The American Thanksgiving celebration is around the corner and everyone is looking forward to this special meal. Thanksgiving is a very meaningful holiday for me as I give thanks for my harvest, my friends and my family. Being able to celebrate on the farm with a full table and a full heart is a blessing.
I celebrated Thanksgiving over a month ago in Canada. Happily, right now I am in Colorado so I get to celebrate twice.
This year I have been invited to dinner where deep fried turkey is on the menu. I have never tasted turkey cooked this way and I am looking forward to it. One word for any of you who are planning to deep-fry your bird: Please take all the safety precautions and make sure your bird is fresh or completely defrosted. Water and oil do not mix.
After all the dishes, sweat tears and laughter of our Thanksgiving Feast, we all felt as stuffed as the turkey. Yes, I am one of those old-fashioned cooks who insists the best tasting stuffing has to cook in the belly of the beast. I have tried cooking it separately but it never tastes the same.
The night after Thanksgiving we were pooped and ate the leftover wild rice while watching the weather update. Wild rice is a traditional holiday side dish that we never go without. It was my father’s favourite. One hint – not all wild rice is the same, and I am noticing that it is often sold in broken pieces and does not cook up properly. Find a brand you can trust and stick with it. I am lucky enough to have an Indian reserve that sells its rice and it is not too far from my farm. I can also watch the cranberry harvest and buy fresh cranberries locally. By the way, as for the forecast, more snow in the forecast.
The day after Thanksgiving, my fridge was full of the remains of the day – I had my Marsala marinated ham joint, roast turkey with herb and lemon stuffing, my famous holiday mashed potatoes, roasted mushrooms, gravy, stock, peas, and cauliflower cheese gratin, and, oh yes, a spinach herbed goat cheese dip.
Everyone knows that each year brings the same dilemma. What to make with this mish mash of leftover food? The chef in me lies in bed and dreams about what to make with the food in my fridge. I truly enjoy planning and plotting to convert my leftovers into something magical – I believe that food is a gift and it should never be wasted.
Here is a peek into the mind of a chef. I ask my self, “Turkey potpie with a crown of puff pastry or turkey shepherds pie?” I could make turkey soup or navy bean and ham soup. Every cuisine has a casserole dish, and this year I thought about trying something new, cassoulet. Cassoulet is a classic French dish, just like Turkey Pot Pie it is a classic with many regional variations.
Cassoulet is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat, pork skin and white beans. The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. I thought about coming up with an updated version. However I did not have duck or goose fat about or the sausages. My goal is to use what I have on hand, not to run out and shop!
I am a clear fan of traditional peasant food or comfort for the depth of flavour and variations that you come across from region to region. There are legends and rules in haute cuisine that determine how certain dishes should be made. In many regions, the preparation of certain dishes are sacrosanct and cannot be altered. The same is true over the age-old debate about who makes the best barbeque. Regional pride exists, that is for sure.
I believe that many dishes resulted from a cook’s way to assemble an assortment of leftovers to create a robust dish. Every cook faces leftovers – my mother always said that I had the power to perform the “miracle of the five loaves and two fish.” With 10 of us at the table, there were never very many leftovers. As a chef I had to become very creative when using leftovers.
At the end of the busy holiday, I decide to rely on a family favourite, Classic Turkey Potpie. I love this comfort food and it is one of the best ways I know to make great use of the leftover turkey, stock and gravy. Many cooks have a recipe for this dish; mine is based on French cooking techniques. Many of you actually use the French sauce method but you call it a white sauce. It is the basis for the gravy in biscuits with sausage and gravy. Cheese sauce, or “mornay” in French, is often used in mac and cheese. It is also used in Cajun cooking where a roux is the base of the sauce.
I waste nothing so I use the turkey fat skimmed from the stock for the base of my blonde roux that will combine with the stock to make up my velouté. If there is leftover gravy, which rarely happens, I add it to the velouté to intensify the flavour.
I was a chef at the Arcadian Court in Toronto and their turkey potpie was famous. We used to order the potpie, as my mother was so busy taking care of 10 that she ran out of kitchen time. What I recall the most is that this potpie had very basic ingredients and huge chunks of meat, some peas and lots of sauce. The recipe was top secret, but I got a few peeks at how it was made. The Arcadian Court used whole, parboiled parisienne potatoes or small potato balls.
I think my version is even better, adapted to modern tastes. It is all about converting those intimidating leftovers into a meal that tastes brand new.
Chef Elizabebeth’s Classic Turkey Pot Pie Recipe
Remember – Always season your food to your taste. Add any combination of fresh herbs in the intensity that suits your palate. Cooking is about breaking the rules; baking is a different story.
I only use puff pastry on the top of the pot pie; you can do a traditional two-crust pie if you prefer. Sometimes when I have leftover mashed potatoes I use them as a quick topping for a “Turkey Shepherd’s” pie. I prefer the flavour of a very basic turkey pie, but feel free to add vegetables of your choice. Incorporate any vegetable leftovers that seem fresh enough to withstand being cooked again. For instance, sauteéd mushrooms, corn or green beans. If you have extra stock, you can intensify the flavour of the dish by parboiling the carrots and the potatoes in the stock. The deeper the flavour of the stock, the richer the flavour of the pie. Add any leftover gravy if you like.
This is a dish that transforms your leftovers into a delicious comforting dish.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
Pot Pie Crust:
1 box frozen pure butter puff pastry or your favourite pie crust recipe
Do ahead: Thaw puff pastry and then roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 1/4-inch thick square or rectangular, larger than the dimensions of your baking dish (or dishes) by about 3 inches on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
At this point you will cut the dough, leaving an extra amount to hang over the dish. To do this, remove chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a cutting board. Place your intended baking dish directly onto the dough, with the opening side down. With a sharp knife, cut around the dish so that you have an even 3 inches around the dish on all edges. Return the dough to the baking sheet, wrap tightly with plastic, and chill for an additional hour.
Pot Pie Filling:
- 1/3 cup turkey fat or butter
- 1/3 finely cup finely chopped onion
- 1/3 cup finely chopped celery
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1-3/4 cups chicken broth (I use my homemade stock)
- 1/2 cup whole milk or cream infused with 2 bay leaves and 3 sprigs thyme
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme or marjoram, or to taste
- 2-1/2 cups cooked turkey, in large cubes or shreds
- 1 cups rinsed frozen green peas
- 1/2 cup parboiled carrots
- 1 cup of cubed and parboiled russet potatoes
- 1 egg beaten
- 2 tablespoons water, milk or cream
- Heat oven to 400 F. Prepare a deep-dish casserole by lightly buttering the bottom and sides.
- In 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and infused milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened. Let cook for 5 more minutes. Add thyme and adjust seasonings at this point.
- Stir in turkey and vegetables. Remove from heat. Spoon turkey mixture into prepared casserole dish or crust-lined pan.
- Finish the Puff Pastry: Blend the egg and water for the egg wash. Remove dough from refrigerator and brush surface evenly with egg wash. Invert dough and place directly over the casserole, pressing lightly to seal overhanging crust to the side of the dish. Brush top surface of dough with egg wash. With a large round pastry tip or other small round object, cut a small circle in the centre of the pastry, removing the pastry circle. This allows the steam to vent. You can use leftover pastry to create decorative cutouts for the crust.
- Transfer dish to a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment (to catch any boil-over!). Bake for 10 minutes then cover loosely with aluminum foil to prevent crust from burning, and continue baking for about 25 minutes more, or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Serve this with some of your cranberry sauce on the side, a mixed green salad with lemon-herb vinaigrette and a crisp glass of Joel Gott or Hess Chardonnay.