The Nasty Bits: Turkey Confit in Olive Oil
These are turkey parts that I coaxed my butcher into setting aside for me. He didn't take much coaxing, really, just a slice of my homemade pumpkin pie (I've been practicing) and some thoughts about the importance of butchers in our society. When I went in to collect my reward, he'd broken down a few birds and set aside the necks, the giblets, some thighs, a wing, and some backs for me. All of it will go towards my Thanksgiving dinner. (Except for the livers, which I sautéed and ate while my mother was at work. Forgive me. They were so rare and creamy.)
Now, I promise, this is not just some cheap attempt to elicit sympathy, but when I was a kid, I never got Thanksgiving. On the big day, my mother would stir-fry meat and vegetables and we would gather around the table, and my father would ask me if I'd finished those extra math workbooks he bought for me. In other words, it was just like any other day. One year, for a special Thanksgiving treat, we ordered a large pizza from Pizza Hut.
No more. This year I have the very rare privilege of cooking for my two parents, in the small town where I grew up, in the kitchen where my mother raised me on gizzards and neck bones. Needless to say, this is going to be a very big moment in my culinary life, and I have been hemming and hawing over the menu like a teenage girl tries on outfits.
In the beginning, I had rosy images in mind of presiding over the table and carving the turkey, posing the all-important question to my awed mother and father, "Dark or white?" But one bird is a lot for just three people, especially when not one of the three particularly cares for turkey. We'd rather be eating, say, pork belly.
Which is worse, do you think? Not serving a whole turkey, or not serving turkey at all for Thanksgiving? I thought of downsizing the bird to a duck or even a chicken, just for the pleasure of being able to present a whole bird.
Then I thought, wait a minute. My parents are Chinese. My father was born on the eve of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Between him and my mother, probably no more than five or six chicken breasts have ever been consumed, because—let's face it—a lot of Chinese people, especially those in the fifty-plus crowd, would rather not eat breast meat at all. And as I have realized over the years, people who have been raised in times of famine never really let that mentality go. They just really like their fatty meat, and who can blame them?
That sort of settled matters. As much as I'd like to roast an entire turkey, in the interest of pleasing those to whom this meal will be served, I will be cooking some turkey drumsticks, some turkey necks, some turkey gizzards, and some turkey hearts. To up the fatty ante, I will be confiting all these parts.
This year I will be confiting everything in olive oil because I happen to be away from my usual cache of duck fat and lard. Olive oil is a great fat with which to confit. The flavor of meat confited in olive oil tends to be a little lighter than meat cooked in duck fat and certainly lard, but the real advantage of confiting in olive oil is that you don't have to track down good-quality animal fat. Any bottle of olive oil will do and after you have used the oil to confit the meat, you can use it again to roast your vegetables.
Another advantage to confiting your giblets is the water displacement (or, in our case, the fat displacement) factor. Every bit of meat you can cram into your pot raises the level of fat, and therefore makes it easier to keep your larger parts, like your drumsticks and wings, completely submerged. (If you need extra fillers in the pot, peeled and quartered potatoes make for a tasty addition.)
One year soon, I hope to be joining the ranks of Americans who obsess over roasting the perfect turkey. But for now, I am content with my little party of three. The turkey parts have been salted and confited. I will crisp them up in the oven when the time comes.
My father will go for the drumsticks. My mother and I will nibble the neck meat right off the bone, and because my butcher was so kind as to give me two turkey necks, we will not even have to share. The gizzards and the heart I will sauté and serve with little rounds of toasts. The backs, of course, will be used for stock and gravy.
It will be, I am hoping, a very terrific first Thanksgiving. Minus the picture-perfect whole turkey, everything else will be there. There will be stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy. There will be roasted Brussels sprouts and roasted root vegetables. There will be pumpkin pie. And, because no family meal with my family would be complete with it, there will be a pot of red-braised pork, cooked slowly and lovingly, so that, in the event that my guests do not feel like turkey at all, they will not want for something fatty.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.