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Thanksgiving, the Wisdom of Skimpy Appetizers, and How to Make Turkey Bone Gumbo

At Thanksgiving we always we have so much turkey and side dishes left over that it’s a struggle to figure out what to do with them when the day is over.

It’s not that our guests didn’t eat the turkey, they did and a lot of it, but you know there is so much else to eat what with the mirliton casserole, the sweet potato pone, spinach casserole, corn bread dressing, cranberry sauce, and the rolls and the gravy and all of that. Really the turkey seems to take a back seat to what is on most folks’ plate.

Thanksgiving, the Wisdom of Skimpy Appetizers, and How to Make Turkey Bone Gumbo

turkey bone gumbo

Adding root beer to your turkey gravy is what makes this turkey bone gumbo a real winner.

But this year we did something a little different. We did not serve as many appetizers. Usually I would make chicken liver pate and we’d have smoked salmon and crackers and cheese.

People would hover over the coffee table in the living room scarfing it done, especially the kids who loved to plant themselves in front of the salmon and act like they hadn’t eaten in two days. So by the time the Thanksgiving meal was served almost everyone was already too full to enjoy what some people had slaved over to make. And there’d be a lot of leftovers.

So this year I decided to try something different: skimpy appetizers. No salmon, no pate. In cahoots with my niece whose job it was to do the appetizers this year, we came up with a raw veggie platter and a little cheese. Oh, and some olives. She did some research on the Internet and discovered that if you serve olives, because they are salty, people won’t eat as much.

Well, it worked and in spades. When we called everyone to the table I saw something I’d never seen before, people standing up with their plates moving around the table, reaching over each other piling their plates high with food. It was chaos.

I stood there mouth open, appalled. Usually people sit down and we just pass the dishes around very calmly. But not this time. I guess folks were so hungry that they just couldn’t wait for standing on ceremony. Then it struck me as really funny and a big smile spread across myself and I chuckled to myself. I love this, this is great! Needless to say, we didn’t have a lot of leftovers.

So what was left of the turkey I made Turkey Bone Gumbo, a recipe that I found in a local New Orleans magazine. And of course I modified it to fit my own tastes and circumstances. I rarely follow a recipe to the letter. So here it is, I’ll share it with you.

Turkey Bone Gumbo

1/2 cup flower
1/2 cup olive oil, bacon fat, turkey fat (I prefer to use bacon fat)
2 large onions diced
4 stalks celery
2 bell peppers
1 whole apple (with seeds and inner flakes remove) sliced thinly
8 garlic cloves minced (add more if you want, I do)
2 Andouille sausages sliced into 1/4 inch rounds (this is optional)
2 cups Thanksgiving gravy with the veggies in it (the gravy I made this with had Abita root beer that I basted the turkey – if you don’t have this then just add about 1/2 cup of root beer, I’m estimating here. You don’t want it to taste like root beer, you just want the deep smoky flavor it emparts)
5 cups chicken broth (preferably a natural kind with no chemicals)
4 cups water
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs of thyme or teaspoon of dried thyme
2 cloves or 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 tablespoon lemon rind
4 cups leftover turkey meat, shredded
1 turkey carcass
1 bunch parsley, chopped

Many of our creole/cajun recipes start with “first you make a roux.” I don’t do this. I use powdered roux I get at the store which is just toasted flower with a bit of seasoning. If you don’t have this in your area just preheat your oven to about 400, toss a cup of flower onto a baking sheet, spread it evenly around and let it toast to a nice brown color. It doesn’t need to be too dark, and don’t burn it!

Making a roux the traditional way is just too time consuming and if you are not careful and inexperienced it can easily burn. I find that using this toasted flower gives you the same flavor and I cannot tell the difference between this “instant roux” and the old-fashioned kind.

So what I do is to put the oil in a skillet (I use cast iron almost exclusively in my kitchen) and sauté the veggies in it save the garlic which I add at the very end of the sautéing process. When the veggies are all nice and soft I add the roux flour and stir it up to make sure it’s spread all over the veggies, then I add the garlic and let it cook a bit. Really for just about a minute or so.

You can also do all this inside the pot that you are going to make the gumbo in as well instead of in a skillet.

Add the sausage if you are going to use it and stir it up a bit to let that brown as well. Put all this in your cooking pot. Add the stock and water, the turkey meat and the carcass. When it starts to simmer add the bay leaves, the cloves and thyme. Also add the apple and the root beer and the lemon rind.

Let it all simmer, uncovered for a couple hours.

When it’s ready take some tongs and a fork and pick over the carcass making sure you get all the meat off. And as much as possible remove all the bones.

Taste it and make sure it’s seasoned right with salt and pepper. Then stir in the parsley.

When you are ready to serve it set the table with gumbo file and hot sauce and ladle it over a dollop of turkey dressing.

My Brother’s Gumbo

The next night after I had made this gumbo my brother and his wife came over with duck (that he’d shot) and sausage gumbo he had gotten up a 6:00 in the morning to start making. It was one of the best gumbos I had ever eaten. The roux was very dark and the whole thing was incredibly flavorful. He told me that he had added an entire apple and squeezed an orange into it.

So the next day I reheated my turkey bone gumbo and put a sliced-up apple into it peel and all and let it simmer for a while for the apple to incorporate. I didn’t put any orange juice into it, I was afraid to. But let me tell you just the addition of that apple made my gumbo even better. Wow!

So give it a try. It might be worth cooking another turkey, albeit a small one, if you are out of leftovers and didn’t baste yours with root beer, just to make this gumbo.

Posted in New Orleans Food, New Orleans Life, New Orleans Recipes.

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