My next-door neighbor always said his favorite part of the Thanksgiving turkey was the next day’s gumbo. I doubt their seven children left much turkey meat but when you add some andouille sausage and plump, succulent oysters, you have a powerful dish.
I love to tell my out-of-town friends about turkey bone gumbo. It is just not the sort of thing people cook in Kansas, New York, Atlanta and California, where some of our childhood and college friends live. Besides, they could never get peak season Louisiana oysters right out of the water – well, maybe in New York. The look on their faces when I tell them I even take bones off people’s plates and throw them in the stock is priceless! Boiling kills the germs, doesn’t it?
I happen to be a bone person and it kills me that so many cuts of meat are now boneless. The meat next to the bone is my favorite part of a steak or pork chop and I don’t hesitate to pick up the bone like I’m eating a rib. The same applies with turkey. There is power in those bones.
Turkey bone gumbo involves picking the meat off the turkey and boiling the carcass and any extra large bones for about two hours. Then, you make a roux and add lots of onion, green onions, celery and garlic. Add your strained stock, turkey meat and andouille and simmer. Finally, add oysters, green onion tops and parsley and serve over rice. New Orleans natives have been doing this for years, while turkey à la king finishes off Thanksgiving everywhere else. (Not that I don’t like that, too. Oh, and I love those club sandwiches.)
You may not believe this but it’s true: The first recipe I heard of for turkey bone gumbo included the leftover dressing. I could never bring myself to try this but who knows? It is no more bizarre than putting potato salad in regular gumbo. I first heard of this from Chef Paul Prudhomme. Over the years, I came to realize that many people actually put the potato salad in the same bowl with chicken or seafood gumbo, especially in Cajun Country. So why not add a little dressing to the turkey gumbo? Not for me – yet. But I do add any leftover turkey gravy to the pot.
Our family has had deep-fried turkeys for Thanksgiving for quite a few years now. We always fry two to have plenty of leftovers, including ingredients for the gumbo. The dark brown skin gives added flavor and with two turkeys there’s plenty to make a large pot of gumbo. I also have smoked turkeys that lend a special flavor to gumbo. Whether deep-frying, smoking or baking, don’t throw away the bones. Save the best for last, like my neighbor said.
TURKEY BONE GUMBO
Carcass and bones from 1 or 2 turkeys
2 large onions
5 stalks celery
4 cloves garlic
Freshly ground pepper
Water, about 3 1/2 quarts
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 bunch green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
1 pound andouille sausage
Pinch dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
Leftover turkey meat, at least 2 cups, chopped in bite-sized pieces
1 quart fresh oysters
Salt to taste
Slice off any meat left on the carcass and reserve. Break carcass bones into small enough pieces to fit in a large heavy pot. Add 1 onion and 2 stalks celery, cut into chunks, along with 2 cloves garlic and freshly ground pepper. Add water to cover bones, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Cool and strain, discarding bones.
Clean and dry pot. Chop remaining onion and 3 stalks celery. Mix oil and flour in the pot and stir over medium heat until roux is the color of milk chocolate. Add remaining onion, white parts of green onions and remaining celery, and sauté a few minutes. Mince remaining cloves of garlic, add to roux and simmer a couple of minutes more. Gradually add strained stock, stirring and bring back to a simmer.
Meanwhile, slice the andouille into bite-size pieces and brown in a skillet. Add this, thyme and bay leaves to the gumbo. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour.
Check oysters to be sure they contain no shell. Strain and reserve their liquid. Dip off any excess fat from the gumbo and add turkey meat, gravy if you have it and oysters with their water. Simmer until oysters curl. Taste for salt and other seasonings and adjust. Serve over rice.
Serves 6 to 8.