Monday, December 5, 2011

Comfort Food, Part One

Am I alone in thinking that the best part of a holiday meal is the leftovers? And I'm not talking about reheated stuffing, turkey and gravy, or even a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce.

No, what I mean is full-on repurposed meals that are almost unrecognizable from the original items.

I cannot believe that a friend has only been to making stock from her turkey carcass in the last couple of years. To me, that is the best part of the bird. I can tell how big my turkey was by the size of stock pot I need. This year's bird was over 14 lbs. Some years, it has been smaller. Once or twice, it was big enough that I had to haul out the large stock pot.

Since I'm merely a home cook, I simply put the bones - stripped of meat, skin and visible fat - into a stock pot and cover with water. That's it! In years past, I would add celery, onions, garlic and carrots, but I do so many things with the stock that those may affect - no, INFLUENCE the flavor. Real cooks would strain the stock of all those vegetables, and any meat along with the bones. Since I'm not a real cook, I do not boil the heck out of those bones, but just simmer them for 2 to 3 hours. Then I let it cool just enough that I can fish out the bones and pour the stock into containers to refrigerate.

I wait at least 24 hours for the fat to rise to the top, lift it off and discard it. Then I freeze that rich, wonderful stock that's full of collagen. The first thing I cook is this:

Turkey Jook aka Congee

3 cups turkey stock
3 cups cooked rice
2-3 cups water

Combine the ingredients above in a saucepan and set it to high. When it starts bubbling, turn heat to medium. Stir often. Add one thumb of sliced ginger if desired. (I removed the ginger after 15 minutes, as it had a strong taste.) Stir in 1/2 to 1 tsp. Hawaiian or kosher salt. The jook is the right consistency when it slides off the spoon. If it stays on the spoon, it's too thick! Add more water to thin, or cook a bit longer to thicken.

Condiments are an integral part of the jook. For turkey jook, take 1 cup of leftover turkey meat (in bite size pieces, shreds are better than chunks) and add 2-3 Tbsp shoyu, 1-2 Tbsp mirin, 1+ tsp sesame oil and stir all. Prepare all the cilantro sprigs, soft leaf lettuce and finely chopped green onion you want. You will also need one chung choy turnip, soaked in warm water until soft. Drain and mince finely. The salt and crunch of the turnip juxtaposed with the soft creaminess of the rice soup is marvelous!

When we eat turkey jook, we don't add extra sesame oil or shoyu - all that flavoring has already been combined with the turkey meat. We fill a bowl with rice soup, add our individual amounts of seasoned turkey meat, cilantro, turnip, green onion and lettuce. The hot soup, contrasted with the cold vegetables is heaven!

On a cool Honolulu evening, it may be all of 70 degrees, but with the wind chill, it can feel like 60. Turkey jook is warming and reassuring. While many things in life change and others are lost, the simplicity and richness of turkey jook lives on and nourishes us.

In future posts, I'll tell you what else you can do with the rest of the turkey stock.

BTW, my friend says soup is only as good as the homemade stock andxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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