THREE DAYS after Christmas, as many people are confronted by the voluminous remnants of a turkey whenever they open the refrigerator, an unpleasant conundrum presents: throw it away and waste it, or do something with it? People who’ve paid top money for a good bird will incline toward the latter but many are clueless. Today I share a solution that can return the bird to the dinner table tonight.
First things first: thanks to the demands of the season, the ordinary course of business and the simple shortage of time, the feature on London restaurants I promised when last I posted has failed to appear, and for this I apologise; even so, I’m mindful that there is a glut of free-range organic turkey carcasses jamming up refrigerators all across the world today, and that unless something constructive is done with them — and quickly — most of that delicious turkey meat will become landfill at the local tip when weekly rubbish collections shortly resume.
We will come back to my selection of London restaurants in the next week or so.
I regret that I didn’t take some photographs this week of what’s become the annual Turkey and Leek Pie dinner in my house on Boxing Day, but I want to share this ritual with readers as it offers both an excellent way to use up the remainder of the lovely turkey meat from Christmas lunch and the addition of an extra festive dinner to the silly season calendar: with the stresses of Christmas out of the way and the clamour of little hands for presents sated, what I share today — despite the input of time required — will provide an excuse to invite a few good friends around on Boxing Day or the couple of days thereafter to share an unctuously naughty feed and a couple of bottles of your favourite vino.
Some years ago, someone gave me a box set of Jamie Oliver DVDs for Christmas. Now I like Jamie, but rarely use him as a source of inspiration for my cooking; somehow whenever I watch his shows, the recipes all seem to end with the addition of piles of rocket (which I thoroughly detest) that may or may not be slathered in litres of balsamic vinegar, and the end effect of that is to lose my attention completely.
But at around the same time — and as I’m originally from a sub-tropical climate, where Christmas is invariably a cold buffet — I dispensed with the practice I’d been shanghaied into of serving up three or four courses on Christmas Day to avoid both the cold buffet scenario and the aversion some in my circle seem to have of the idea of a traditional roast Christmas dinner; I started buying a turkey each year, and only through sheer luck watching the Jamie Oliver Christmas DVDs a couple of days out from the first year I cooked a turkey, I happened upon this excellent way of ensuring that none of the precious bird ended up in the garbage.
There isn’t a recipe as such for this: I couldn’t find an authentic representation of what Jamie did on his show anywhere online, so the steps I share today are basically my transcription of what I’ve seen on the DVD and adjusted through trial and error over the past three years.
Yet if you bear with me — and this will take a couple of hours to do — I promise you that not only will your turkey be fully put to delicious use, but that the double-take on your turkey across a couple of different nights may even make having a turkey cost-effective enough to get one a couple of times through the year in addition to Christmas.
So, here we go — apologies for not publishing an ingredient list at the outset, but you can easily compile one for yourself.
Get the bird out of the fridge and pick off one kilogram (a little over two pounds) of the cold turkey meat; a mix of white meat and brown is best (yes! A use for those legs and wings!) and don’t forget the oysters on the underside of the carcass. You want this shredded into little bite-size pieces, and take care to ensure no feather quills or sinews get into the meat you pick. Place into a large bowl and set aside.
In another really large bowl, chop 2kg (4-5lb) of leeks, using both the white and green parts; make sure they are well-rinsed but don’t worry about getting them dry as the water will help steam them later. Halve them lengthways, then chunk the white section, cutting the green ends a little more finely.
Take 4-5 rashers of good, smoky, streaky bacon and dice them up into a small bowl and set aside; in a separate bowl, pick the leaves off about 20 thyme sprigs and have them ready to go as well.
You’ll need a very large saute pan with a lid for this: if you don’t have one, improvise with a roasting tin and some foil.
Place the pan on a low to moderate heat on the largest burner on the stove top and once hot, saute the bacon and thyme in about 80g of butter and a few glugs of good extra virgin olive oil; after 3-4 minutes, add the leeks (I do this in a few stages just so I can stir them a bit to combine and coat in the butter) then cover with a lid or some foil and turn the heat right down. Allow to steam gently for half an hour, stirring every 7-8 minutes, until the leeks have cooked down and everything is nicely combined. Halfway through, season the leek mixture with a couple of pinches of Maldon sea salt and a few grinds of freshly milled black pepper.
At the end of the half-hour, add the turkey meat you’ve picked off the frame, and stir in until combined and warmed through; add two heaped tablespoons of plain flour and stir until the flour is cooked through a little but before it starts to colour.
Now add one litre (just over two pints) of good quality chicken stock and slowly bring up to the boil; allow to simmer gently for a few minutes to bring all the flavours together, then stir in one very generous tablespoon of creme fraiche. Season well with some more Maldon salt and quite a bit more fresh-ground pepper, then stir until everything is nice and smooth and combined.
Next, get a very large strainer — enough to hold the contents of the saute pan — and set this over a clean saucepan; tip the turkey mixture into the strainer and press down. The objective is to get as much of the cooking liquid out as possible: this is your pie gravy. Once you’ve done this, press a layer of cling film onto the top of the collected gravy (this will stop it forming a skin) and set aside until just before serving time.
Place the turkey and leek pie filling into a large pie dish; I use a large Pyrex baking dish (that normally gets used for roasting potatoes in duck fat) and spread out evenly.
Cover with puff pastry: this could be a store-bought block you’ve rolled out on a floured bench, or a couple of ready-made sheets you’ve “crimped” together to form a single piece large enough to cover the whole pie. Don’t waste your time and effort making puff from scratch for this, unless you have a pastry fetish: this recipe isn’t difficult, but it’s quite time consuming enough without burdening yourself with the need to make puff pastry afresh. Store-bought is just fine today.
Cut off any obvious surplus from the pastry, then tuck the edges under the filling so it’s all encased. Carefully score a diagonal or criss-cross pattern on the pastry with the tip of a sharp knife — there’s no need to cut a ventilation hole in the pastry — and brush well with some beaten egg.
Place in an oven preheated to 200 degrees Centigrade (175 degrees for fan-forced) for 30 minutes or until nicely browned all over on top.
While you’re waiting for the pie to cook, boil some potatoes and mash them up to have ready to serve with the pie; about 5 minutes before everything is ready, very gently reheat the gravy so it’s piping hot (but not boiling) and boil some frozen peas to accompany.
To serve, use a cooking spoon to cut out a serving of pie; add some mashed potatoes and peas to each plate, and pour over a little of the gravy, putting the rest on your dinner table in a jug for people to help themselves to more if they wish to.
This will easily feed 6-8 people — even 10 at a stretch — and also goes devilishly well with any leftover stuffing you can reheat and serve alongside.
All that’s left is your choice of poison: a bottle of Shiraz works beautifully with the rich gamey turkey, as does a good medium-dry white served well chilled; alternatively, and especially if it’s a ladies’ gathering, you could buy some Champagne or Montrachet, but remember the adage whichever way you go that good food is dishonoured by bad wine: and for such a fine post-festive treat, I’m sure you can manage something a little better than a bottle of plonk.
Is there a half-eaten turkey sitting in your fridge? If you hop to it, the festive bird can enable you to delight a selection of your friends tonight, perhaps those who don’t enjoy coming to events with your family. But who you choose to share this with is up to you.