Every family has a story to tell.
Liz Williams is President of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, located in New Orleans. Find it online at www.southernfood.org. She doesn’t toss her turkey bones; she throws ’em in the biggest pot she can find the day after Thanksgiving to make:
Turkey Bone Gumbo
¼ c flour
¼ oil or bacon fat or even duck fat, if you have it
2 large onions, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
One large green bell pepper, chopped
Garlic, minced, at least 3 cloves
Gravy from Thanksgiving turkey and turkey carcass
Water or broth
Bay leaf or two, thyme, salt and pepper
Leftover turkey meat
Bunch of parsley, chopped
Filé and hot sauce for the table
For my taste there is only one reason to eat turkey on Thanksgiving and that is the opportunity to have a turkey carcass and leftovers for making Turkey Bone Gumbo. I always make too much gravy, vegetables and dressing so that these are planned leftovers.
Make a dark roux with bacon grease or duck fat and the flour. When the roux has reached the right color add the chopped onions. Stir well and allow the onions to begin to caramelize. Add celery and bell peppers. Add garlic. When the vegetables are all soft, add the sausage. After browning the sausage, add the leftover gravy. (Even if the gravy contains mushrooms and other vegetables, as mine does, add it all. My turkey gravy almost always contains mushrooms. I make a bed of carrots and sit the turkey on it in the roasting pan. Although everyone eats these carrots at the Thanksgiving meal, there are usually some leftover and they go into the gumbo pot. And if I have peas in roux, I put them into the pot also.) Add stock or water to cover everything in the pot. Add the turkey carcass.
Add leftover turkey cut into bite-sized pieces. Add bay leaves and thyme. Simmer at least 2 hours so that the flavors can meld. Taste and adjust seasonings – especially salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley. Remove the carcass before serving.
I always make a cornbread and oyster dressing which I serve with the turkey on Thanksgiving. (Sometimes I also add crawfish). Instead of serving my Turkey Bone Gumbo with rice, I plop a large dollop of this dressing into the bowl of gumbo (as with potato salad). I serve this gumbo with hot sauce and filé on the table.
In anticipation of the sassafras of the filé on the gumbo, I usually baste the turkey with at least one bottle of root beer. This not only helps impart a beautiful color to the turkey’s skin, but adds a sweet richness to the gravy and drippings. In turn this adds a haunting sweetness to the gumbo, with a sassafras completion with the sprinkling of filé at the table.