Thanksgiving Day, 5 p.m.: Family members are sprawled on your furniture, belts off, pants unbuttoned, fancy holiday shirts marked by cranberry and gravy spills, making half-assed attempts to argue. Your father-in-law has been in the bathroom for 35 minutes and you're starting to worry: for him, for your bathroom. You're wondering if a SpongeBob and turkey buzz could possibly make your kids this catatonic or if they got into the bottle of Xanax in your mother's purse. And that scares you, because you were planning on gobbling some of that shit to help you cope with the stress of three outstanding tasks: evicting irritating guests, cleaning a kitchen that looks like your turkey was wearing a suicide vest, and figuring out how to deal with the leftovers.
But before you decide to torch the joint and head out to the patio to watch your drunk aunt try to to climb out of a deck chair without stepping on the cat or peeing herself, hear me out. I may not have a solution for the cleanup, and my
people skills usually have me saying things like "I think we've had enough of you around here for one day," but I'm a specialist when it comes to the leftovers thing.
Prep is critical. I know you're tired, and I agree with you: After all the work you did today, you shouldn't be stuck with cutting down the turkey while your ingrate guests fart into the sofa and finish off your booze. But it's way easier to handle this task while the turkey is still at room temperature, and it's going to suck if it dries out under a loose tent of foil in your fridge, so get to work, bitch. Comfort yourself with the fact that you are earning the right to eat every damn bit of skin left on the sucker. Breast meat is easily removed by sliding your hand between the breast bone and meat, then just pulling it off in a huge slab. As for the rest of the bird, just grab what's hanging off it and tear. If you're going to make stock (and you ought to), don't worry about getting every last bit of meat, and don't toss the bones in the garbage; just drop them back in the roasting pan.
Good news: you don't have to make the stock tonight. Just refrigerate the bones and roasting pan (if you used one) until tomorrow. Then break the carcass up and put the roasting pan back on the stove with enough water to cover the bones and other random mystery chunks (I keep giblets out). Heat it up and scrape the bits of stuck stuff off the pan. After cooking a bit, you can transfer everything to a big stock pot. Add generous amounts of chopped celery, onion, and carrots, along with some parsley, salt, bay leaves, and thyme. Simmer (adding water if necessary) until your extended family stops by uninvited, bruised and battered from their ill-advised Black Friday shopping trip. Strain the stock and refrigerate. Turkey stock can be used for soup, risotto, gumbo, glazing veggies, rice, brazing liquid, chili, and luring suspects out of hostage situations.
As for the rest of the bird, I can eat the following dishes every day for a fortnight without getting bored:
Obvious, but often overlooked. Don't make that mistake; there are few things finer than a properly made turkey sammich. I suggest a hearty, full-flavored bread and an 80/20 dark meat/white meat ratio. And use everything. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes (the only time they're really good in a leftover capacity), cranberry jelly, and gravy. If you want a hot sandwich, nuke the turkey, gravy, potatoes and stuffing by themselves, then pile them onto fresh toast with ice cold cranberry jelly. Warning: the contrast in temperatures and textures may induce uncontrollable pleasure spasms.
Turkey Pot Pie
Packed with fatty, creamy greatness. If you don't make your own, buy the refrigerated pie crusts and push one into a pie pan. Then heat 1/4 cup of butter, 1/4 - 1/2 cup of onions and a little minced garlic in a saucepan over low heat. Allow the onions to soften up, then add five tablespoons of flour, a little sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in one and three quarters of a cup of your turkey stock and a third cup of milk. You can try substituting a little leftover gravy for some of the stock, but I think it's too valuable. Put it back on the heat, stirring constantly until it has been boiling for about a minute. If it needs thickening, add a bit more flour. Remove from the heat and add three cups of diced turkey meat and a 14-ounce package of frozen mixed veggies, thawed and drained.
Let the mixture cool a bit to avoid wrecking the bottom crust, then pour it into your pie. Cap with the other pie crust, crimping the edges (you can cover the edges with foil to avoid burning them if you like). Cut slots or poke holes in the top crust to vent, then put it in a 425-degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until you look in and think to yourself: "that's a beautiful thing." Eat it in front of the television.
Aside from those favorites, I've been known to make turkey chili, turkey hash, and turkey projectiles (read last week's column to learn about the physics behind those), and all of them, except for the projectiles, taste great. So this year on Thanksgiving Day, as you watch your kids pointing and laughing at your passed-out uncle and wonder if he spilled gravy in his lap or had too much to drink, focus on the leftovers. They make the whole damn nightmare worthwhile.
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Bradford Schmidt is The Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and has been known to cuddle with turkey carcasses.