Food

“What Shall We Do With The Surplus Turkey?”

ONCE AGAIN, a surfeit of turkey carcasses is jamming up refrigerators across the world this morning; as festive celebrations peter out and the coming year begins to refocus people on a return to normality in a jarringly short space of time, that expensive bird — so commonly the showpiece of indulgent Christmas largesse — risks becoming expensive landfill, and today, we get in quickly with the way to get an extra mile (and festive treat) out of what’s left.

I trust readers had a great time of it yesterday; there is something refreshingly authentic about spending time with family during the ultimate “down time” of the year, as Christmas reminds us of what really matters and what doesn’t: in my own case, still recovering from a minor albeit painful bout of surgery ten days ago, the cooking effort (combined with about a pint and a half of ale) saw me asleep before the sun went down, and awake again in the middle stages of the wee small hours.

Today’s post is as much about getting in a lot earlier than I did last year, as it is about a reprise of a post I published a couple of days later than this last December; there were some who contacted me privately after last year’s missive to say that what I had shared on this site would have been just great — except for the fact that the posting date, of 28 December, meant they had already thrown out the remnants of their Christmas turkey out of cluelessness as to what to do with it (a couple of turkey and avocado sandwiches on Boxing Day notwithstanding).

turkey-2

GOLDEN GOODNESS…it’s a shame to waste a festive turkey just because this bird can be so intimidating for those not accustomed to extracting every opportunity to use it in its entirety.

Pictured (above) is the 5.7kg (12lb 7oz) turkey I cooked yesterday; with my parents unable to make the trip from Tasmania this year, and the Jewish friends we often host on Christmas Day unfortunately preoccupied with a family member in dire health, there’s more of the precious bird left over this year than ever: and as has become customary, a good whack of it will be used tonight in a Turkey and Leek Pie, which I thoroughly recommend to readers as the ticket to extracting a second brilliant feast out of the carcass taking up space in their refrigerators this morning.

So let’s get started: you can access last year’s post, with step-by-step instructions on how to transform your leftover bird into a wonderful second act, here.

Being Boxing Day, the supermarkets will be open again today; selected greengrocers and markets, too, so between those there shouldn’t be any trouble obtaining the extra ingredients you might need to turn your turkey into a sensational second billing that makes the wonder of Christmas live on for at least another day.

Just remember — please! — no plonk; treat this with just as much reverence as you would the Christmas feast itself, and buy some decent booze to accompany it rather than some ghastly bottle of goon; be it a red, a dry white or something bubbly, your bird will repay the attention if you perform this transformation upon it, so do it the courtesy and return the favour, and you won’t regret it!

This morning’s post was only meant to be brief, so we will leave it at that: tomorrow is Tuesday and, as ever — for at least as long as I have the additional time to post regularly here — I will be back with a couple of songs (and probably a couple of bonus links too) that reflect some aspect of what’s happening around the place as we speak.

In the meantime, enjoy. Buon Appetit!

 

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Nigella’s Busts: “Cookbook Errors” Typify Hard Truths

I’VE STUMBLED across a story from a journalist in Brisbane, who relates multiple disasters with a recipe by “domestic goddess” Nigella Lawson; this scribe from the Sunshine State isn’t the first to encounter a dud from Lawson and I’m sure she won’t be the last. But it raises some interesting points, first and foremost of which is the fact that even chefs who actually know what they’re doing often publish material that is impossible to elicit a desirable result from.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the festive season break, eaten plenty of turkey, and tried to take it sensibly on the juice this summer; a happy New Year — belatedly — to all, and I don’t mind spelling out my resolution of trying to post a minimum of three articles per week on this site in 2016: more if possible. With Retro Tuesdays already eliciting plenty of traffic (if not comments — hint, hint) and becoming a bit of a fixture, a couple of extra articles on top of that here (plus the five I try to average on my other, political, site) should be manageable.

Nine times out of ten…

Yet speaking of politics (and the obligatory apologies for the segue to that subject once again), the first I’d ever heard of British TV cook and “domestic goddess” Nigella Lawson was when I heard the news that Nigel Lawson’s daughter was to be the star of a new programme that was sneeringly billed at the time as heralding the arrival of the “sexualisation of food for mass audiences.”

Nigel Lawson — for those who don’t know — was the second Chancellor of the Exchequer (or “Treasurer” in an Australian government) in Margaret Thatcher’s government, holding the post between 1983 and 1989; Lawson was a Chancellor who rightly enjoyed great acclaim, and with whom only Peter Costello and Paul Keating provide any kind of Australian comparison in a rarefied class of contemporary political royalty.

There are those (and I’m one of them) who believe Nigel Lawson was not only the architect of Britain’s economic successes in the mid-1980s, but that his reforms paved the way for the unprecedented boom that country enjoyed for 15 years from 1993-94 onwards: yet he was a dour, orthodox Tory and as dry as old biscuits, so the idea of his daughter providing any sort of riveting TV experience seemed preposterous, to say the least.

