There is one thing I love, that signals the handoff from Thanksgiving to Christmas (or Chanukah, we don’t leave anyone out) and it is Leftover Turkey Gumbo.
We don’t do much on Black Friday, since my beloved is up like an overcaffeinated Amish with a gnawing conscience, and she stays gone all the livelong day, as does most of the distaff side of our friend roster. So Black Friday is spent in social hibernation, plotting and scheming regarding weighty matters potable and edible.
This recipe was cobbled together with the influence of a dear college friend’s mother many, many epochs ago. As a 17 year old freshperson away from the comfort of a Miami home, Louisiana cuisine possessed both an insanely exotic appeal, as well as approachable and recognizable aspects to someone from southernmost Florida. The real big difference was the flavor profile, relying more on chile heat to counterpoint richness than with citrus/vinegar acid as I had known until then.
In no time at all, I was gumbo-ing up a storm, in an electric wok (!) which was useless as a wok, but ideal for this purpose and easy to conceal from the prying eyes of the dorm’s R.A., he of the suspicious and distrusting nature, and saddled with a zeal for confiscation of the implements of civilized nourishment. This skill stood me in good stead, especially on quiet weekends on campus (when cafeteria fare was especially limited) and I could put out a couple of wooden crates and lawn chairs and hand gumbo off to girls passing by.
Anyway, lazing around on a particular Black Friday pondering what to do, I remembered a certain “leftover chicken and sausage soup” which I loved when I visited our family in Northern Spain. So I thought:
1- Turkey is, in certain relevant and applicable respects, a big chicken.
2- Gumbo is, for our purposes, soup.
3- Andouille is sausage.
4- I have eleventy squillion pounds of leftover turkey.
5- I live in sunny, tropical So. Florida, basically the factory outlet for fresh shrimp.
So I came up with this. Now, the beauty of this recipe is that even with a substandard moisture-free turkey, you can still make your tastebuds “do the Wave” and if you are the sort of person saddled with an obsessive kitchen streak, even burly men will weep openly in joy.
Leftover Turkey Gumbo
Generously serves 4 Miamians or 6 normal persons
¼ c. peanut oil (or vegetable oil, if you are allergic to peanuts)
¼ c. all-purpose flour (unbleached if at all possible)
1½ lb head-on medium (31-40 count) shrimp, or 1 lb. headless
2 quarts water
1 c. diced onion
½ c. diced celery
½ c. diced bell peppers (I like the red ones; any non-green — heresy, I know — peppers will work. You do whatever.)
2 tablespoons garlic, minced as finely as your patience will allow
½ c. peeled, seeded and diced tomato (packaged will do in a pinch, in which case I suggest the Pomi ones in the carton, keeping in mind those are UNsalted)
1 T. coarse salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. fresh thyme, chopped
¼-½ t. cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 T. filé powder
½ lb. andouille sausage (I prefer Aidell’s, but Amy Lou’s is good too. Otherwise get what they have where you live.), sliced at an angle into ¼” thick pieces
½ lb. leftover turkey (do NOT fuss over the dark/light meat ratio, just make sure you have no gristle/skin included) chopped or shredded up into bite-size pieces
Preheat the oven (!) to 350F.
Put the oil and flour into a 5 to 6-quart pot (a Dutch oven is great if you have one) and stir together. Place on the center rack of the oven, uncovered, and cook for 90 minutes, whisking every half hour. All right-thinking Louisianans consider this step to be outright heresy. Embrace and live with it.
Decapitate, peel and devein the shrimp. Stash the shrimp in a ziplock bag with a light brine in the refrigerator. Place the heads and shells in a saucepan along with the water, set to boil. Drop the heat and simmer for 1 hour or until the liquid has reduced by half. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid into a container, discarding the solids. If you do not have head-on shrimp available, use a couple of bottles of clam juice in place of +/- pint of water. If you only have peeled shrimp, use the turkey carcass to make turkey stock. Let cool to room temperature. (Hot stock will gelatinize the starch in the roux too quickly.)
Once the roux is done (it will look like semisweet chocolate), carefully remove it from the oven and set over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic and cook, stirring maniacally for 7 to 8 minutes or until the onions begin to turn translucent. Add the tomatoes, salt, black pepper, thyme, cayenne pepper, and bay leaves and stir to combine. Dribble the shrimp/turkey/whatever stock as you whisk nonstop. Drop the heat to low, cover and simmer for 35 minutes. Add the sausage and filé powder while stirring constantly.
Off the heat, add shrimp and turkey to pot, cover and allow to sit until the shrimp JUST turns pink, about 5-7 minutes. Toss the bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper and serve with some Louisiana-style hot sauce to provide additional heat to those who like it that way. This is traditionally served with white rice, I like something along the jasmine/basmati spectrum…just mound it on a shallow soup plate and spoon the gumbo around it.