Just before Christmas, I volunteered to Hosea Feed The Hungry for the annual Holiday Dinner they do for homeless and displaced families. Staff and volunteers gave out crates and crates of wrapped gifts for the children and there were other services offers such as haircuts, clothing, and medical assistance. I worked in the kitchen, making pans and pans of vegetables, potatoes, ham and turkey. When all was said and done a few turkeys (donated by Publix) were left over. The head chef running the operation gave them away to the chefs who volunteered and I took one, not knowing what I’d do with it since we were having no family gatherings. I had in my mind to cook it up proper with stuffing and the like and deliver it, Ebenezer Scrooge-style, to some unsuspecting but completely worthy family or friends. If nothing else, it was a chance to do something experimental with some food.
But what? Roasting is passe, deep frying common… I’ve done turkey so many ways it is almost boring. But there it was, laying all plastic wrapped and ripening in my fridge, waiting for some inspiration.
Christmas Eve morning I pulled the bird out. I removed the neck and gibblets and wings tips. I broke the rest of the bird down and put the tips, neck and back in a stock pot with some vegetables, spices, wine, and water and brought to a boil, then let simmer for about four hours. The rest of the bird I layered with salt and let set in the fridge for a couple of hours. I put garlic and vegetables and spices in the slow cooker. I piled the legs, wings, and liver into the cooker and filled the pot with every ounce of oil I had in the house. I let it slow cook for about 10 hours on a low heat. I cleaned up the breasts and packed them in the smoker and layered in chips of oak and cherry wood and let it smoke over very low heat for about an hour.
Strained the stock and reduced it from about 2 gallons to one quart. Chilled and wrapped the breasts with applewood smoked bacon and put them in the fridge. I took the crock out of the slow cooker and let it cool down then covered it and put it in the fridge, too.
I worked half a day on Christmas, and S. worked a full day. When I got home I called a couple we haven’t spent a lot of time with and invited them over. It was a toss-up wether or not they would come, but they seemed pleased and excited by the invitiation. S. was not excited about the idea when she got home, but agreed to be a pleasant hostess.
Before they came over I pulled out all the turkey parts. I made a quick gravy from the stock. I warmed the confit legs and wings and pulled them out of the oil. I separated the oil and garlic from the veg and put it in containers and back in the fridge. I put the legs, wings, and bacon-wrapped breasts in the oven at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes, until the bacon was crisp and the skin of the turkey legs was golden brown. I made a butternut squash and porcini risotto from soup I had left over and steamed some broccoli florets because it was the one fresh vegetable I had on hand. I made a quick salad and a pomegranate sorbet. I was moving everything but the risotto into the warmer when our friends arrived with two bottles of wine and gifts for each of us. We felt a bit embarrassed since we had not gotten them any gifts, and S. gave me a look that said “they wouldn’t know we hadn’t gotten them gifts if you hadn’t invited them over, Ass”. Fortunately I am a man of many resources. I rounded up a gift I was going to give to someone else, but never got around to seeing and gave it to him. To her I gave a Living Social deal for an activity I figured she’d like. I got it for us, but c’est la vie, et l’amities.
I opened the wine and we sipped and talked and caught up in a kind of stilted, stumbling way. I had to finish things in the kitchen and she wanted to see what I was cooking, and to help if she could. He was content to talk with S. since they have similar work interests. I showed her how to finish the risotto with butter and parmesan cheese. I got the meats all ready while she set the table and bowled the salad. The plates were really simple since S. had not eaten all day and made it clear that getting this dinner underway was a priority. Everyone got to sample a bit of everything, which was the risotto, the breast, the confit, and the boccoli. I asked who wanted the liver and received a chorus of rejection, so I took it all myself. It wasn’t a pretty plate, and I had to snap a photo with my phone on the fly as we all sat down. He raised his wine and made a great and warm-hearted toast. We started to eat and of course everyone loved everything, even S. who generally doesn’t like turkey of any kind. Everything was good, but the liver was a little too overwhelmingly rich and I only ate about half of it. Everything else was wonderfully moist and juicy and flavorful. And as we ate the conversations picked up again and we all seemed to relax some. We all laughed and traded stories abut our jobs and family and other craziness in our lives. In these interactive hours it was easy to remember why we were all friends. After dinner we went back in the living room and I scraped up the sorbet off the pan it was on in the freezer and put it in bowls. It turned out really well, too. I wish I’d had some candied orange zest to put on top. We exchanged gifts and I was glad that our presents were not so lame and received with gratitude and appreciation. Nobody had to work the following day, so our friends stayed until midnight in pleasant conversation and occasional comfortable silence. S. finished straightening while I walked our guests out and exchanged holiday hugs and kisses. He started the car and before she got in she looked at me for a long moment, quizzically. Then she gave a little shrug and got in the car. I know what she meant: Nothing is healed, just bandaged. But it is a start, maybe. When I went in S. had already gone to bed and was either asleep or pretending to be asleep. The next day she said the evening was fun, although she’d been expecting to spend it alone with me.
Good food, good wine, good friends. What better use to put a turkey to?