Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Much Mahalos : Part IV - Lucious Leftovers

I love leftover Thanksgiving turkey.  Yes you're eating turkey for the next week or so, but with my mom's turkey you don't really get tired of it.   Some people may complain about all of the leftovers.   I, on the other hand, see it as a wonderful sign of prosperity.   With these tough economic times, it is a luxury and a sign that we're still doing okay when an excess of food is seen as a dilemma.  Thanksgiving is supposed to remind us to be thankful for what we've got, but to me it is the abundance of leftovers that should make you appreciate having so much food to eat.  

My favorite memory of the day after Thanksgiving was back in high school.   I had invited the guys over to hang out, play some video games, and just chill.   What's important to keep in mind here, is that I said "the guys", not just "my friends".  This being a guy's hang out, we were naturally raiding the kitchen for food, and being the day after Thanksgiving, the leftover turkey was the star attraction.  So we were all sitting there, hanging around the kitchen table, with a huge dead bird in the middle, and a very very large knife.  There's something primordial about hanging out with the guys, feasting on the carcass of a very large dead animal.  Just carving off big pieces of meat and eating with your hands.   All we needed was a little bit of fire, and the caveman like, testosterone filled, male bonding would be complete.   Needless to say, my parents were quite shocked when they came home and found that we had completely devoured the leftover turkey.

It will be a while still before my sons are at that stage of mass consumption.   So meanwhile, there are so many possibilities for that leftover turkey.    A lot of people on the mainland, like to make a nice turkey a la king, with a creamy sauce, and celery and carrots and peas and serve it over pasta or rice.  It's a fairly simple dish.  But the classic American approach is of course the turkey sandwich.

Turkey Sandwich on Japanese Bread from St. Germain's
As I've said before, the key to a good sandwich isn't what's in it but the bread that holds it together.  It's a baker's mantra that good bread will make up for bad filling but good filling will not make up for bad bread.  Since my mom's turkey is so incredibly awesome, even cold the next day, I would only want to pair it with the best bread I could find.   For me, there are 2 candidates.   My favorite sandwich bread is of course the classic Japanese style bread at St. Germains.  Japanese bread just has the ultimate uniformity and density of texture for a sandwich bread.  It can hold together a big sandwich where other breads would get really thin, smashed, or fall apart in your hands.  As a purist, sometimes I don't want a lot of other fixings on my sandwich.   My mom's turkey is so awesome, that I often just want turkey, bread, and a little mayo.  Like with sushi, and all other Japanese food, when you're looking at the starkness of very few ingredients, then each ingredient must be of excellent quality enough to shine alone.   My mom's turkey is like that and really only St. Germain's bread can accompany it like that.   Japanese bread is a little pricier than any other loaf of sliced bread you'll find on the island, so it is always a luxury to me, but for my mom's turkey it's way worth it.

Turkey Sandwich on French Bread from Foodland
Alternatively, if you go to Foodland, you can pick up a loaf of their fresh baked French bread for about $2.  That's really cheap for a 2 foot long loaf of such great bread.  I would cut a slice down the entire length of the loaf and open it up.   Inside goes a layer of provolone cheese, a layer of turkey, and a layer of cheddar (muenster or havarti cheese also goes really well with the turkey but they are more expensive).  Then the entire loaf goes into the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.   What comes out is a melty, gooey, deliciously hot sandwich which re-invigorates the turkey taste.   But what's best about it, is that the crust on the French bread gets super crunchy, just about the most perfect crunch you can get on a French bread.   It's just awesome.

Turkey Jook with Char Siu at Zippy's
While the leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich is an American tradition, in Hawaii, no Thanksgiving would be complete without having some turkey jook.   Even after devouring all of the turkey meat, no Oriental family in Hawaii would feel comfortable wasting those magnificent turkey bones.   Oriental cultures waste no part of anything, and discarding such tasty bones would be paramount to a cardinal sin.  Some people in Hawaii even look forward to the turkey jook at Thanksgiving more than the turkey itself.  Turkey jook tastes so much better than any other jook at any restaurant.   The primary reason is that in order to be economical, most restaurants boil a huge pot of plain white rice jook, and then add ingredients to it at the last minute when you decide what kind of jook you want.    Thanksgiving turkey jook on the other hand, is boiled with the remains of the leftover turkey, so the entire stock imbues that strong turkey flavor.   The difference is like night and day.   Of course it just wouldn't be economically feasible for any restaurant to do all of their different types of jook that way normally, but at Thanksgiving a few restaurants (not necessarily Chinese restaurants, but mainly those local places who cooked a lot of turkey for Thanksgiving in the first place), would feature turkey jook afterwards.   Such was the case when I found it served at Zippy's, with a side dish of char siu.  

Of course, there are many instances when home cooking far exceeds restaurant fare, such as with my mom's spaghetti or my aunty's pho.   No restaurant in the world could ever come close to making jook as good as my Po Po used to.   When I was very little, one of my favorite memories of the day after Thanksgiving would be running down the hill with my dad to go to Po Po's house for jook.   My mom would have to go to work, and my sister wasn't born yet, but I would have the day off from school and my dad (as a State worker) would have the day off too.  So he and I would go down to Po Po's house in the late morning for a jook brunch.  Inevitably, when we would open the door, the big pot of jook would be bubbling on the stove and you would walk through all of that heavenly turkey scented steam as you walked in the door.   Po Po would be standing in the kitchen washing dishes or cooking something else.   Her brother, my grand uncle, would already be seated at her old 50's still kitchen table starting on his bowl.   My dad would sit down across from him, and I would sit between them.  The warm jook would taste so good on the slightly chilly, crisp November mornings.   They were really happy memories.

My Aunty's Turkey Jook
Since my Po Po's gone, and my mom makes the turkey, it's my aunty who now makes the jook.   She makes hers ever so slightly different from my Po Po.   She adds just a bit of grated carrot that gives it a slight sweetness.   My wife and I have a disagreement going whether she should add peanuts or not, as I really don't care for peanuts messing up my nice smooth jook, but my wife likes the crunchiness.  Of course we all agree that turkey jook must absolutely be garnished with a sprinkling of salty, crunchy, minced chung choi (or salted turnip).   Both her jook and my Po Po's are boiled so well, that you hardly see individual rice grains.   Unlike those places that don't cook it nearly enough, and the jook is more like a rice soup, my aunty's (and my Po Po's) are cooked so that the rice seems to combine into a nice smooth uniform texture.   But the biggest difference from Zippy's jook is the amount of turkey flavor in it.  Even Zippy's needs to have a cost effective turkey to water ratio to turn some kind of profit.   My aunty's on the other hand maintains a much stronger turkey to water ratio and thus a much stronger turkey flavor.   Ultimately though, no restaurant turkey could compare to how good my mom's turkey tastes.   Therefore no restaurant jook would be able to compare to my aunty's jook, which takes on all of the flavor of my mom's turkey. 

Having a nice bowl of turkey jook is the perfect way to cap off the Thanksgiving holiday.  Despite the excess of the feast itself, using all of the remains reminds us to be true to the spirit of being thankful for what we've got.

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