How wrong I was.

Like most of the males who watched her (and in my early 20s when Nigella Bites first aired) I was captivated by her undeniable beauty, but far from finding it tawdry or smutty — as many (probably jealous) TV critics of the day were wont to describe her — I thought Nigella positively oozed class; she radiated sensuality and beauty, with that smooth velvet voice almost luring the viewer into her kitchen and to her table.

Nigella Bites was fun, and whilst much of what Nigella cooked on it left everything to be desired (ham on the bone cooked in Coca-Cola and glazed in half a ton of assorted sticky sugar products, anyone?) it was impossible as a viewer not to want to get in on the naughty little secrets and treats she turned out, week after week.

Lesson #1: if it looks as alluring as it does when Nigella Lawson does it, it is too good to be true.

Lesson #2: if Lesson #1 is in evidence, it’s wise to leave the illusion on the small screen, where it belongs.

Denise Cullen, writing in today’s issue of the Courier-Mail, retells a story of her persistence with a chocolate-cherry cupcake recipe authored by Miss Lawson, and once I got over the initial amusement of a vision of exploding cowpat-style substances soiling the insides of her oven, it struck me that I’ve fallen into the trap of cooking Nigella’s “recipes” myself — not recently by any stretch — and I can’t say I was surprised at all to learn of the frothing, diarrhoea-like “lava” that burst from the confines of a baking tin and set hard enough to take a month to chisel it out of the oven.

It seems Ms Cullen really wanted the recipe to succeed, and (to my amazement) part of her rationale seemed to be that it was a Nigella Lawson recipe: how could one of those fail? What could possibly go wrong?

After all, it isn’t as if Nigella ever won MasterChef (the British version — proper MasterChef — not that abominable truckload of crap broadcast by Channel 10 that also somehow thinks it’s Australian Idol) and it isn’t as if her name sits harmoniously with those of Marcus Wareing and Atul Kochhar and Raymond Blanc, or others among the finest European chefs at the very top of their game: to me Nigella is a cook, a very entertaining identity, and perhaps in her own kitchen even a good cook.

And it isn’t as if she boasts the kind of pedigree of Two Fat Ladies — self-taught cooks who spent years writing about food and cooking it for groups small and enormous — where the ideas might be old-fashioned, but the results were positively alive with symphonies of cooked-from-scratch natural flavour.

But a chef she ain’t.

I got the Nigella Bites DVD…oooh, it must be ten, twelve years ago…and the first inkling I had that something was very wrong — the Coca-Cola-broiled ham-and-diabetes concoction¬† notwithstanding — came with a decision to replicate what I thought was a great way to infuse some variety into the rigours of midweek cooking: Sausages with Lentils, which looked, innocuously enough, like a one-pan winner that would transform the drudge of “quick and simple” into the sort of thing that would inspire a longing for Tuesday night dinner ahead of hump day.

But just like the spontaneously combusting brownies, the sausages came with a catch; and just like the indomitable Ms Cullen, I followed Nigella’s recipe to the letter.

The result? We sure as hell didn’t get to have sausages for dinner, because Nigella’s recipe called for a stipend of red wine to be added to the pan at just the right moment “to cover everything in sticky goodness,” and poured in as suggested, all that sticky goodness vaporised in an instant and covered the walls, floor, the rangehood (and basically, everything within about seven feet of the hob) in a fine spray of crimson mist that took months to fully remove. Every time something in the kitchen was moved, it looked like I’d unearthed a globule of dried blood. And just like Ms Cullen’s execrable brownies, it almost required an industrial strength agent to get rid of it.

Still, I’m a believer that everyone deserves a second chance, so a couple of weeks later I found myself cooking up a preparation of pre-seared lamb shanks with water, Nigella’s “holy trinity” of spices (ginger, garlic, turmeric) and a few other ingredients. It was well seasoned, for — as Nigella had solemnly declared — “under-seasoned meat is absolutely vile.”

And it is.

But so is limp, languid meat fashioned in a voluminous mixture of rendered fat and turbid liquid with the consistency and appearance of water from the River Thames, and one bite (the obligatory taste-test even when you know the rubbish bin is the only suitable destination for the mess) was all it took to know that this was a very, very big fail.

And I can cook: certainly not in the league of Messrs Wareing and Kochhar et al, but well enough to know I would no longer be out of place in a lot of successful commercial kitchens.

Nigella Bites? More like Nigella’s Busts. And needless to say, Miss Lawson has never featured as a contributor to (or inspiration for) my repertoire since.

Cullen was nonetheless stoic in her defence to the end, God bless her, insisting the problem was that she lacked a key ingredient for her brownies — Morello cherry preserve from Sainsbury’s — and even went to the lengths of repeating her experiment when someone sent her a jar of the stuff. The result, it pains me to say, could have been foreseen.

