The aftermath of any authentic Thanksgiving feast involves a plenty of leftovers. It’s just part of the package.
How else would we sustain ourselves through the rest of the long weekend? The accepted Thanksgiving follow-up activities — long naps, football-filled afternoons and mile-high evening sandwiches — are time-honored traditions that make this holiday an American favorite.
For most people, the leftover tradition begins and ends with building the Ultimate Turkey Sandwich — a gargantuan structure slathered with layers of mayo, candied yams, cranberry salsa, and just about anything else that graced the banquet table hours earlier.
But if you limit your post-feast snacking to sandwiches, you’ll be missing one of the great American holiday dishes — the infamous Turkey Bone Gumbo.
Early Winter Warmup
After a full day of cooking the feast, Cajun cooks all over south Louisiana celebrate the day after Thanksgiving with a bubbling pot of dark gumbo, thick with chunks of leftover bird and spiked with spicy chunks of smoked sausage.
The cooking process bears a distinct resemblance to another post-Thanksgiving classic – turkey soup – in that it turns an after-dinner byproduct (the leftover poultry carcass) into a magical special occasion dish.
Since the recipe starts with the stripped turkey carcass , this edible ritual makes the most of the holiday bird. A long, slow simmer efficiently removes any bits of meat still clinging to the bones and results in a thick, rich base for the gumbo. It’s a simple (though somewhat time consuming) two-step process, but well worth the effort.
Big Boned Broth
Turkey bone gumbo starts off with the entire carcass of the roasted turkey — which usually includes a good deal of hard-to-reach meat that clings to the bird’s nooks and crannies.
Truth be told, most Rockwell-inspired family carvers stop cutting when the going gets interesting. After slicing off the easy meat from the broad-breasted bird and disassembling the drumstick apparatus, they discard the rib cage, along with pounds of tasty meat that somehow escape the holiday knife. But this works to the distinct advantage of gumbo makers, because where there’s meat, there’s a rich stock in the making. If you can get a hold of this still-pretty-meaty carcass, you’ll have a double treat in store for your post-holiday gumbo.
Extra meat is nice, but the real trick is in the bones. As any working chef will tell you, good stock (and by extension, good soups and gumbos) start off with good bones.
And when it comes to poultry, turkey is about as good as you can get. The big bones of America’s favorite gobbler are chock full of rich marrow, and since they’ve already been roasted to celebrate the annual pilgrim feast, they’ve also been browned for added flavor. The only thing that’s needed to bring out that flavor is a long, slow cooking in your favorite soup pot.
So the carcass goes into the pot with a little onion, some celery, and a few spices for good measure. A few hours over a low flame, and you’ve got an insanely rich broth thickened with the previously hidden meaty morsels that just fell off the bone. A quick strain and one dark roux later, you’ve gone from making a simple soup to creating a special version of the classic Cajun chicken and sausage gumbo.
If you don’t have the time to cook up a batch on the day after Turkey Day, wrap up the carcass for freezer storage until you have a free day around the house. It’s the perfect low maintenance activity for a lazy early winter’s afternoon.
Roasted Turkey Broth
- 1 turkey carcass (bones, giblets and leftover skin from roasted Thanksgiving turkey)
- 3 ribs celery, cut into 4-inch pieces
- 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
- 4 quarts water, or enough to cover carcass
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
- 4 bay leaves
Place the carcass in a large stockpot. Add the celery, onions, water, salt, peppercorns, and bay leaves.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered, for 2-4 hours (the longer the better), then remove from the heat. Skim any fat that has risen to the surface.
Strain through a large colander. Reserve any meat that has fallen off the bones and pick off any meat that may still remain on the carcass. Use immediately or freeze in quart-sized containers.
Makes about 2-3 quarts (or enough for 1 gumbo)
Turkey Bone Gumbo
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup flour
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 pound smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, chopped
- 3 quarts turkey broth
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
Combine the oil and flour in a heavy-bottomed cast iron pot or enameled cast iron Dutch oven, over medium-low heat. Stirring slowly and consistently for 20 to 25 minutes, make a dark brown roux, the color of chocolate.
Season the onions, bell peppers, and celery with the salt and cayenne. Add this to the roux and stir until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring often for 5-7 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes. Add the reserved turkey meat and cook for 30 minutes. Add the parsley and green onions.
Serve in soup bowls over steamed white rice.