While I certainly prefer that the animals I eat be raised on pasture instead of crammed into factory farms and inoculated with chemicals, the current realities of economics and availability dictate that I still buy most of the family’s meat in the grocery stores. That meat seems to have become noticeably more expensive, but yesterday I spied such a swell bargain in the corner of one of an H.E.B. store’s meat coolers that I wanted to share.
It was a pile of smoked turkeys, vacuum-packed and fully cooked. These 12 and 13-pound birds, originally priced at $2.49 a pound (or about $30), were on sale for $5 apiece. At that rate, my first suspicion is, what’s wrong with them? I noticed the birds on top bore labels with an expiration date of Jan. 2 – and this was on Jan. 4. There was the answer to my question. But something made me dig down to the bottom row, where all the turkeys carried an expiration date of Jan. 25. Score.
Long, long ago in a faraway place up north, I might’ve returned as the triumphant tribal hunter with, say, two or three ruffed grouse or fat rabbits. These days, triumphant hunting means a $5 turkey.
I had never re-heated a smoked turkey, as up until now I have always done my own turkey smoking. I preheated the oven to 325 degrees, snipped off the netting and vacuum-wrapping, and placed the smoked turkey on a rack atop a roasting pan. The bird was nicely colored with grill marks, had a tight, intact skin and a cavity full of juice and congealed fat from its smoking. I poured the juice and about a cup and a half of water into the bottom of the pan, covered everything under a loose tent of aluminum foil and heated the 12.6-pound turkey in the oven for about two hours, until a meat thermometer sunk into one of the thighs registered 145 degrees. (During the last 15 minutes I took the foil off, in order to crisp up the skin a bit.)
I had my doubts, thinking that the turkey might come out pretty dry, best used for additions to other dishes. But no, whomever smoked all those birds for the grocery chain did a pretty good job. Nothing fancy such as sliding herbs and butter under the skin, but the meat was very moist and really tasty. I would bet, from the juiciness, that those birds were brined – soaked in a salt-based solution for several hours, a process I promise to detail sometime soon.
I made a nice flour-based gravy out of the pan drippings, and we dined like plutocrats on holiday last night.
This particular turkey was very stout and meaty for its size, and even had plentiful portions of meat running along the back. Between four of us, we probably ate no more than a third of the bird, if that, leaving enough for at least three more meals – say Turkey Tettrazinz, maybe a Turkey Pot Pie and certainly some hot turkey sandwiches made delicious on our panini grill.
Still, there remained an exceedingly meaty carcass, reminding me that there were yet more meals to coax from our once-feathered friend.
Home-made Turkey Broth
I filled a large pot with water, dumped the carcass, other turkey bones and skin into the water, added two stalks worth of sliced celery and a very large handful of fresh chopped oregano and Italian flat-leafed parsley, probably two to three tablespoons of kosher salt and one tablespoon of black pepper and, finally, about a teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning, which consists mostly of celery salt and cayenne pepper.
I brought the pot to a boil, then let it simmer for between two and three hours. At bedtime, I turned the fire off. The pot still was very warm the next morning. After taking the kids to school, I strained the bits and bones out of the broth and had enough for three freezer bags with about 8 cups in each, and a fourth bag with probably 16 cups. As you might expect, I froze them.
These will become the basis of four or five meals. They will make some terrific sauces for rice or pasta dishes, and the large bag will form the foundation of some really good soup.
All told, we will have gotten perhaps eight meals out of that one turkey. At five bucks, that is a penny-pincher’s dream.