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What on earth to do with all that turkey..

November 23, 2007

This was always the dilema in England on Boxing day (day after Christmas). Obviously, we don’t have Thanksgiving in Blighty, we reserve the humble turkey for Christmas. I have never been that much of a fan of turkey though to be honest. If you ask me there are way tastier birds out there. Throughout Europe people would cook a variety fowl at Christmas – pheasant are popular, as too is partridge. My family normally did a big old turkey though, like most others in England.

The biggest problem for me was never how to cook the turkey at Christmas (or now Thanksgiving, and Christmas!), but what to do with all that left over meat. Sure, you can make a sandwich, but heck, how many can you really eat without getting completely bored?

 Well, thankfully Elizabeth David came to the rescue in her amazing book French Provincial Cooking. This book has been in my collection for years, and has influenced a lot of my cooking. Unlike a lot of French books, this is about the rural home cooked food, not the elaborate highly skilled food that we have come to know from France. Sure, some of the techniques in here can be a little tricky, but you will find that most recipes can be completed really easily, and the results are always outstanding. What is more, the book is stacked full of recipes. No pictures though I am afraid, but this book doesn’t need it. Her descriptions are so vivid that you don’t need em. It also makes for a right rivetting read. This is almost written like a travel book, but recipes along the way. Her stores that introduce chapters and some recipes are often elaborate and characterful, like the people she meets in them.

Anyhow, I highly recommend her book, as one reviewer said “you could cook for a lifetime from this book”, and I completely agree.

So here is my modified version of a recipe from her book. This is a turkey gratin dish, which has a stock/cheese sauce, and honestly tastes completely fantastic. What is more, the smell when you are cooking this is incredible, that you are going to want to make it for that alone. This is the best way I have found to use up left over turkey, and also chicken. It takes a little bit of time to make, but is well worth it.

Roast Turkey Gratin

Start by making a basic bechamel sauce (white sauce).

In a saucepan warm 1/2 pint of milk. 

Melt 1 oz of butter in another small saucepan. When the butter has just melted, add a tablespoon of white flour. Mix this until you form a basic roux. What you want is a smooth mix of flour and butter. If it looks really thin, add a little more flour. It should have the consistancy of a pretty thin putty. Let this cook over a low heat for a minute or so.

Slowly add the milk, stiring (or whisking) all the time. Attention is key here. If you leave this sauce for more than a couple of seconds, it is going to be lumpy, and there ain’t much you can do about it then. When sauce starts to thicken, add more of the milk. Continue adding the milk until all used.

Into this white sauce pour 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and 1 cup of turkey or chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper, and a little grated nutmeg. Stir, and give the sauce a taste. You should just be able to get a hint of the nutmeg. Add more if needed. Nutmeg is pretty strong, so I tend to add it slowly, and keep tasting.

We are going to cook this sauce for about 20 minutes, in a bain maire. This is really just a poncy french way of saying a saucepan within a saucepan. You can also buy dedicated bain maire pans, which work great, but I hardly do many sauces this way, so for me a large saucepan and a small one work great. So, fill up a large saucepan with near boiling water. Float the smaller saucepan that contains the sauce in this pan of hot water. You don’t want the water to come near the top of the small saucepan. It really won’t be good if some of that water gets into this sauce :D

So, let this gently cook like this for 20 minutes. This will help consolodate the flavors, and is a far more gentle way of cooking the sauce than direct heat. This method of heating is also used a lot to melt chocolate, and heat other delicate sauces. What is great is that the heat is even – not just on the bottom of the pan. If the water starts boiling, turn it down a bit.

So, whilst this sauce is cooking grate a handful of really good quality aged cheddar cheese, and a small handfull of parmesan cheese. I have found it pretty hard to get good quality cheddar over here, especially from regular super-markets. Go find a local cheese maker, visit a farmers market, or go to a really good grocery store.

Using some buttery paper, grease the inside of a shallow baking dish (a gratin). If you have a ceramic one, all the better. It holds heat well.

Remove any turkey meat from the birds carcass. Make sure you don’t grab a whole bunch of fat either. Break any large pieces of meat up.

When the sauce has cooked for about 20 minutes, add all the grated cheddar to it, and half of the parmesan. Gently stir until the cheese has combined. Pour half of this mixture into the greased dish. Add all of the turkey (as much as will fit in the dish anyhow). Cover this with the rest of your sauce.

Sprinkle the top with some breadcrubs, and the remaining parmesan cheese.

Put this under a medium/hot grill until the crust is nicely browned. The sauce should be almost bubbling too.

Spoon onto plates, and serve with a side salad, or some vegetables (no doubt you have some left over from your thanksgiving dinner!).

 I wish I could cook this right now, and take photos. It is simply unbelievably good. Problem is I don’t have a range. Well, I do. I actually have two. The old one, and a fantastic new one. Problem is they are both sitting in my garage, which isn’t much use to cook on!

It would be great if someone cooked this, and sent me a picture to put here. Full credit would be given of course!

Happy late Thanksgiving everyone.

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  • Núria November 27, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Hi Matt!
    Same problem here in Spain after Xmas day, we also celebrate the day after (it’s called Saint Stephan – San Esteban) and the tradition is that with the meat that’s left from the Xmas Meat Soup (hopefully I will post it after 25th) we do canneloni with a thick bechamel on top and gratinné with cheese… Just beautiful! Your post made me think of it!
    Too bad you could not take pictures… sorry I would like to help but I am not buying one until Xmas, I might do your recipe with leftovers.