by Lisa Barlow
Naturally I am excited about Thanksgiving dinner, but to be honest, like everyone else in my family, I am more excited about the leftovers. The mad scramble for the turkey carcass begins so early after the big meal that this year we are buying two turkeys and planning ahead.
We all agree there is nothing better the day after Thanksgiving than a fat turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce on whole grain bread that’s been slathered with mayonnaise and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I like mine with a beer, preferably in front of the television, where the ensuing tryptophan coma can carry me into a nap.
For breakfast we all like turkey hash that uses up any leftover roasted new potatoes and a handful of the herbs still standing valiantly against the autumn chill in a pot by the door. It is best served with a poached egg on top, a rasher of crisp slab bacon and a big mug of hot coffee.
But our favorite permutation of leftover turkey isn’t the Dagwood sandwich or our version of the Blue Plate Special. It is a simple dish that my new cousin-in-law, Lauren, introduced into family tradition last year. We’ve had a hankering for it ever since.
Jook, also called congee (first by the British who anglicized its Southeast Asian name “kanji”), is the savory rice porridge found bubbling in cauldrons across Asia. It is a comfort food that is so universally loved that it is spooned into babies’ mouths as soon as they are weaned from their mothers, slurped up for breakfast by hungry workers on the go and for dinner by anyone too tired to cook. It is delivered medicinally to the sick and elderly and eagerly sought after by anyone with a hangover.
While its viscosity may vary from gruel-like to porridge, and every cook has his or her own secret ingredient, the two basic components are consistent in their simplicity: broth and rice. Lauren’s recipe came with her grandparents when they emigrated from China, but like many other transplanted dishes, it has evolved out of necessity over the years to include various American ingredients. Grandma Fong, who lives in Houston, prefers hers topped not with preserved egg or shiitake mushrooms any more, but with Ruffles potato chips.
The secret to a good bowl of jook is in the time it takes to cook it. Lauren and my cousin Jon put the porridge ingredients on the stove almost the minute the turkey has been carved and let them simmer there for a full 24 hours. Good jook is fairly glutinous and creamy. The ratio in the Chinese version seems to be a little more broth to rice than the thicker Korean one. But you can make it whatever consistency you like. Lauren and Jon like to serve a pared down version with just a few garnishes, but traditionally people have added everything from thousand-year-old egg and raw beef to peanuts and pork slivers. In this version, we honor Grandma Fong with a handful of Kettle chips.
4 quarts turkey broth
1 cup shredded turkey
3/4 cup white rice
4 garlic cloves
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1 cup dried bean curd sticks (found in Asian markets)
Kettle chips (lightly salted)
Hot sesame oil (optional)
1.Make a broth from the turkey carcass using all of the ingredients you’d use to make chicken stock: Celery, carrot, onion, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns.
2. Strain the broth and add uncooked rice. Cover pot and simmer for at least 2 hours. Rice will break down and thicken the broth.
3. Add sesame oil and garlic.
4. Break down pieces of dried bean curd (Jon puts them in a plastic bag and hits them with a meat mallet until they are about ½ inch in size). Soften the bean curd by placing the pieces in a bowl and cover with boiling water . Let stand for 20-30 minutes. Once pieces are soft (remove any hard pieces), strain and add to jook pot.
5. Simmer for hours until the broth is creamy in texture.
6. Add the shredded turkey meat about 20 minutes before serving.
7. Place jook in bowl and add soy sauce, regular or hot sesame oil, white pepper, scallions and chips to taste.