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I'm no expert on risotto, but I love it and make it enough to appreciate an expert touch when I see it.

Making use of leftover turkey 

After the gorge

Arguably, one of the best things about Thanksgiving cooking is the bulging fridge of leftovers.

That's second maybe to the fragrance of baking pies and roasting bird filling every nook and cranny of your residence. After the feast, the first and most American order of business is denuding the turkey of remaining meat and setting it aside for recipes and sandwiches, and tossing the bones and bronzed skin into a stock pot with a couple of onions, carrots and cloves of garlic; a turnip (optional) plus its greens; half a cup of chopped fresh parsley and a bay leaf, plus water to cover. Let all this simmer for a couple of hours while you tackle holiday shopping or take a long walk in the woods. When the stock is a rich, ecru color, strain it and refrigerate or freeze.

Once you have turkey stock on hand, life gets easy and tasty. Add a cup or two to leftover gravy with some of the picked-off meat, simmer gently and serve it over reheated stuffing or dressing for a quick supper. Likewise, any number of soups (veggie and turkey) and chowders (corn-potato-turkey) can be made using the meat and stock.

Bill Strom, the husband of Indy managing editor Jen Strom, always makes turkey risotto the day after Thanksgiving. I thought it sounded so grand when I heard about it, I cornered him for both the process and the recipe.

This spontaneous plan of repurposing leftovers before Thanksgiving presented a glitch: Where to find a local turkey that we didn't have time to thaw for our cooking project? We'd each ordered our individual local Toms in advance, but they hadn't been delivered yet. The fresh ones at Whole Foods come from three states away in Pennsylvania. (Which still beats, hands down, getting them frozen from who-knows-where, raised who-knows-how. But we want to be as close to home as possible.) That Hillsborough's Coon Rock Farm happened to have an unclaimed, luscious 20-pounder in response to a last-minute query is testimony to the fringe benefits of a community supported agriculture subscription—you get to know your own go-to farmer.

The Stroms built the meal almost entirely from Chapel Hill's South Estes Farmers' Market, using the Coon Rock turkey, garlic from Seeing Stars Farm and raw goat-milk Swiss from Hillsborough Cheese Company. This is an impressively hard cheese reminiscent of those used in fondue, which added a cheese-y goat nose that works well with the dry chardonnay that goes into the sauté "early on, and stays," Bill says. Onions are another main ingredient; if you happen to hit a lull in the availability of local onions, you can substitute leeks instead.

I'm no expert on risotto, but I love it and make it enough to appreciate an expert touch when I see it. Bill's approach varies from standard recipes. For example, he melts his onions in olive oil instead of butter, and lets them brown around the edges. He also browns the Arborio rice, but only slightly—too much can toughen the grain and prevent it from absorbing the stock. That creates a toasted flavor, which works wonderfully with the rich, strong flavor of a free-range, natural turkey.

(If you haven't tasted the difference between a local turkey and the usual suspect, you're in for a treat. Its flavor is almost wild, slightly gamey and so satisfying. Don't be surprised, though, if it is not quite as tender as your grocery store variety, which is injected with solution to do the faux-tenderizing.)

After adding his measured 1 cup of white wine, Bill threw in an "added splash for coverage" of the melted onions and garlic, which is one of those gestures with risotto that make it an art more than a science.

"It's always a bit different," Bill notes, "depending on heat, the rice and combination of particular ingredients." This makes sense: Arborio will vary in density; onions, garlic and other vegetables vary in their water content. The incarnation I enjoyed at their table was also generous with leftover turkey and made memorable by the rich dark meat.

Bill ladled up the silky soul food into big bowls, and with green salad from Seeing Stars and an earthy loaf of Jen's homemade no-knead brown bread, there was plenty to be thankful for.

Note: If you're participating in a potluck Thanksgiving dinner and aren't the turkey roaster, check with the cook who is and volunteer to take the carcass off his or her hands. If s/he doesn't want to part with the bones, you can always roast a small one or a large chicken just for the many uses of meat and stock.

Day After Thanksgiving Turkey Risotto

6-8 cups turkey stock
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups onions or leeks, coarsely chopped
2 fat cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup dry white wine
3-4 cups leftover turkey, light and dark meat
2 cups freshly grated, flavorful hard cheese

Heat, but do not boil, stock over low heat, and keep it hot. The risotto ingredients will double or more in volume, so use an extra-large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Over low to medium heat, melt the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring gently but constantly, until it has a shiny coating of oil and onions. Stay with the mixture until the onion edges just start to brown (by association, the rice will be toasting), about 5 to 7 minutes, then add the wine. Bring to a strong simmer for about 3 to 5 minutes (allowing the wine to "go in early and stay"). Add the stock a cup at a time, stirring steadily while the rice absorbs the liquid, until 6 cups of the stock are used. While stirring, it's important to have pleasant thoughts to dwell on, or a good friend to chat with (so long as she's not a distraction from your cup-of-stock count), and some favorite music playing, because this part could take 20 to 40 minutes. Test the rice after 15 minutes, and every 5 minutes from then on, by tasting it for tenderness to your liking. I like it soft and creamy. If the risotto is still too al dente, add remaining stock a little at a time until you get the texture you like. Next, add the salt, pepper, grated cheese and turkey, folding into the rice mixture to distribute. This recipe serves six generously and makes divine take-to-work lunch.

  • I'm no expert on risotto, but I love it and make it enough to appreciate an expert touch when I see it.

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