 minutes
Serves 8-10

Ingredients
2 store-bought pie crusts
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup toasted pistachios (I use salted)
3/4 cup toasted cashews (I use salted)
3/4 cup toasted slivered almonds (unsalted)
1 1/2 teaspoons rose water

Begin by laying one of the pie-crust rounds on a floured surface.  Sprinkle the orange zest on top, and lay the second pie-crust round on top of the first.  Using a rolling pin, roll the crusts together until you can see the orange zest between showing through.  Place the rolled out crust into a 10-inch tart pan, fitting it against the bottom and sides.  Trim the excess dough, and place the tart shell in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Place cream, sugar, brown sugar and honey in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Continue to boil until mixture darkens and thickens slightly (Bon Appetit originally said for 4 minutes, but it usually takes me closer to 8 or 10 minutes).  Removed from the heat, add the nuts and the rose water.  Pour filling evenly into crust.

Bake tart until filling is caramel brown and bubbling all over.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Enjoy!