And anyway, anyone who’s been to a British supermarket knows that what passes for “a supermarket” in the UK and what is offered by Coles and Woolworths in Australia are two vastly different encounters altogether; I’ve never shopped at one of the “posh” chains in England (Morrisons, Waitrose) but Asda and Tesco are basically what we used to know as Franklins and Bi-Lo, minus the pall of gloom and dreariness. There are options cheerily downmarket from those that make me shudder just to think of them. Sainsbury’s is very much the best of the mainstream bunch, but even then, my last encounter with it in Putney some years ago made me cringe. The notion of a jar of own-label jam from Sainsbury’s rescuing a dud recipe seems ridiculous.

But lest anyone think I’m just knocking poor Nigella, I’m not, although perhaps her shows are best left for entertainment purposes only, rather than trying to emulate them.

The truth is that all chefs (and certainly the top chefs I know or follow who publish cookbooks) do, at some time or another, put their names to something that is a guaranteed debacle just waiting for someone to try to cook it.

I have a six-year-old daughter who is totally addicted to (of all things) steak and kidney; the recipe I use is from one of my favourite chefs, John Burton Race, who I spent some time chatting to when I was in Devon in 2008. (That was before his horrible ex-wife sold his restaurant in Dartmouth out from underneath him while he was in Australia shooting I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! for ITV, although that’s another story).

For reliable ideas for home cooks, some of the simpler options in John’s books are fantastic. But this one, followed to the letter, results in little tough bullets in an insufficiently combined “sauce:” instead of simmering it for two and a half hours, John’s cooking time in the book is half that time.

Another chef, who participated in a contest to cook for the Queen when she turned 80 ten years ago, published a recipe for a lemon tart that included an incorrect oven setting so high that it boiled the contents of the pie crust and curdled them.

(A rolling boil. Not a gentle simmer but waves and turbulence. It was a sight to behold through the oven door, watching surf form on a lemon tart, I can assure you).

And speaking of the Two Fat Ladies — who first sparked my interest in learning to cook by making the food experience exciting, after I’d flubbed my way through seven years working in restaurants (including three in management) with great and misplaced pride that I still couldn’t cook a thing — Clarissa Dickson-Wright published so many different versions of some of her recipes that it was only by trialling all of the permutations one found that only one version of each recipe actually worked (Jennifer Paterson was the food brain in that outfit, but to complicate things, Clarissa contributed some of the nicest savoury dishes. Her Salmon with Blood Oranges and Red Wine, properly made, is almost worthy of killing for as a main course).

Rosemary Shrager — a sadly underrated chef in the eyes of many, who simply remember her as the cookery teacher from Ladette to Lady — has published a series of books over the years that are easy to follow, and “idiot-proof” in her words, for producing haute cuisine dishes at home that would wow any entourage of dinner guests. But without the publicist-generated profile of an entertaining bomb-out like Lawson, the books are generally only found in the homes of the most ardent aspiring cooks. In Australia, at any rate. And that’s a pity.

But in all of these cases, there’s an explanation or some redemption. In Nigella’s case, it is very hard to find an excuse that withstands scrutiny.

Of course, food-based entertainment has reached saturation point, in the UK, here in Australia, and across the world: truly innovative formats are growing harder to devise, and are even harder to make successful commercially. I’ve spent several years looking for commercial funding in my business to produce something that discards excessive styling in favour of a more authentic and attainable viewer experience, but the well, to mix metaphors, is all but dry.

Even so, those who were known when the explosion in the genre started to take off 15 years ago — and Nigella is one of them — will always command a slice of the commissioning budgets of terrestrial broadcasters simply on account of who they are, and were, whereas newer identities and ventures are forced to rattle the tin for advertiser funds directly.

The irony, of course, is that for every beautiful, smooth talker who is enjoyable to watch, another potential celebrity misses out because nobody thinks they should have to foot the bill for producing their shows, even if the airtime tied up in them (and the media deliverables that can be embedded) is worth millions to whatever company fits with the format and could stump up the cash.

I sympathise with Cullen greatly, for I’ve been ensnared by Nigella Lawson too: falling victim is one thing. Knowing when to move on and cut the apron strings, however, is another matter altogether.

But nobody is perfect, and there are plenty of cookbooks floating around by far, far better authorities on food than Lawson, all replete with their own goals and errors and fatal mistakes that are only ever going to be discovered if you set out one weekend to cook them.

Before you do, stop off at the bakery of your choice — and buy a good stash of the richest, most decadent brownies you can find — and have these to hand as “rewards” for your labours, and never mind about the explosive formula offered by Nigella Lawson.

Morello cherry jam — from Sainsbury’s or otherwise — is a strictly optional accompaniment, of course.

 

 

Talking Turkey: Adding A Festive Dinner To The Festive Season

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.