Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lessons in Leftovers: Turkey Rillettes

Possibly the biggest perk (slash trade secret) of working for a food publishing company is the take home fridge. It sits in a room behind the kitchen, and daily fills up with the remains of recipe testing. Sometimes I find dozens of deli containers of chocolate pudding, or tomato sauce, or even tater tots. Other times, I scout fruits and vegetables too bruised and battered for a photo shoot, or rare pantry items no longer useful in the kitchen. Today was a pretty good day: I brought home two leeks, a small jar of olives (only a few missing), half a block of semisweet baking chocolate, half a bag of semolina flour, and a small container of dried figs.

Usually I’ll get really excited about my finds when I grab them, but when I get home and empty my grocery bag on the table, I sigh and scratch my head.

Not wanting to waste a bit of my free groceries, I’ve tried to get as creative as possible using up my leftovers. Some days it is obvious, like the day I snagged a raw rabbit, already broken down into easily braised pieces. Into the Dutch oven it went with a few vegetables, wine, and stock. Served with bread, it made my dinner for at least a couple days.

Other days, like last week, when I brought home a few bags of whole grain flour and a generous piece (cough half a cake cough) of chocolate-almond torte, I end up stashing my loot in the freezer until some kind of inspiration/chocolate craving strikes.

I’ve gathered over half a dozen flours, beans, grains, and parmesan rinds this way, slowly using it all up over months at a time, and greatly reducing the last minute trips to the grocery store. It’s awesome.

But I’m not here to brag about my job or anything. I’m here to talk about potted meat.

This past weekend, I attended a canning party/potluck with some good folks from food52. I was planning on putting together a cheese and homemade crackers spread, but once I got down to the cracker-making part late last week, I realized the platter needed a little oomph. A little meat oomph, if you will.

As luck would have it, that day I had snagged a generous box of braised turkey (thinking I would feed it to Matt over the weekend). Along with the (fantastic) homemade pancetta I already stashed in the fridge, I figured I could whip up some kind of quick rillettes. Rillettes are a French meat preparation (many times with pork or duck, but, use what you got!) consisting of slowly cooked (or confited) and shredded meat, smashed up with stock and fat, pressed into a small container, and covered with more fat. (This copious amount of fat helps to preserve the meat (and to keep it moist and delicious)). The rillettes are chilled at least overnight to flavor and set the spread, and then served at room temperature over bread or crackers.

For my turkey version, I removed the leg and thigh meat from the bone, shredding the meat, and simmering the bones (along with a carrot and half an onion) in a pot of well-salted water for a quick broth. I diced up the pancetta and rendered the fat in a generous glug of olive oil to use instead of turkey fat (most had already been rendered and removed during the braising process). Some of the stock and fat joined the turkey meat in my standing mixer, where it all got beaten and whipped into a frenzy/spreadable paste. My mixture fit perfectly into three 1-cup ramekins, where it got coated in a sizeable layer of pancetta-olive oil fat, wrapped in plastic, and stuck in the fridge overnight.

The final dish, while certainly not the product of painstaking technique, was still unctuous, gamy, and perfect for my cheese plate. Not bad for a box of leftovers.

Leftover Turkey Rillettes
Makes about 3 cups

1 bone-in braised or roasted turkey leg, skin removed*
1 bone-in braised or roasted turkey thigh, skin removed*
1/2 onion, peeled
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 3-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing
3 ounces pancetta or thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Remove turkey meat from bones, and set meat aside. Place bones, onion, and carrot in large saucepan. Cover with water, and season with a generous pinch of salt. Simmer over medium-low heat until water takes on flavor of bones and vegetables, about 1 hour. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into 8-cup liquid measuring cup.
2. Meanwhile, heat pancetta and olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat until pancetta begins to sizzle. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook until all of the fat has rendered out of pancetta and remaining meat is crisp. Strain through fine mesh strainer into bowl.
3. Shred turkey meat into bite size pieces, and transfer to bowl of standing mixer fit with paddle attachment. Beat turkey on medium speed until broken down. Drizzle in about 1 cup broth and 1/4 cup fat, and continue to beat until moistened. Add more broth and fat until turkey reaches a moist and spreadable consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Transfer turkey mixture into 1 cup ramekins, packing tightly to remove air bubbles. Refrigerate, uncovered, until chilled. Drizzle remaining fat over top of chilled turkey mixture so that about 1/8-inch fat covers the surface. If necessary, add extra olive oil to cover. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Serve at room temperature with crusty bread, homemade crackers, good cheese, and tart pickles.

*You could totally substitute chicken here. 4 braised or roasted thighs should do it. (I'd shy away from chicken drumsticks, since they contain so much cartilage.)