Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Gumbo

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, and my friends are already teasing me, because I've been stocking up on turkeys.  Right now, I baked one last week, have one thawing in my fridge, and have 4 more in the garage freezer.  Crazy about turkey?  Meh.  More like crazy about turkey gumbo!




Turkey gumbo is my family's favorite dish.  By far.  Even the little picky man loves it.  It's in their blood.  My husband's father passed down he technique that he learned from his family, who came from a small town in Louisiana called Morgan City.  The town should technically be underwater, that's how far south it is.  They know their gumbo around there.  And around here, we're thankful that they do, and that the method was passed on to us!

The gumbo bowls were also passed down to us.  :)

I got permission from my wonderful father-in-law to share our family's gumbo with you, so, if you give it a try, be sure to let us know how much you love it too!

Gumbo is the perfect cold-weather dish, and a great way to put your holiday bird to good use after the feast.  It's a process, and takes patience, but I promise you, it's so worth the effort.  And if you plan it right, you can do some steps ahead and fit them into your schedule as you need.

The other thing about gumbo is that, even following the same steps, you will come out with something a little different every time,  Some of my gumbos have been better than others.  Some are thicker, some are thin.  Some have more of a kick, some taste smokier.  That said, I'm not sure there's such a thing as bad gumbo.  I mean, that's not a challenge or anything, but if you follow the general method, every time generally tastes pretty yummy.

So, I'm going to break it up into steps.  The first step is the stock.  If you want to cheat and skip all this, you could use store bought turkey stock.  I've done it in desperation before.  It's not bad, but homemade stock adds depths of flavor that you will be missing out on.

When you're done with your turkey, you need to break it down for this recipe.  Save all the edible meat you can off of it, even tiny scraps, and put that in one container or Ziploc bag.  Refrigerate that for later.  Then, take the turkey carcass and break it down more. This is what you will use to make the stock.  You can either throw all of this into a large pot (large large...huge...the biggest you have, short of a canning bath), or throw it into another container and refrigerate or freeze for later.  When you break down the turkey, you want to break the large bones up into smaller pieces if you can.  This will help it fit in your pot better, but it will also help the bones release more marrow and gelatin into the stock.  Include some of the turkey skin and scraps in here too, for flavor.  Basically, anything that you wouldn't eat as the meat, you can put in for the stock.  Stock is the essence of turkey.

With your broken down carcass, throw in several onions, quartered, about a half of a head of celery, chopped into large pieces, 6 or more cloves of garlic, crushed with the side of a knife, a small handful of kosher salt, a couple of tablespoons of whole peppercorns, and a few dashes of Tabasco sauce.


Cover that all with water, enough so that the water level is about an inch above the solids.  Then bring it to a boil and simmer for as long as you've got time to.  2-3 hours would be the minimum, I'd say, but I've let it go for 6 with a large pot, and it's been great.  Just make sure the water doesn't all boil away.  Add more if you need.  You'll want at least 8 cups of stock to come out of it in the end, but more than that is fine too...just means more gumbo to share!


One of the nice things about making this in the Midwest Novembers is that it's generally cold enough that my garage becomes an extra fridge, and I can just throw my stock on after Thanksgiving dinner, then walk the stock pot out to the garage to cool overnight.  If you don't have that option, or if it's one of those 70 degree Thanksgivings, you'll want to allow time for the stock to cool before you put it in the fridge.  Or, if you're making it earlier in the day, just go on to the next steps with the warm stock.

Carefully strain your stock through a strainer, catching out all of the bones, soggy veg, and small bits.  If you have a second huge pot, pour the stock into that, otherwise, wash out the stock pot and use that again.


The second part of the gumbo is the roux.  It's essential to your final product.  My father-in-law makes his on the stovetop, with just about an hour of constant stirring and attention.  The hubs and I "cheat" and use Alton Brown's scientific method.  Either way, you'll need a cup of white flour and a cup of vegetable oil.  Yes, I know...but think end product here.  Have faith.


Heat your oven to 350.  Whisk together the flour and the oil in a glass or ceramic dish. (Fair warning - this one is a bear to clean after.)  Pop it into the oven, and give it a stir with the whisk every 30 minutes or so.  In 60-90 minutes, you should have a nice, dark, nutty smelling roux.  Let that cool a bit.  Again, you could use the fridge or "outdoor fridge" and save this for another day, or use it on the same day.

Start...
...Finish.
Next, you'll need to make your veggie base.  Chop up several onions, until you have about 3 cups in small dice.  Chop up celery in small dice to make about the same amount.  Crush up 6-8 cloves of garlic.  In a large pan, melt a stick of butter and then add the onion, celery, garlic, some salt and fresh ground pepper, and a few dashes of Tabasco.  Cook it down until it is tender and translucent, but don't let it brown.  Save it for later, or move right on into the final product.


Now, the last step is bringing the gumbo together.  For this you'll need the turkey stock, the onion/celery mix, crushed tomatoes (a large can, or some preserved from your garden), a small can or tube of tomato paste, chopped okra (about a pound, fresh, or a bag, frozen), a little salt, pepper, and Tabasco for seasoning.  Bring that all up to a boil together and then add your roux in carefully.  You can drain and discard the oil off the top, if you'd like, but you don't have to.  If you are adding a hot roux to hot stock, be very careful, as it will sputter a lot when you add it.  Stir as it simmers.


Take the leftover turkey meat and cut it into bite-sized pieces.  Add that to the pot and simmer, stirring constantly.  You don't want anything to burn at the bottom.


Cook up some white or basmati rice according to the package directions, and then serve the gumbo over rice.  You can season your bowl with more salt, pepper, or Tabasco, as needed, but our favorite seasoning for gumbo is File (say it "fee-lay").  It's a green powder, made from the leaves of sassafras, and you can find it in the spice or Cajun section of most big grocery stores.  It thickens up the gumbo and adds an interesting touch of flavor.


Leftover gumbo keeps for several days in the fridge, and freezes very well.  A good-sized pot of gumbo can make for 4-5 meals for my gumbo-loving family, so it's really a great way to stretch your leftover turkey.  And, let's face it...I cook turkey just so that I can make gumbo.  It's just that good.  :)

You can make your gumbo all in one day, or break it up into parts and spread it out.  I usually bake my roux and make my onion saute while the stock is boiling so that I can throw it together and knock it out in a long afternoon, but on Thanksgiving, I usually spread it out into the next day.  I've even been known to freeze the turkey meat and carcass and make it up weeks later.  It's all up to you!  You can also play around with the ingredients.  Add some seafood, or some andouille, throw in some other veggies, if you'd like.  This is just the way my family makes and enjoys it.  Gumbo's a personal thing.