I am a big fan of brining. Using a brine solution is a time-honored chef’s secret for producing tender poultry and pork. More than almost anything, Thanksgiving turkey begs to be brined. Yes, it takes time because you have to soak the bird in the brine solution overnight. But trust me on this: It is worth a little time and trouble.
For years, home cooks who wanted to brine had to put together their own solutions. It’s easy enough and the ingredients – salt, spices and herbs – are readily available. But recently, food producers have jumped on the brine bandwagon. You see brine mixes and brining bags everywhere. One fool-proof way to go is with a brine and rub kit. These kits take all the guess work out of the task. At Gateway, we started getting brine kits just last month from Urban Accents. These kits come with their own brining bags for turkeys up to 24 pounds. Our customers have been putting a steady dent in our supply, so clearly a lot of people are in on the secret.
ABOUT THOSE LEFTOVERS…
Growing up in an Italian-American household meant that my Thanksgivings were a bit different than the Norman Rockwell-approved gatherings. Besides those traditional, new-world dishes (turkey, stuffing, etc), Mom went all out on all our Italian favorites. We especially loved my Mom’s Thanksgiving lasagna, and I have fond memories of waiting in line at Graziano Brothers to get ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, sausage and Elana Piccola pasta, which my mom insisted on using for her lasagna (I’ll do a separate post about Mom’s Thanksgiving day lasagna down the road).
So what does all this mean? Well, usually the family would go after all that good Italian food and largely leave the turkey and fixings untouched at our holiday table. For days after Thanksgiving, we’d eat the leftover turkey in the form of sandwiches on toasted American bread (that’s what my Mom called everyday sliced white bread) with Miracle Whip and sometimes a slice of cheese. While that’s still a classic approach, I’ve developed some new ways to take care of that leftover bird. And like me, you may even find yourself getting an extra turkey or the biggest damn one you can find just so you can try these out. Here are three recipes that make great use of turkey (or Gateway’s rotisserie chickens). I put these together in the Gateway kitchen and just pulled everything I needed straight from the shelves.
BUFFALO TURKEY SALAD PITA
1 pound cooked turkey breast, diced
4 ounces Gorgonzola or crumbled Maytag Blue
1 rib celery, finely minced
1 cup mayo
4 ounces green onions, finely chopped
1 ounce Louisiana hot sauce
salt to taste
4 pita breads, lightly toasted
finely shredded lettuce
diced red onion
This one’s stupidly simple. Just combine the first seven ingredients, mix well and stuff the finished product into a pita. Garnish it with the lettuce, red onion and tomato.
TURKEY, BROCCOLI & CHEDDAR MACARONI
1 pound macaroni, cooked to package instructions
For the cheddar cheese sauce:
4 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
6 tablespoons corn starch
8 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups blanched broccoli florets (cook in salted boiling water for about 2 minutes and cool)
1 pound cooked diced turkey
1/4 cup sliced green onions (green and white together is fine)
4 teaspoon Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Mix corn starch and water together to make slurry.
Saute chopped garlic; do NOT brown.
Add cream and bring to boil; stirring occasionally.
Add salt and pepper.
Reduce heat and simmer.
Add corn starch and water mixture to thicken sauce; simmer for 1 minute to cook slurry.
Add sour cream.
Add cheddar cheese, melt into sauce.
Add cooked broccoli florets, green onions and Parmesan.
Toss with freshly cooked pasta.
How to show off: Top with toasted buttered panko bread crumbs and add cooked Niman Ranch bacon or crispy LaQuercia proscuitto on top.
BLACK FRIDAY BRUNCH
1 pound diced or shredded turkey
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 small baking potatoes diced into small pieces
1 small onion
1 bell pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
8 eggs, beaten
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
plenty of salt and pepper (chef’s secret: season each layer individually for maximum flavor)
In a large skillet or Dutch oven, melt butter over medium high heat.
Add potatoes and without turning, let them start to brown.
Continue cooking till nicely brown season with salt, pepper and garlic powder; remove and set aside.
In the same pan, add onions, peppers and mushrooms and chopped garlic. You should have plenty of butter or oil left in the pan, if you need more, add 1 tablespoon before adding veggies. Brown slightly; season with salt and pepper.
Add cooked turkey and heat.
Add back fried potatoes.
Add eggs and cook; season with salt and pepper. Do not overcook or over mix.
When eggs are nearly done (or done to your liking), add cheese and melt.
Serve with warm tortillas, salsa and sour cream if you like.