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Taiwan Eats: An Expat's Thanksgiving Turkey Comes Served Over Rice

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[Photograph: Cathy Erway]

Call it turkey over rice, or just "turkey rice," as its name directly translates; either way, should you find yourself in Taiwan's southwestern county of Chiayi, this is the number one dish to try. The soulful, rustic meal has earned island-wide yearnings for its delicate balance of fragrant seasonings. It is the yin to many a Taiwanese dish's fierce yang; in other words, it's a light-tasting contrast to more heavy, robustly flavored foods. Nowadays, many roadside stands and home cooks prepare the same dish using chicken, but turkey meat is how it began, and this novelty helped make it a sensation.

The substitution of chicken is born form practicality—turkeys just aren't as widely available as chicken, both in Taiwan and in the States. However, they—and their leftover meat—are abundant around the end of November in the US. Naturally, I wanted to see whether I could use leftover turkey meat from the Thanksgiving bird to make turkey rice. In Taiwan, the meat (whether turkey or chicken) is typically steamed when preparing this dish. Could roasted turkey meat work just as well? I wondered. I tested it out on two legs of turkey: one was steamed, the other roasted. Hey, I'm not cooking two whole turkeys in order to find out.

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Reserving the turkey drippings is key. This becomes the base of the reduction sauce, which is steeped with spices and fried shallots and liberally poured over each bowl of turkey rice. It gives it that lip smacking quality, and gives the pale turkey meat an attractive gloss. If you have no fat or drippings after Thanksgiving to spare, you might need to go out and get some schmaltz, or just more turkey fat to render. Assuming that there is some, however, I found that this dish can easily accommodate leftover roasted turkey.

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There were however subtle differences between the two versions: the one with steamed turkey was a bit more pliant in texture, and ultimately more moist, while the roasted meat had a more assertive turkey flavor and a reddish tint. But both were good in their own ways.

Head over to the recipe to transport your classic Thanksgiving meal (or its leftovers) to an entirely different place.

About the Author: Cathy Erway is the author of The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove. She blogs at Not Eating Out In New York and hosts the weekly podcast, "Eat Your Words" on Heritage Radio Network.

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