Ah, the detritus of Thanksgiving – the carcasses, the mess, the clash of traditions – and that’s just the guest dynamics! Then there are the food leftovers.
To some, the leftovers look just as good as the meal. I’m not one of those people. Not that I mind leftovers for a couple of meals, but then I like to make something different from them. Sometimes this leads to new discoveries, like deep-fried stuffing (it sounds like something Paula Deen would make, except I didn’t add any butter). And we’ve given you some ideas for using leftover turkey to create new dishes before: Shepherd’s Pie, Turkey Tetrazzini, Hot Brown Sandwiches, and others. But this week we’ve got a new French-inspired idea.
Why French food for American leftovers? Well, aside from the fact that we sell French wine, French cuisine recently received a singular distinction worldwide. The United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared French food part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage,” citing the French meal as “a customary social practice designed to celebrate the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups.”
UNESCO also cited Mexican cuisine, and the organization only recently decided to include gastronomy. Officials examined 47 nominations from 29 countries in that category. UNESCO indicated that the citation wasn’t for three-star restaurant meals, but for good old home cooking, the traditional Sunday dinner with the family. Of course, that being French home cooking, you’re still talking about a succession of dishes, from aperitifs through appetizers, main course, fruit and cheese, and dessert, each paired with wine.
Many cultures, including our own, have traditions of multi-course family meals that are equally good. So why would French meals be singled out? I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to a few of these French family meals, and there really is a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the events. I’ve talked about the mix of local wine and food in Southern France before, but there really is something to the synergy of food that developed with wine and the multiplicity of flavors that you get in these meals. I guess that’s what UNESCO is trying to honor and preserve in an age when even the French are getting quick take-out for lunch to eat at their desks.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to consider that the American Thanksgiving meal might someday also qualify for this kind of distinction. So why not combine our cultural heritage with theirs? And find a way to use some of that leftover turkey, too.
I got the idea for this recipe from watching Julia Child and Jacques Pépin on television. The two of them were making soufflés and Jacques poured a cheese soufflé mixture on top of scallops in a gratin dish and baked it into a lovely concoction. I thought it would be great with leftover turkey. And, to make it yet a little more elegant, I threw some buttered baguette slices in the bottom of the dish, which kept the turkey from the direct heat on the bottom of the dish as well (particularly important if you’re using slices of breast meat, which tend to dry out). It also makes everything easier to serve.
People hear the word “soufflé” and think that it’s complicated to make. We’ve all heard the dire warnings about carefully folding in the beaten egg whites, and not making loud noises, jumping up and down, or opening the oven door while the soufflé is baking. The truth is that the egg whites don’t have to be completely incorporated. And as long as you keep the oven door closed for most of the baking time, you’ll be fine. I’ve never had a soufflé fall in the oven because of loud noises or jumping up and down, but feel free to try either one – I suspect they’re both made-up excuses from people who were talking on the phone while the souffle was baking and didn’t hear the timer go off — and then tried to cover it up.
You can serve the dish with leftover Thanksgiving wine (our Cave la Vinsobraise Rosé would be particularly good), or a light-bodied red like our Cave la Romaine Rouge Tradition or Cuvée des Templiers Red. Whatever your heritage or family traditions, have a great Thanksgiving, filled with good food and good company. Try not to dwell on your TSA security pat-down. Enjoy the day!
1 baguette, cut into ¾-inch slices
Leftover turkey, cut into pieces about ½-inch thick (let the turkey warm up a bit from refrigerator temperature)
4 tablespoons softened butter
One large onion, peeled and cut in half through the poles, then each half sliced thinly.
You’ll need a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees F. Arrange the bread slices in the bottom of the pan to see how many you’ll need. You’ll want to cover the entire bottom of the dish. Then put those slices on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for about 10 minutes (it’s fine while the oven is preheating) to get the bread lightly golden. Take the bread slices out and let them cool a few minutes. Spread a tablespoon of the softened butter in the bottom of the baking dish. Then arrange the cooled bread slices on top of the butter and spread 2 tablespoons of soft butter on top of the bread slices. Cover the bread slices with the sliced turkey. Use the remaining tablespoon of butter to sauté the onion until lightly browned, adding some salt and pepper to as it cooks. Spread the onion on top of the turkey. Put the baking dish on the baking sheet and set it aside.
(Note – if you have leftover creamed onions, you can roughly chop some to spread on the turkey instead of using the whole onion)
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups cold milk
6 large eggs, separated
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (preferably not colored orange, it just looks better)
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, mustard powder, salt, cayenne, and some black pepper and whisk together. Cook for about 30 seconds to a minute, whisking to keep the mixture from burning. Keep whisking while you pour in the milk, then raise the heat and whisk and cook until the mixture thickens.
Turn the heat to medium and add all six egg yolks to the thickened sauce, whisking them constantly. Cook for another minute and remove the pan from the heat.
Put the egg whites in a large, very clean bowl and beat with an electric mixer. Start on low speed, until the whites start to foam. Then add a big pinch of salt and raise the speed to high. Beat until the whites form soft peaks – when you lift the mixture, the peaks formed flop back over. Then beat some more but watch carefully. You want to beat the whites just to the point where the peaks stand up when you lift the mixer; if you go beyond this point the whites might get dry and grainy. (If this happens, add another egg white and beat the mixture a little more to get the right consistency).
Scoop about a quarter of the egg whites into the egg mixture in the saucepan and stir the whites in with a whisk. Then switch to a rubber spatula. Pour the mixture in the saucepan over the egg whites and fold everything together. Plunge the spatula into the center of the bowl, bring it along the bottom and up the side, then back over the middle. Rotate the bowl a little and repeat. It should take 30 seconds to a minute to get everything just about mixed, there should still be some visible egg whites. Then sprinkle about ¾ of the grated cheddar cheese on and gently fold it in, everything should now be mixed and light.
Pour the soufflé over the bread and turkey, then smooth the top with the spatula. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese. Put the dish (still on the baking sheet) into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or so, until the soufflé has puffed and top is a nice golden brown. Serve it right away, using a large spoon to get under the bread slices.