At our house on Thanksgiving, side dishes may switch in and out but two things remain constant: turkey is the main event; and there is always apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie on the table.
The menu for the next day is also set in stone. For the last fifteen years, we have invited friends to our house for turkey gumbo and an eclectic assortment of communal leftovers. It’s a guaranteed good time; everyone has successfully navigated Thanksgiving and can really relax and kick off the holiday season.
Making the gumbo has become kind of a meditation. First thing in the morning, I get the stock going, breaking the carcass into pieces, adding onion, celery, black peppercorns, and water to cover generously. Bring just to a boil, dial the heat down to a bare simmer, and let it do its thing on the stove for three hours or so. Once it cools down a bit, strain, then strip all the meat from the bones. This gets put in a bowl, topped up with additional turkey that was cut off the carcass before it went in the stockpot.
This year I had two turkeys, one that I roasted, the other smoked out on the grill, so I had more than enough for two pots of stock; one got used for the gumbo, the other is still waiting for me to divide into serving containers and freeze.
About two hours before friends arrive, I start the gumbo, which means making a roux—nothing more than equal parts flour and a fat (butter or oil) cooked on the stove. The classic French mixture can have two functions. If it’s cooked for just a few minutes to eliminate the raw flour taste or maybe until it takes on just a bit of color (known as a blonde roux), the flour works to gently thicken any liquid added to it. But continue to cook a roux so that it takes on the color of peanut butter, or a copper penny, or milk chocolate, or even dark chocolate, and it becomes a flavoring agent, supplying an unmistakable toastiness to whatever else goes in the pot.
If you’re making a deeply colored roux, you can’t be in a hurry; for my gumbo, I cook it to the color of peanut butter and that takes the better part of half an hour, stirring nearly constantly with the heat between medium and medium low. Never turn your back on a roux or leave the stove. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way; let it scorch even a little bit and you’ll need to pitch it out and start again.
When my roux is the proper color, I stir in “The Trinity” that is the basis of Louisiana cooking—chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery—which I have prepped and standing ready. Once the vegetables have softened, chopped andouille follows. After a few minutes of stirring, I pour in the stock and let it simmer gently until guests arrive. On goes a big pot of rice and I add the leftover turkey to the gumbo. When the rice is ready, both pots get set on the counter for everyone to serve themselves: a small mound of rice, a generous ladle or two of gumbo. For me, it’s a bowl full of holiday comfort.
I’d love to hear your Thanksgiving food stories and what you do with leftovers; please share!