Why It Works
- Using turkey drippings in the sauce creates a light, yet flavorful topping for the dish.
- You can steam fresh turkey or use leftover Thanksgiving turkey, making this a versatile dish during the holidays.
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.
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.
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.
- 2 pounds (900g) bone-in turkey pieces, such as the breast or legs, breasts cut through the bone into large chunk, legs divided into drumsticks and thighs (see note)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup (120ml) water
- 1 teaspoon (4g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
- Fresh cilantro for garnish
- Steamed rice for serving
Rub the turkey with 1/4 teaspoons each of the salt and white pepper. Choose a large pot with a lid, such as a Dutch oven, and place a steamer rack inside. Fill the pot with 2 cups (475ml) of water. Place the turkey on a dish that fits inside the pot and sits atop the steamer rack. (In order to save the turkey drippings, the turkey should not be placed directly on a rack with holes.) Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover the pot. Steam the turkey until its internal temperature close to the bone reaches 180°F (82°C), about 30 minutes. Let cool. Reserve the juices and drippings.
Once the turkey meat has cooled, pull the meat into bite-size shreds by hand and discard the bones and skin.
Heat the vegetable oil in a small pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sliced shallots and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer immediately to a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve the cooking oil.
Combine the shallot cooking oil with 1/2 cup (120ml) of the reserved juices and drippings from the steamed turkey. Add the water, sugar, soy sauce, Sichuan peppercorns, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoons each of salt and white pepper. Add half of the fried shallots, saving the rest for garnish. Whisk mixture over medium heat to dissolve sugar. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer, uncovered until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Strain sauce and discard solids.
To serve, scoop rice into individual serving bowls and top with a mound of the shredded turkey meat. Spoon the sauce over each bowl. Finish with the fried shallots and cilantro for garnish.
Dutch oven, steamer rack
To prepare this dish using leftover Thanksgiving turkey meat, skip step 1 and substitute the raw turkey with 2 cups packed, pre-roasted turkey meat and 1/2 cup (120ml) of its reserved drippings.