Turkey improvisations

Many people are not great fans of roast turkey; see, for example, this video (“Just Put the F*cking Turkey in the Oven”) from Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco, in which Aunt Mary [Risley] deprecates roast turkey, but tells you to forge ahead insouciantly and gives tips on how to turn out something that won’t be too bad. But suppose you’ve gone ahead and roasted that turkey.

Then think of it as a source of turkey-based dishes that are more satisfactory. Basically, anything you can do with chicken you can do with turkey, especially if the preparation supplies moisture and some piquancy: turkey salad (with mayonnaise and seasonings), turkey curry, turkey pot pie, turkey enchiladas or tacos, turkey hash (the turkey gravy is important), turkey captain (like Southern chicken captain — a.k.a. Country Captain chicken — again with curry), and so on. Or one of my favorites from my life with Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, turkey Tetrazzini.

Then there’s the Hot Brown Sandwich.

Tante Marie’s no-nonsense video came to me via Éamonn McManus, with whom I had a satisfying Thanksgiving dim sum lunch today (no turkey, but chicken spring rolls). Wrote Éamonn on Google+:

We don’t have Thanksgiving where I’m from [Ireland] but the traditional Christmas dinner is basically the same. I’m so glad to hear a culinary professional come out and say that turkey basically tastes like cardboard no matter how you cook it. The profanity doesn’t do any harm either.

On to turkey Tetrazzini, a member of the Tetrazzini casserole family. From the Wikipedia entry:

Tetrazzini is an American dish usually involving a non-red meat (often diced fowl or seafood), mushrooms, and almonds in a butter/cream and parmesan sauce flavored with wine or sherry and stock vegetables such as onions, celery, and carrots. It is often served hot over spaghetti or some similarly thin pasta, garnished with lemon or parsley, and topped with additional almonds and/or Parmesan cheese.

The dish is named after the Italian opera star, Luisa Tetrazzini. [the comma is there in the original, despite the fact that this is a restrictive rather than a non-restrictive construction construction] It is widely believed to have been invented ca. 1908-1910 by Ernest Arbogast, then chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, California, where Tetrazzini was a long-time resident. However, other sources attribute the origin to the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City.

There is no universal standard for the dish, so various parts are missing or substituted in various recipes. For example, another kind of nut, or different hard cheese. The name is often expanded to describe the specific meat used (e.g. Chicken Tetrazzini, or Tuna Tetrazzini).

(Note the order of elements in the compound, with the modifier — a proper name — following the head, as in Oysters Rockefeller and Potatoes O’Brian. The pattern, based on French, is characteristic of menu and recipe language.)

The Tetrazzinis are, like many foodstuff families, diverse, and are better thought of as corresponding to a template rather than a actual recipe. Despite that, I have a recipe for turkey Tetrazzini that I have occasionally consulted, more to refresh my memory than to determine the steps in preparing the dish. It comes from Michael Field’s excellent Culinary Classics and Improvisations (1967), a collection of recipes for some culinary classic — in this case roast turkey with sausage and chestnut stuffing — followed by a set of improvisations using the classic dish:

Turkey stock (used in following recipes)
Mushroom barley soup with turkey giblets
Turkey-oyster balls
Breast of turkey Florentine [note modifier order] in scallop coquilles
Capilotade of turkey in the French style [in a piquant sauce]
Turkey paprikash
Turkey Tetrazzini
Turkey curry with condiments
Turkey mayonnaise [with cubed turkey in it] with rice salad

Fields’s improvisations on the classic roast chicken in the French style (for instance, the paella Sevillana) can be done with turkey. So can some of his improvisations on the classic poule au pot Henri V (in particular the chicken gumbo soup and the chicken hash in cream). And so can some of his improvisations on the classic veal in a casserole (for instance, the vitello tonnato, which is adaptable as pollo tonnato — or as tacchino tonnato).

Mix and match.

Or you could make a Hot Brown Sandwich, which is

a hot sandwich originally created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, by Fred K. Schmidt in 1926. It is a variation of traditional Welsh rarebit and was one of two signature sandwiches created by chefs at the Brown Hotel shortly after its founding in 1923. It was created to serve as an alternative to ham and egg late-night suppers.

The Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown. (link)

(Mornay sauce is béchamel sauce with grated or shredded cheese added. Béchamel sauce is the basic white sauce of French cooking; you start by making a roux and whisking scalded milk into it. A roux is a cooked mixture of (wheat) flour and butter.)

Maybe chicken spring rolls can be made with turkey instead of chicken. Certainly, you can make stir-fried dishes with turkey instead of chicken. Peking turkey, that I’m not so sure about.

Of course, you could forgo the roast turkey and make posole or spaghetti carbonara.

2 Responses to “Turkey improvisations”

  1. Jack H Says:

    Hot Browns! Can’t get those in California, perhaps because you also can’t get country ham. But very yummy.

    Anyone who thinks turkey has no flavor has never had good turkey. It’s not (usually) a strong flavor, but it’s there, and distinct.

    Turkey is, I hear, also a popular holiday dish in Catalonia, but prepared differently, e.g. turkey with tomatoes and almonds.

  2. Chicken verdicchio « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Chicken verdicchio isn't on the website menu, though the lunch menu there has veal verdicchio. Well, chicken, veal, and turkey (and, for that matter, rabbit) recipes are, roughly, interconvertible, as I've noted here.] […]

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