The symbolic Thanksgiving bird brings back childhood memories of gathering around the table and donning fall versions of holiday wear with extended family. The day often includes games of football outside while the heads of household work in the kitchen. Food is piled high on the table, celebrating the season’s bounty. Gen Xers and older millennials may even consider Adam Sandler’s “Thanksgiving Song” as a holiday classic to be played. It does, after all, pay homage to the star of the show: turkey.
After full bellies settle and the leftover bird remains, finding culinary inspiration beyond a gravy-slathered sandwich can be a little daunting. Keeping it fresh, North Fork fowl lovers share their tips for extending turkey past Thanksgiving.
A good post-Thanksgiving turkey meal starts with the bird. There is a resounding difference between frozen grocery store birds and those that are farm-raised. The certified organic pasture-raised turkeys at Browder’s Birds in Mattituck are funny things, according to farmer Holly Browder. They have big personalities and it takes a lot of work to raise them properly. Knowing this, it’s important to her and her husband, Chris, that the whole animal be used after the celebration. The work can begin right after dinner is over.
“It means a lot to us that people celebrate and eat our food,” she said. “We love to see it all used. That night you can put the carcass in a pot with water, boil a few hours, turn it off and let it sit overnight, then freeze in the morning.”
Making stock in the slow cooker helps create a rich stock, pulling gelatin right from the bones. It’s easy to make and can be stored in the freezer for months. When the turkey lull is over, pull it out for a simple dish like rice cooked with turkey stock instead of water — the perfect alternative for picky eaters, as it packs a lot of nutrients.
Each year the Browders end up with two or three turkeys that were not picked up, giving them the opportunity to try new recipes. This fall they will test turkey pot pie recipes with baker Ali Katz, looking to old family recipes as inspiration. But it all begins with how you cook the bird.
“When turkeys are raised on pasture, the additional activity can increase their leanness,” Browder said. “Cooking at high heat and shorter cooking times can result in tougher meat. I recommend slow roasting your turkey at a lower temperature for several hours or overnight.”
The day after their own Thanksgiving, they cook turkey breakfast tacos with green beans and onions.
Chef Matthew Boudreau of Green Hill Hospitality in Greenport cannot stress enough the importance of buying farm-raised birds. With farms at the root of the North and South fork food scenes, it’s worth making the small investment. Turkey confit is a favorite dish of his, made with a Browder’s Birds turkey.
Starting with the whole bird, it can be cooked whole or with the parts removed. After rendering the bird to get a rich, delicious confit liquid, cured thighs and breasts can then be cooked with the liquid fat, adding aromatics like peppercorn, garlic, rosemary and thyme, and put in the oven overnight on a low temperature. When finished, it will just fall apart. After coming to room temperature and sitting in the fridge for five to seven days — an essential step — crisping the meat up in a cast-iron skillet makes for a delicious turkey confit.
“The more time it sits, the more time it has to absorb the flavors it was cooked with,” Boudreau explained. “It’s a very subtle way of cooking and you get the most flavor out of the actual process. When done right, you can keep it for months.”
A barbecue enthusiast and competitor, Boudreau also loves smoking turkey. Calling it “magical” in the barbecue world, he said it is unbelievably moist. Boneless breast and thighs layered in salt and pepper and smoked at 220 degrees results in the ultimate barbecue food.
“Turkey is a good sponge,” Boudreau said, adding that it absorbs the flavor of different woods. “When you take it out of the smoker, wrap it in plastic with a little butter and fresh thyme. It keeps all of the juices and the butter and herbs give the aromatics. When you take the plastic off, the moisture will permeate out. You won’t eat turkey any other way again.”
If you’re into the bone broth craze, you’ll be delighted to know turkey makes the cut. Jonathan and Carly Copeland, the chefs at 8 Hands Farm Food Truck in Cutchogue, will add the carcass remnants to leftover stock or water to make broth, cooking bones for 24 to 36 hours to extract the healthy collagen. For a twist, add ginger and lemongrass to create a pho taste.
When the Copelands go to Jonathan’s family home in Maryland, they often make turkey dumplings the next day with his nephews. “The leftover gravy can be added into the dumplings to give it a broth body,” he explained. “We cook the legs and thighs in broth or water until everything is super tender, adding turnip, carrot, celery, and garlic.” For a little added sweetness, Carly likes to add corn if there’s some leftover in the freezer from summer.
When it comes to leftovers from Thanksgiving, or any holiday meal, having a one-pot or bowl meal is a welcome respite. The freezer is also your friend. Turkey Mexican lasagna is a freezer-friendly, casserole-style dish the Copelands make by layering corn tortillas instead of pasta with shredded turkey meat off the bone, cooked with stock and spices, then layered with refried beans, cheese, and other toppings.
So we know, turkey goes a long way after Thanksgiving.
“People should trust themselves and have fun,” the Copelands say. “We enjoy a day-after, open-face sandwich but beyond that, we don’t like to see a big container of turkey drying out in the fridge. Everything else you can do makes you a little more excited to eat it.”